Every believer faces a moment of doubt. Most preachers will encounter opponents and wonder wonder, “Are they right?” The prophet Jeremiah was no exception. Jeremiah proclaimed God’s will and God’s intention, but he also prayed for his people. He proclaimed that disaster loomed for a rebellious people, but his prayers revealed his hopes, his fears, his hurt at being attacked for doing right. His prayer in Jeremiah 17 shocks us, but also inspires with the prophet’s brutally honest fears and desires:
“Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water. Heal me, O Lord and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise. They keep saying to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it now be fulfilled!’ I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair. What passes my lips is open before you. Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. Let my persecutors be put to shame, but keep me from shame; let them be terrified, but keep me from terror. Bring on them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction” (Jeremiah 17:13-18).
While this prayer causes us to catch our breath with its vengeful spirit toward the prophet’s enemies, it also identifies God as “the hope of Israel” and “the spring of living water,” unique descriptions of the Lord in biblical prayer that reveal trust and deep faith in the midst of persecution. Note also that despite verbal attacks from his hearers, Jeremiah has not deserted his post, he has not run away from being a shepherd on behalf of the Lord. Unlike the “shepherds” whom the prophet Ezekiel rebuked, Jeremiah persevered in caring for those to whom he preached.
When we doubt God’s presence when we pray, when we question our mission even as we perform it, it helps to read a prayer like Jeremiah’s and know that we are not the first to encounter such dilemmas. Jeremiah voices his doubts even as he affirms his praise for God; he echoes the criticisms of his attackers (“Terror on every side!) when he prays, “Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.” Vengeful, yes, but Jeremiah prays that God will validate him as him prophet, that he will affirm him as a true prophet, that he will enact faithfully what he has inspired Jeremiah to proclaim. As he prays that God will not terrorize or shame him, Jeremiah reveals his fear(Is it ours as well?), that he has believed, spoken, and acted in vain.
God, you are our hope. In a desert of abandoned dreams and neglected love, you are the spring of living water that revives our hope. Lord, we believe; forgive our fear. Restore our courage, renew our determination. We praise you and thank you for your patience. Help us to follow as Jeremiah followed, to lead as he led, to pray with honesty, and to live with integrity. Heal us as we help others. Protect us as we proclaim your Word. In Jesus’ name, Amen.