A Faithful Ambassador

“This is the twenty third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened” Jeremiah 25:3

There are probably many people who share the Gospel who identify with Jeremiah. For twenty three years he had been a prophet of the Lord faithfully passing on what the Lord had given him to speak yet the people of Jerusalem and Judah had taken no heed. The Lord retained a remnant in Israel so the rejection was not total but successive kings of Judah had turned the hearts of the people away from the Lord. There were many other voices proclaiming what was supposed to be the word of the Lord but they were liars who deceived the people by telling them what they wanted to hear rather than the truth (27:10, 14-16). The same tactic is employed by some today. They proclaim a false Gospel while claiming it is from the Lord.

Jeremiah seemed alone in proclaiming the true word of the Lord yet he refused to compromise to appease kings, priests, other prophets or even to save his life (26:8). He would rather be an offense to people than offend the Lord.

The world might judge him as being unsuccessful but the Lord judged him otherwise. Successful in ministering the word of God is not determined by whether hearers receive God’s word. Success is measured in whether one is faithful to the Lord’s word and calling.

Jeremiah had to withstand the wrath of kings, accusations from religious leaders and stand face to face, in the presence of witnesses, with one who claimed to speak for the Lord but was a liar (28:1). He did this knowing that there was a strong movement among the false prophets to have him killed. He would not compromise the word of the Lord to save his life. His words to them were, “I am in your hand; do with me as seems good and proper to you” (26:14).

Like Daniel’s three friends, he knew that whether he lived or died he would not compromise the word of the Lord (Daniel 3:18). Like the apostle Paul he knew that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The church needs people who will proclaim God’s word as He gave it and not how people want to hear it. In the days of Jeremiah the false teachers were in the majority and they ridiculed, mocked and threatened Jeremiah. They deceived the people who then suffered the Lord’s chastisement. By rejecting the faithful word and believing a lie they set themselves against God.

A person may spend twenty three years as Christ’s faithful ambassador but whether they are successful or not is not in the numbers of people who respond and follow Christ. False teachers more readily gain a following because they speak what fallen people want to hear. The successful ambassador of Christ is the one who stands firm and faithful to Christ’s word even in the face of threats and persecution. The acclaim of people and numbers are no way to measure success. Faithfulness and obedience to Christ are the only measure and Jesus Christ alone is able to measure that.

Exercise Your faith

“If you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” Matthew 21:21

When I was younger I was physically active and had no need to give special attention to my fitness but later my life became more sedentary and it was necessary to actively seek out physical activities in order to try and keep my body reasonably fit and strong. The fitter and stronger we are the better we are able to enjoy life. I sought out appropriate sports, activities and even joined the local volunteer fire service with a view to keeping physically active. When these were not an option I attended a gym.

We all know that if we want better physical capabilities we must exercise our muscles. That usually means discomfort and perspiration but the end result from regular exercise is a stronger and fitter body to enjoy life.

I have heard it said that the brain works like a muscle. If we don’t use it we lose it. The same can be said of faith in Jesus Christ. If we do not exercise our faith it will become stagnant and shrivel. Many of us desire a stronger faith and God has provided the way – faith exercises! Generally we don’t like exercising, unless it is in the form of a sport, but we do enjoy the results. In order to exercise faith we must live in circumstances where faith in Jesus is tested regularly. As we read the Bible we see many examples of God taking people through circumstances where they needed to trust Him. The result was that their faith increased.

Job’s faith in the Lord was tested; Abraham and Isaac’s faith was tested (Genesis 22) and many others. In each case, when their faith in God was proven, their faith increased. Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “For in [the Gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17). The way to more faith is to exercise the faith one already has.

Don’t be confused by the untrue cliché, “faith can move mountains.” It can do no such thing. It is the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who moves the mountain. When we are exercising faith it must always be faith in Him to perform it if the mountain is to be moved. It is not the amount of faith that matters; it is the object of our faith that matters.

Jesus is not a miracle worker to do everything we want but He delights to respond to faith placed in Him. He will send us many tests and as we act in faith we will grow stronger in faith. If our faith is weak there are two closely linked possible reasons – hearing (Romans 10:17) and heeding His word. It is necessary to first know and understand God’s word and will and then to act faithfully on it. If we don’t use it we will lose it.

Covenanting with God

“They entered a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul” 2 Chronicles 15:12

We don’t hear very often of people, either individually or corporately, entering into a covenant with the Lord. God has revealed Himself as one who makes and keeps covenants so we would expect that His people would do likewise. Fear of failure or an unwillingness to commit may be major reasons we don’t covenant with the Lord. King Asa failed later in life and is an example from which we may learn.

King Asa started out well by doing what was right and good in the eyes of the Lord. In the early years of his reign over the Southern Kingdom the Ethiopian Zerah came against him with an army more than twice the number of his army. Asa cried out to the Lord and the Lord routed the Ethiopians apparently without any effort on the part of Asa’s army. It was at this time that Asa and the people entered a covenant with the Lord. The Lord gave King Asa “rest” from war until his 36th year as king. Then King Baasha of the Northern Kingdom came against him with an army.

Instead of turning to the Lord for counsel and deliverance King Asa turned to the king of Syria for help. The prophet Hanani was sent by the Lord to make him aware of the change in his relationship with the Lord but King Asa refused to repent. Instead, he became angry at Hanani for exposing his sin and had him imprisoned.

What happened in the 35 years of “rest” from war that allowed king Asa to have such a change of heart? There are several observations we can make:

  1. The miracle of the Lord destroying the Ethiopian force did not guarantee Asa’s continued loyalty and reliance on the Lord
  2. A long period of time of prosperity and things going well with the people did not guarantee loyalty and reliance on the Lord
  3. In reality it would appear that the miracle and the extended period of peace and prosperity led to complacency and/or presumption with the result that the King no longer turned to or relied on the Lord

Peace and prosperity do not provoke reliance on and loyalty to the Lord. However, they do not of themselves provoke disloyalty. When things are going well we need to pay double attention to maintaining intimacy with the Lord. The history of God’s people in the Bible, in church history and in living memory of many of us, teaches us that miracles, peace and prosperity do not close the door of disloyalty and unfaithfulness.

Peter wrote, “Brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things (mentioned in the preceding verses) you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

When we make a covenant with the Lord it needs to be on the basis of the cross and God’s, gracious enablement and faithfulness otherwise we might follow Asa’s example in which pride welled up within him so that he no longer relied on the Lord.

Step by Step

“Lord, what do You want me to do?” Acts 9:6

More than three decades ago I became aware that there was a need for a Sunday School teacher in our church. When I offered myself for the role I was quickly accepted. There was a class of seven or eight boys that had proven to be difficult for others and no one seemed keen to take them on. I was quite unaware of this.

This class proved to be very difficult. These days at least one of the boys, perhaps as many as three, would be on some drug for behaviour issues. Fortunately they weren’t available then.

As the first weeks passed I began to find the role becoming a chore and something I anticipated with a measure of dread. Preparation was difficult and done with reluctance.

At the point of giving up thinking that this wasn’t for me the Lord gave me a clue as to the problem. I cannot remember why but I began to ask the Lord whether this was really something that He wanted me to do, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Within a couple of weeks the Lord had assured my heart that this was indeed what He wanted me to do. What I discovered then was that He changed my entire attitude and focus with regard to the class. Preparation became a blessing and joyous time and I looked forward to the half hour that I could spend in class with the boys. I was also able to visit some at home and take an interest in their lives. I found ways to make the difficulties with the three over-active boys an aid to learning instead of an impediment.

What had changed? The difference was that I knew that I was where the Lord wanted me to be and doing what He wanted me to do.

If we are to find satisfaction in serving our Saviour it is necessary that we first surrender ourselves entirely to Him and humble ourselves and ask this question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” He may not respond until He knows that our heart is genuinely surrendered and willing to do what He asks. We do not want to be like Jonah who had his own ideas about serving the Lord. Jonah’s life could have been so much more pleasant had he obeyed with a glad and willing heart from the start.

Quite often we want the Lord to reveal what we consider the “big thing,” life’s direction, the career, that He wants us to do but, I think, for many people He reveals little by little, step by step as we progress in faith. We can ask the Lord this question often to ensure we haven’t gone off course or missed a change in place or role. This will give us encouragement and confidence.

When the Lord answers we can then take Mary’s counsel to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it” (John 2:5).

For the Lord’s Sake

“We do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of your great mercies” Daniel 9:18

Daniel was apparently one of the godliest men of his time and yet as we read through this prayer he repeatedly confesses Israel’s sin and includes himself as one of the offenders. What was it that motivated Daniel to pray at this time and in such a way? The second verse in the chapter has the answer. He had been reviewing God’s prophecy that came through Jeremiah. He understood that he should take it literally. As a result he understood the times in which he lived. Unless we understand biblical prophecy we will not understand the times in which we live and this will restrict our ability to pray in the will of God.

This is very important. God has been pleased to reveal some key future events and if we take His word literally He will give us understanding of the times in which we live. In understanding the times we will be motivated to pray in accordance with the will of God just as Daniel had done.

Daniel didn’t know the exact day or hour or even the process by which Jeremiah’s prophecy would be fulfilled but he did know that God would be faithful to His word. The very test of a prophet is that the word he speaks comes true (Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Jeremiah 28:9) and that principle has not changed. God has revealed some things concerning our times and understanding of them will follow our believing them. Then, like Daniel, we will pray according to the times in which we live in the will of God.

Just as it was in the case of Israel, God’s response will not be in accordance with our faithfulness or righteousness but in accordance with His word and His faithfulness to His word; “for the lord’s sake” (vv 17, 19). Indeed, Daniel’s prayer reminds us that Israel did not deserve any favour but he stood alone before God bearing the sin of the nation as his own as he pleaded for mercy. His prayer was based solely on God’s faithfulness and not at all on the actions of the people of Israel (v 18).

Daniel was just one man before God yet God heard and answered his prayer. We may think that we are just one person so what difference can we make? Be encouraged as you carefully meditate on this prayer of Daniel. One person praying in the will of God makes all the difference. God’s response was not only to do what He had said through Jeremiah but also revealed through Daniel one of the most important pieces of prophecy in the Bible (vv 24-27). How much poorer would our understanding of the book of Revelation be without these few verses?