What we Learn through Jeremiah's Complaints
I keep prayer journals. I have for a long time. I haven’t always kept them as consistently as I have for the last fifteen years, but I have some false starts going back to the early 90’s when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I am also an organizational freak somewhere between Marie Kondo and Adrian Monk so I have gone back through all my journals, adding colored tabs so I can, with relative ease, lay my eyes on anything I’m trying to recall .
Occasionally, I leaf through old journals, watching everything from my penmanship to my prayer needs evolve. This can be a wonderful experience. It gives me a bird’s eye view of answered prayers, fulfilled promises and the Holy Spirit’s sanctification process at work in me.
But honestly, it can also be discouraging.
I think deeply and feel deeply and, although I don’t often broadcast it to the world, I certainly pour it out in my journals. With the written history of nearly thirty years, I can see that some of the frustrations, disappointments and even disillusionments have been repeated time and again as I am, as we all are, injured in this world where we bump around into our fellow fallen and flawed humans. It disappoints me to see that the struggle has changed little until I realize that I have changed in the midst of the struggle.
With all these deep feelings, I relate well to Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet who is often saddled with the moniker “The Weeping Prophet.” Although, he does some weeping over the heartbreaking sins of the people, he was likely given this name for the weeping and complaining he does to God on his own behalf.
Don’t get me wrong: Jeremiah was no wimp! He endured his hometown and family, not only hating him, but plotting to kill him. He endured beatings and imprisonments and threats. Nevertheless, there are six notable, personal complaints he makes to the Lord (Jeremiah 11:18-20; 12:1-4; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 18:18-23, 20:7-18).
Jeremiah doesn’t mince words or try to “play nice.” He fully confesses how he is feeling. He pleads with the Lord, calls on Him for justice and judgment of his enemies and even accuses God of deceiving him.
Through it all, the Lord repeatedly encourages Jeremiah that he is called to be His mouthpiece, that God will make him as strong as metal to withstand the hate of his people and to trust the Lord to do right by him. God continually calls Jeremiah to a deeper place of strength and trust, even seeming to say to Jeremiah, “Come on; you have got to get stronger than this!” (Jeremiah 12:5-6; 17:5-8).
As I read through the book of Jeremiah again recently, I was struck by two things: first, the similarities in all the complaints and how elements of them didn’t change over time. Second, I noticed three dramatic changes in the last of the six complaints (20:7-18).
1. I noticed Jeremiah’s desire for justice never changes. This is likely because, as with many of us, we are given a desire to see justice done by God. It is part of our personality and, although it makes us challenging to people who think justice is inconsequential, it also makes us the type that roots for the underdog and lives to right wrongs.
2. Jeremiah never waivers from total honesty before God. Surely, he, like us, knows the “right” thing to say, but he is authentic and lays his heart before God. He seems to even get blunter about his “unlovely” feelings in his final complaint.
1. In this final complaint, Jeremiah does a 180 degree turn. He seems to have learned a vital lesson. In verse 11, he begins to encourage himself in the Lord. He has learned to speak God’s truth over his circumstances. He begins to openly declare that the justice he’s longed for is coming. When he has only ever pleaded for God’s help in the past, now he declares that God fights for him.
2. Suddenly, after declaring that justice will be done, Jeremiah breaks into praise. In verse 13 he exclaims, “Sing to Yahweh; praise Yahweh! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” He praises like the victory is already won, like the answer has already come.
3. Finally, we can see clearly that he has encouraged himself and he has praised in spite of the fact that his feelings are still in a dark and painful place. Although he sees no change in the circumstances or even how he feels, he has made the decided effort to change the confession of his mouth and give praise to God. The lack of change in his feelings is evidenced by the fact that, in the next few verses, he goes so far as to wish that he had never been born. He is not out of his depression and disillusionment, but he is choosing to believe and praise in the midst of the grief and pain.
As I read through my old journals, I know I may find myself discouraged with my repeated falls into pits of discouragement. I know my raw emotions from night seasons may make me cringe in the light of day. But I rest in hope that the justice over evil I seek reflects one element of God’s heart, that my honesty is pleasing, no matter how “unlovely” it is. I also know that I can turn my pleading into declarations of God’s truth, I can choose praise over complaints, and I can encourage myself and praise, even in the pit. I can declare the truth of God’s faithfulness and love even when I’m not feeling them.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in Yahweh, whose trust is Yahweh. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8