Prophetic leaders and innovators inspire change, but often also intense opposition. In military circles, innovative leaders must overcome tradition and budgetary constraints. When they set forth their creative idea brashly or attack previous methods, opposition quickly emerges.
The prophet Jeremiah warned Israel of impending doom. Prophets before him had called for repentance; Jeremiah pleaded for repentance but warned that the time for judgment had arrived. His sermons earned him both ridicule and accusations of treason. On one occasion a king cut up (shredded) and burned a written copy of his prophecies. Jeremiah was arrested and thrown in a pit.
Jeremiah prayed as he conducted his ministry. His “calls for fire” reveal a man who preached impending destruction but prayed fervently that it might be avoided. In Jeremiah 8:18-22, the prophet laments in prayer both the apparent absence of God and the obstinate rebellion of the people. He prays,
“O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: ‘Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?’ Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols? The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not save. Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Oh , that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.”
Jeremiah’s prayer echoes in our spiritual awareness; we sing a spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead,” that was inspired by the words of this prayer in Jeremiah 8. Every preacher, every disciple, who weeps over his congregation’s and his own failings identifies with this weeping prophet. We cringe when we have to rebuke another for we know our own weaknesses. We mourn when others fail miserably because they ignore our messages or because they, like Jeremiah’s contemporaries, wonder if God is still here.
The prayers of Jeremiah remind us that a leader sometimes must speak unpopular messages to his people and that such a responsibility weighs heavily upon the leader. Prayer gives the leader the opportunity to vent to one who can hear, understand, and effect change, who indeed is still here.