Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. —Jeremiah 1:5
When an NFL player, and every one of them is an amazing athlete, gets traded to a new team, he has to learn the playbook. He can’t bring in the playbook of the Dallas Cowboys when he’s been traded to the Chicago Bears. He doesn’t say, “I’m a professional athlete. I don’t need to learn another set of plays.” It’s because he’s such a great athlete that he can learn a new offense, a new defense, and so forth.
Every one of us has a non-Immanuel background. We’ve been traded from some other team. So as we come together and want to score touchdown after touchdown, we have to run the same plays together. What is our playbook? What are the understandings we all need to share together, and how do we “run those plays”? That’s what we’re going to define for several weeks now.
We begin today with this basic question. What is a Christian? Jeremiah 1 tells us something about being a Christian that writes our first play in our playbook. In this passage God says you are a person of destiny, and almost nothing in this world helps you to believe that. The political parties see you as a voting block. Businesses see you as a market niche. Therapists may tell you what a victim you are. But this world knows nothing of your dignity in Christ. You are a person of destiny. That’s what God says. Don’t let anyone but God define you. Receive his call on your life, and go for it. He promises to be with you as you dare to follow him.
You do not have to create your own significance. Many try to. Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, wrote, “We disguise our struggle by piling up figures in a bank book to reflect privately our sense of heroic worth. Or by having only a little better home in the neighborhood, a bigger car, brighter children. But underneath throbs the ache of cosmic specialness, no matter how we mask it in concerns of smaller scope.” Without a God-given sense of cosmic specialness, we sink into, as Becker puts it, “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.” This is why Jesus said, “Come to me. My yoke is easy.” He has a call on your life, and it will not burn you up. It will cost you. But it will also fulfill you – like nothing else.
Let’s look at the greatness of the call of God upon us.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” —Jeremiah 1:4-5
The passages narrates Jeremiah’s call as a prophet. But it applies to all of God’s people. In the Old Testament God calls his people “my anointed ones, my prophets” (Psalm 105:15). In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is poured out on all of God’s people so that “they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says that, if all the members of that church will prophesy, they’ll make an impact (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
What are we talking about? We’re not talking about being prophetic in the sense that I walk up to you and say, “God told me thus and so.” That’s a power play. When I hear that kind of thing, I’m not impressed. God speaks through the Bible. We are prophetic not through hunches but through truth. That’s what we see in the book of Acts during the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit in history: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). That’s being prophetic.
Here’s the wonderful thing we learn from these verses in Jeremiah 1. God personally handmade you and me for this task. We shouldn’t say, “But that isn’t my spiritual gift.” That’s what Jeremiah’s about to say. And it was a pretty good excuse. He really wasn’t the ideal candidate for a prophet. But God called Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah to transcend himself. God called Jeremiah to do hard things for him, things he was unprepared for. And God promised Jeremiah that he would be with him. God even built weakness into Jeremiah, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). So here’s the truth. God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called. The call of God is all you need to be confident. His command comes with his promise. If you will obey, you will succeed, because his call upon your life is not just a future challenge; his call started a long time ago and got you to this moment right now. Before you existed in your mother’s womb, God loved you and set you apart to himself and defined your mission in life. He gave you a job to do. He appointed you a voice for the gospel to the whole world today. See yourself that way.
When you look at your life and say, “For this I was born” – what is it about your life that you’re looking at when your heart says that? Is there anything in your life that makes you say, “For this I was born”? God wants to fill in that blank for you with his true purpose: “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Do not trivialize your life. God has a call of greatness for you. And Immanuel Church is here to serve you by helping you fulfill your destiny. But following God’s call is not easy for us. It wasn’t easy for Jeremiah. We see that in verses 6-8:
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” —Jeremiah 1:6-8
We can always come up with reasons to say No to God, because what he calls us to do is impossible. The will of God stretches us to the limit and beyond. But throughout the Bible we see people just like us who accomplish things they never dreamed possible. Why? Because when we step out to obey God, he goes with us: “I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah’s excuse was “Lord, I’m young, I’m inexperienced, I’m untrained. There are some really smart people out there. I won’t know what to say.” That is not a profound objection. Isaiah at least had a profound objection. When God called him, he said, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). He was saying, “I’m too sinful to speak for you” – a pretty good point. But God touched Isaiah’s mouth and said, “Your guilt is taken away; your sin is atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). So, what’s your excuse? Our minds will always come up with reasons to put God off. Let’s not be shocked when we find ourselves screaming defeat even as we’re standing in victory. It’s how we sinners think, and it feels somehow logical.
What does God do about that? How does God respond to our inadequacy? God doesn’t say to Jeremiah, “No, Jeremiah, you really are impressive. You even make me feel complete. Jeremiah, I feel so much better with you on my side.” No, Jeremiah was right. He was inadequate. And Isaiah was sinful. But God is just changing the subject to himself and his grace. Look in this passage how God insists on a positive new God-focus in your life:
I formed you, I knew you, I consecrated you, I appointed you, I send you, I command you, I am with you to deliver you.
What does God tell Jeremiah to do? Just two things: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth,'” and “Do not be afraid.” The whole tilt of the passage leans toward how much God does for Jeremiah and how little Jeremiah does for God. What does God want Jeremiah to do? “Stop telling me who you are. I know that already. What matters for you to fulfill your destiny, Jeremiah, is not who you are but who I am, not your ability but my purpose.” Let’s get our eyes off ourselves. Self-focus will paralyze a church. The whole point of the gospel is that we are no longer limited to ourselves. We are freed from our pettiness and smallness. We are now living in union with Christ in all his grandeur (1 Corinthians 1:30). The key to your becoming a prophetic voice for Christ is Christ – Christ before you, Christ over you, Christ in you, Christ with you. He is sending you. He is commanding you. If you will obey, you will succeed and your life will make an impact to the ends of the earth.
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” —Jeremiah 1:9-10
What matters is not your mouth but whose word is in your mouth. Billy Graham might be a better evangelist than you, but his gospel is no better than yours. The gospel you have to share has all the same power of God to create a new human race. All you have to do is receive God’s words into your mouth, and then let them out of your mouth. I remember an old friend named Wilbur Smith telling me years ago about Billy Graham sitting down with the president of some foreign country and Graham’s first comment to this world leader, as they sat down for dinner, was not “What a lovely country you have” but “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” That is the all-important question we must ask everyone we can: What do you think of Jesus Christ? God orchestrated and launched and is supervising all of human history for this one reason: to display his glory in Christ. Therefore the central question for every life throughout the length of human history is not about politics or economics or race; the primary question is, What do you think of Jesus Christ? And God will use any believer, however timid, whose mouth will open up for his glory.
St. Francis of Assisi was famous for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” That is wrong. Sure, we want our lives to line up with what we say. But a life without words is not enough. What does God do here? God puts his words into Jeremiah’s mouth – not just his character into Jeremiah’s heart or his deeds into Jeremiah’s lifestyle but his words into Jeremiah’s mouth. It is gospel words that have the power to bring down strongholds of falsehood and establish new worlds of peace and joy and justice in people’s lives and families and neighborhoods. That’s why the devil wants to silence you. It’s okay with him if you live a “good Christian life,” if you’ll just keep your mouth shut. But when God puts his words into your mouth and you let them out of your mouth, you are prophetic. What did the Sanhedrin tell the apostles not to do? “They charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). And the apostles, who were shaken by that – can you imagine seeing your face on wanted posters all over town? – the apostles went back to the church and they had a prayer meeting. What did they ask God to do? Not to make all the wanted posters disappear. This is what they begged God for: “And now Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29). God helped them, and their influence was unstoppable to the ends of the earth.
God can make a worldwide difference through you, beginning today: “See, I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms.” Jeremiah didn’t have to strive for influence; he only had to speak, and God do the rest. When you speak openly for Jesus, his Word redirects the course of human history, one person at a time. You start pushing over dominoes all around you, without even knowing it. And do you see these words of destruction (pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow) followed by words of construction (build, plant)? What’s that about? Francis Schaeffer used to say, “If I had one hour with a modern person, I would spend the first fifty minutes interacting on the problems, on our lostness and emptiness and despair and bondage and guilt, and then the last ten minutes on the good news.”
Schaeffer understood that the gospel first plucks up and breaks down and destroys and overthrows the false hopes we dream of and the fraudulence of our culture, and then it builds and plants with the solid realities of Jesus. Billy Graham said, “The problem is not to get people saved; the problem is to get them lost.” Too many people “make a decision for Jesus” before they know why they need him, and people don’t change that way. They don’t love him. They don’t even want him, not really. They just accept him, to escape hell. Their inner world has never been deconstructed and then rebuilt in Christ. Their minds and hearts are still locked down with well-established structures of pride and fear and error. The gospel sets people free from that. Think of the structure of the book of Romans. Paul explains the gospel in chapters 1-5, in two steps. He starts out in 1:18-3:20 explaining the wrath of God, then in 3:21-5:21 he explains the grace of God. Why? Because the good news starts with bad news. The gospel has some hard things to say to us, harder than anything else we’ve ever heard. And it has sweet things to say to us, sweeter than anything else we’ve ever heard. God breaks down and he builds up. That’s how the gospel changes people – beginning with us.
Now, how should we respond to this passage? From verses 4-5 we can say to God, “Thank you for how you made me. I see that I am not fundamentally a problem to you; I am fundamentally a strategy from you. Thank you. I dedicate my life to doing your will.” From verses 6-8 we can say to God, “Father, I renounce my negative self-focus, and I receive your promise to be with me and deliver me as I speak for you.” And from verses 9-10 we can say, “Lord, I want to become more articulate in the gospel – removing objections, bringing down the obstacles, building and planting new thoughts, new feelings, new reverence in the hearts of my friends as we interact over the gospel.”
So here is the first play in our playbook. Every member of Immanuel Church is trained to be a voice for the gospel. Every member knows how to explain the gospel and is ready and available to explain the gospel with anyone. That’s the play. Let’s run it.
Let me ask you something. What are you doing every Sunday morning at 9:00 that’s more important than learning how to improve your fluency in the gospel? That’s what C. A. Stilwell is helping us to do here every Sunday morning at 9:00. Where are you during that hour? If you’re not here, if you’re somewhere else because you’re good at this already, we still need you here to help the rest of us. And if you’re not here because you need extra rest before work on Monday, is there anything preventing you from going to bed at 10:00 Saturday night, setting your alarm for 7:00 Sunday morning, turning out the lights and getting nine hours of sleep, so that you wake up Sunday morning feeling great, with two hours for a leisurely cup of coffee and newspaper time before you’re here at 9:00? What else do you have to do that’s more important than you fulfilling the call of God on your life?
God said to Jeremiah, “I have consecrated you.” That was good news. It meant that Jeremiah would not waste his life. And that is the call of God on you and me. But there’s better news. Jesus said, “I consecrate myself for their sake” (John 17:19). Your future is not limited to you; your future is opened up by him, because he is committed to you. Trust him. Obey him. He will be with you, you will be prophetic, and your life will count forever.