Read Jeremiah 1:1-10
I went to the airline counter to check my bags and said, “I want the first bag to go to London and the second one to go to New York.”
The agent said, “We can’t do that sir.”
I answered, “Sure you can. That’s what you did with them last month when I was trying to get home to Oklahoma City.”
Hopefully, Henny Youngman will forgive me for modifying one of his classics.
I’m too old.
I’m too young.
I’m too middle aged.
I’m too skinny.
I’m too fat.
I’m too healthy.
I’m too out of shape.
I’m too short.
I’m too bald.
I’m too hard to understand.
That sort of thing is not in my nature.
I’m just not that kind of person.
Others are better suited.
You really didn’t want me to do this, did you? I mean really?
We all have our excuses. Sometimes they work. Sometimes we get out of doing something. Sometimes we can’t believe that we fooled someone, namely ourselves, into believing our excuses.
The dog ate my home work.
An old friend came in from out of town.
I had a flat tire, make that two flat tires.
My grandmother died, again. I know I used that one a couple years ago, but I am out relatives and have to start recycling.
The Highway Patrolman pulled over the motorist that was going well over the speed limit on the interstate highway and who seemed to be trying to get away from him once he put his lights on. The officer approached the vehicle carefully, following all mandatory procedures, and then said: “My shift is over in 10 minutes and I really don’t want to spend the next half hour writing you up. So if you can give me a really good reason why you were going so fast, maybe I can just make this a warning.”
“Well officer, ten years ago my wife left me for a Highway Patrolman and I was afraid you were bringing her back.”
“Have a nice day, sir.”
That wasn’t Henny Youngman, but it could have been.
We like our excuses and rationalizations and reasons why we can’t do something or are not accountable or we just don’t feel like it.
Sometimes we get out of doing something with our excuses. Sometimes they actually work.
Then God tells us to do something. What do we do? We start giving him excuses why we can’t or how someone else is better qualified.
That’s human nature. It comes with this flesh and blood territory in which we exist, but the crazy thing is that we delude ourselves into thinking God is going to buy our excuses.
It seems that we are expecting him to say, “Oops, my bad. You’re right. What was I thinking?”
After some introductory verses that fix time and lineage, we receive these words from God about a prophet named Jeremiah.
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
These are some profound words. Before you existed—before you were a twinkling in your father’s eye—I knew you. Before you were a baby growing in the womb, I knew you.”
Before you came into this world of flesh and blood, I had picked you out for something very special. I set you apart for my work.
To be a prophet to the nations.
To take my messages to kings and the people.
To say my words when I tell you to say them.
The next line should have been a Henny Youngman quote.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
Well, that doesn’t sound humorous at all, does it?
Let’s listen to the component of this single verse.
God, you are God and sovereign—like over all things—and truly Lord of all things. Yes, I think sovereign covers it very well. There is no one better qualified or more experience or more righteous to make this call.
Then Jeremiah says, “Except this time, you blew it. I am too young. I am not a good speaker. Yes, you never make a mistake, except this time you did.”
Then Jeremiah is listening for God to say, “Oops, my bad. You’re right. What was I thinking?”
But that is not the answer he receives. And God doesn’t say, You can do this, or even assure him that he has the right stuff. No, he says, don’t give me that I’m just a kid stuff. You are going to go where I send you.
And whatever I command, that’s what you will say.
And don’t be afraid to look people in the face when you speak my words for I am with you.
Son, don’t be afraid when you speak my words. We are using my credentials, not yours. Don’t be afraid. I will deliver you. If you want to be afraid, fear me, not the knuckleheads that you will be talking to.
The 9th verse brings us to this symbolic act of the Lord touching Jeremiah’s lips.
Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.”
Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet with excuses. Isaiah’s excuse was that he was unclean. What do we see in that case? A heavenly being grabs a hot coal out of the altar of the Lord and puts it to Isaiah’s lips and says, all better now. No excuses.
The Lord is telling his Jeremiah, it is a done deal. You now have my words. All you can do is speak them. You can give them back. There is a ‘no returns’ policy.
God is saying, “Don’t you get it, kid. I mapped all of this out long, long ago. Your limited life experience and vision can’t understand it, but you were born for this very thing. Now you are equipped to do it. Now you will speak the words that I have placed inside of you.”
Who are you going to trust: the sovereign Lord or your own understanding?
That brings a familiar proverb to mind.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
God’s appointment of Jeremiah continues in the 10th verse.
“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
The plans had been in the works for a long time, longer than the players had been on the playing field.
The lineup card had been written out long ago.
The batting order had been set.
Everything was in place and now it was game day. This prophet, though he would try to resist the appointment of the Lord, was appointed and told to speak the word of the Lord.
It was planned.
It was ordained.
It was underway.
The time had come for this one man to do the work that God had set him apart to do.
And we can look at this and say, “Yup, Jeremiah was a big time prophet. God touched him on the mouth and filled him with words to speak. Yup, big time. God doesn’t make ‘em like than any more.”
Except that he surely does. God doesn’t need a prophet to tell the Jews to stop worshipping false gods and listening to false prophets, but he has plans for us.
Jesus told us to go into the world proclaiming the gospel.
How many have said:
That’s not my thing.
I’m too young.
I’m too old.
I am not a good speaker.
Isn’t there someone else you can send?
How many times have we prayed to our God and said, “Dear God, you are holy, righteous, and way smarter than any person--ever, but this tugging that you are doing on my heart to go talk to those folks across the street, it’s just not for me. “
“Yes Lord, you do know everything, but you must have gotten this one wrong.”
And we wait for God to say, “Oops, my bad. You’re right. What was I thinking?”
But we know better than to make flimsy excuses—and by the way when we are rebutting God, they are all flimsy—when God tells us to do something.
God chose us for redemption.
Jesus called us to follow him.
Our debt is paid in full. We no longer carry the weight of sin around.
Nothing can separate us from the love that we know in Christ Jesus.
Yes, Lord, we will follow you wherever you go!
Well, I don’t know about that or there or when or why you want me to do this. Well, except for…
Realize that when God has his Spirit tugging on your heart to do his work, God has thought this whole thing through. He knew that you would be the one preach the word in Africa or Mexico or Mangum.
He knew that you would serve God by cutting three acres of grass every month.
He knew that you would teach children God’s word on Sunday mornings.
He knew that you would witness to people at work and at Walmart.
And like Jeremiah, we are to go where God sends us. It may not be to the king’s court, but it might be to the basketball court, or the space port, or the import-export store, or to some place with no rhythm or rhyme to it, but we are to go.
We are to say what he leads us to say.
That doesn’t mean that we say whatever we feel like and say, “God told me to say that.”
It means that we speak truth.
There is a Winston Churchill quote that struck me a relevant to this matter. Churchill said: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
We don’t stumble over the truth. The truth has been given to us. It has been given to us to share and to live.
But sometimes, like Jeremiah, when God calls us to a special work, we break out our excuses.
There is the classic story, perhaps this too is a Henny Youngman anecdote as well, of the neighbor who stopped by to borrow a lawnmower.
The owner of the mower said, “No. You can’t borrow my mower.”
The neighbor said, “Well why not?”
The owner replies, “Because the train no longer runs from Schenectady to Manhattan.”
The neighbor, somewhat bewildered, says, “Just what does that have to do with anything?”
The owner replies, “If I am not going to give you what you want, one excuse is as good as another.”
When God has set us apart for something special that he wants us to do, one excuse is as bad as another, for he has considered our purpose and missions and tasks for some time.
His callings are neither casual nor capricious. Long before we knew that we existed, God knew what he would call us to do.
So why would we resist?
Why would we offer up excuses?
Why would we do anything other than the very thing that God tells us to do.
If you think that God is not speaking to you, then you are just not listening. None of us were created as shills or spectators or bystanders in life. There are no extras in this feature attraction called life.
God has a purpose for you.
He is telling you what it is.
Are you listening?
Are you believing?
Do you trust God or you own interpretation and understanding?
God is telling someone to be a preacher.
God is telling someone to be a teacher.
God is telling someone to be a musician.
God is telling someone to write psalms of praise and thanksgiving.
God is telling someone to pray much more for others.
God is telling someone to coach football.
God is telling someone to teach someone to read.
God is telling someone to teach someone how to cook.
God is telling each of these to do these things to his glory.
Do these things because God said so. Do them because God told us to. Do them because we trust God over our own understanding.
Jacques-Marie-Louis Monsabré filled many a pulpit. Though he has been dead for more than a century now, this single quote lives on.
“If God would concede me His omnipotence for 24 hours, you would see how many changes I would make in the world. But if He gave me His wisdom too, I would leave things as they are.”
Why must we make excuses when God calls us to do something? He has thought this through. He has good plans for you. He has done a better cost-benefit analysis that we could ever do.
Alas, Sovereign Lord, I can’t do what you ask. Though my life may be a mess as I do things my own way, my excuses are surely in order.
How long will we resist the things that God is calling us to do?
Let us stop making excuses and start living the purposeful life that God has in store for us.
Let us trust him completely, even over our own understanding.
Let us acknowledge him in all we do.
Let us get on the path that God has set for us. It goes exactly where we are designed to go.
Let us say the words, “Thy will be done” not only with complete acceptance but with the utmost enthusiasm.
Alas sovereign Lord, Thy will be done.