The Unenviable Job of a Prophet

There are so many blessings to following the Lord. There is forgiveness, peace, joy, fellowship, hope for eternity, and so much more. But the truth is, following God is hard, sometimes very hard.

One person who understood this point very well was Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah saw miracles from God. Jeremiah had the word of God to communicate to the people around him. But Jeremiah had it hard. The people who lived around Jeremiah were not following God. And the people really did not like it when Jeremiah prophesied that God would bring judgment on the land by allowing the Babylonians to conquer Judah.

Look at this passage where Jeremiah laments his difficult position.

Jeremiah 20:7–11 – 7 O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10 For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

Jeremiah declares that he feels deceived. Of course God has not deceived anybody, but Jeremiah is unhappy about the hardship he is facing. Jeremiah has the word of God. But as he communicates that word, the people attack him. Jeremiah has a message of life for the people. The people reject that message and then turn on Jeremiah, attacking the messenger. And, at times, Jeremiah just wants to quit.

But verse 9 tells us that Jeremiah can’t quit. When he tries to remain silent, he feels like he could explode. Jeremiah says, “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah wishes he could stop. He would like a nice, easy, soft life. But Jeremiah cannot have it.

This brings also to my mind the story of John Calvin. Calvin wanted very little more than to live a simple life of study. But he could not. Calvin, in passing through Geneva, was approached by the leader of the church in that city, a man named Guillaume Farel. Farel made it clear to Calvin that Calvin’s genius for theology and for organization was needed in Geneva, and Farel would pray that Calvin would have no peace if he did not do what he should to help. Calvin wanted nothing more than to travel on to Strasbourg, but he feared the curse of God pronounced by Farel, and so stayed and worked in Geneva. The work was hard. The people were often unappreciative and even hostile. Eventually the city banished Calvin and Farel, but then brought them back.

Calvin’s life of preaching and teaching was hard, and I wonder if he would not have spoken like Jeremiah did in our passage. In truth, I think many a pastor would tell you that we have days when we feel like Jeremiah. It would be easier not to confront people with their sin. It would be easier not to warn the culture around us of the judgment of God. It would be easier not to call people to repentance. It would be easier not to tell someone they are unqualified for the ministry they want to do. It would be easier not to tell someone that their doctrinal claims are unbiblical.

But the truth is, the Lord is great. The Lord’s word is perfect. And the ministry of communicating the truth of God to people, whether they be welcoming or hostile, is a privilege and an honor. The true follower of God will have a fire in his or her bones that will not go out until we tell people the truth, even if that telling costs us.