Wednesday Morning Devotion (Complaining to God)

1You come out justified, YHWH, when I make a case against you, yet I will present my causes to you.
Why do the wicked prosper,
and treacherous people live in peace?
2You planted them and they become well rooted.
They grow and bear fruit.
They are always talking about you,
But they are never thinking about you.
3But you, YHWH, know me. You see me!
You test my heart’s devotion to you.
Lure them away like sheep to the slaughter.
Set them apart for a day of killing!
4How long must the land mourn,
And the grass in every field be withered?
Because its people are so wicked,
The animals and birds have been finished off.
Because they said, “God doesn’t see where we’re going.”
5If you have run with the footmen,
And they have worn you out,
How can you compete with the horses?
If you’re in safe country, and you fall down,
What will you do in the rough country by the Jordan River? — Jeremiah 12:1-5

Those who actually want to be prophets ought to read a bit of Jeremiah. He has been called the weeping prophet, but I’d like to suggest “complaining prophet” as more like it. Not that he didn’t have plenty to complain about. I think if I had lived back then and received his call I might have asked God if he couldn’t just go ahead and let the Babylonians kill me. It would have been much easier.

But there are a number of interesting things about God’s friends and servants. They’re quite a varied bunch of people. You could hardly find two people more different than Jeremiah and Moses, for example. Moses can get angry, and when he does he says some things he’ll regret. But Jeremiah was always stewing. He doesn’t have those great bursts of anger. He just has a constant simmering of complaints.

When I set about to look at all the prayers of the Bible several years ago, I learned a number of interesting things. The main one was simply that just about everything I thought about prayer was off target in some way. If you think prayers should be long, you’ll find short ones in the Bible. Short? There are some long ones. Do you like signs? You’ll find some stuff that’s pretty negative about them. Negative about signs? You’ll find some of God’s servants asking for them and practically living on them. Do you think prayers should be polite? You’ll find plenty of challenging, angry prayers. Open, honest, and informal? You’ll find some that are quite formal and very polite, even flattering.

And then there’s Jeremiah, whining his way through a prophetic mission. Just look at the prayer in our scripture for today. Might I paraphrase? “Lord, you’re not actually going to listen to me, because you’re always right, but I’m going to complain anyhow. The wicked always prosper, and it’s your fault! You set them up and they prosper. Here’s what I want you to do: Have a massacre. Kill them all! Look, I know we’re in trouble because of the people’s sins, but how long is this going to last?”

Does that give you permission to complain? I would suggest it does. But many times the answer to your complaint is not going to be to make things better for you or to do things your way. Think about a coach for a runner. The athlete complains that he is tired out and doesn’t have this one more race in him. Does the coach say, “OK, I know you’re tired. Go get some rest?” Well, there are times he will, because that’s what’s necessary. But sometimes it’s going to be more like, “You’re going to let a little thing like being tired beat you? Get out there and do it, or you’re not the athlete I thought you were.”

God lets Jeremiah complain. But his answer is more like the second one. “Look, Jeremiah, you’re in the easy stuff right now. It’s like racing with guys on foot. Later, you’re going to run against horses, and what are you going to do then?”

The answer in Jeremiah’s life was that he stuck with God, and he did live through much greater difficulties. Will you voice your complaints but stick with the divine coach as well?

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