Ever grow tired of doing right when you don’t see any results from your efforts? It happens in a myriad of circumstances. Many of us have fought long and hard to overcome a besetting sin, but when we fall again we want to just throw in the towel. Or we’re motivated to do our job with integrity at work, but when that is not rewarded we are tempted to pull back and coast. Some have rocky marriages, so we put much effort into changing, but when our spouse doesn’t reciprocate we are tempted revert to our old habits.
We pursue obedience, looking for some temporal good to come from it. But what about when that doesn’t happen? How do we persistent in doing good when there seems to be no benefit?
The prophet Jeremiah knew exactly what it feels like to go all out and see nothing in return. When God called him to be a prophet to the people of Judah, He told him to warn the people about impending judgment for their idolatry and to call them to repentance. And God warned Jeremiah that things were not going to go well for him. It wasn’t just that the people would be reluctant to listen or that it would take years and years for Jeremiah to see anyone repent and return to the Lord. It would be much worse than that. God said, “they will fight against you…” (1:19). The people would actively work against Jeremiah.
Now, what would happen if Jeremiah was motivated completely by results? What if Jeremiah’s faithfulness was dictated by how quickly his preaching brought about repentance in his hearers? Well, the book of Jeremiah certainly wouldn’t be the longest prophecy in the Bible. It might have been a chapter or two. Actually, it might not have extended beyond one chapter since chapter one is where God guaranteed that Jeremiah’s preaching would not result in the repentance of the people. If results were all that mattered, Jeremiah might have never even opened his mouth.
But for Jeremiah, the repentance of the people was not the objective. Obedience was the objective. For him, success would not be defined by the temporal results, but by his faithfulness to do what the Lord commanded. That’s not to say that there were never times when Jeremiah wanted to quit or that Jeremiah was a machine, completely unaffected by the responses of the people. He grieved for the people because of their sin and impending doom (8:18-22). He mourned the day of his own birth because of how difficult it was to persevere under the abuse of the people (15:10). He suffered physically, being beaten and imprisoned by his own countrymen (20:1-2). He was even sentenced to death for prophesying in God’s name (26:1-15). Faithfulness to his calling was not a cakewalk by any means.
So what kept him going? There were a couple of things. First, Jeremiah knew that he was owned by God. The Lord’s first words to the prophet were, “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” (1:5). The Lord had marked Jeremiah out as a special instrument before his birth. He belonged to the Lord.
There is a sense in which Yahweh purchased all of the Israelites when He redeemed them from Egypt. For that reason, they were to live as His servants: For the Israelites are My slaves. They are My slaves that I brought out of the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God (Lev 25:55 HCSB). Jeremiah was all the more a servant of God in that God chose him out of all of Israel to serve as His prophet. This sense of ownership compelled Jeremiah to serve the Lord even when it was difficult and painful.
We too belong to God and exist as His servants. We read in 1 Corinthians, You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1Cor 6:19b-20 ESV). We have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, becoming freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness (Rom6:17-18). Therefore, we are to obey simply because we belong to God. We should joyfully pursue obedience that He might be glorified in us (Matt 5:15-16; 2 Cor 12:9; Col 3:17).
The second thing that compelled Jeremiah to persevere was the fire of God’s word burning inside him. In 15:16, he said to the Lord, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Even when Jeremiah wanted to stop speaking in the Lord’s name because of the severity of his persecution, he could not: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak anymore 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” (20:9). The word of God drove him forward to persist in obedience.
We too are called to use the Word of God as fuel for our obedience. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col 3:16). When Paul wrote to the discouraged and weary Timothy, he called his attention back to the word:
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2Tim 3:14-17 ESV)
Paul reminded Timothy of the value of the word—it equips us to do what the Lord has called us to do. Reading and re-reading the Bible keeps the things of the Lord fresh on our minds and makes it far easier to remember to Whom we belong and how graciously He has saved us from the penalty of our own sin. It keeps alive in us a longing for holiness and shows us how to progress toward it.
Sometimes we may feel too weary to continue in faithfulness. We need to be reminded of Jeremiah and what propelled him to continue to serve the Lord. We need to remind ourselves that we have been bought with a price and therefore exist for the glory of God. We need to fasten our attention to the Scriptures. If the word dwells in us richly and we view ourselves as servants belonging to the Lord, zealous that He would be glorified in all that we do, temporal results or the lack thereof will not determine our level of persistence. Obedience for the glory of God will remain the objective.