Jeremiah at Prayer -
I wonder whether you can remember when you were at school being introduced to electrical diagrams. I only have a vague recollection of them and I think my grasp of them at the time was somewhat similar – vague. During the week when I was looking for some pictures about wiring diagrams I came across a website called ask-
It’s a matter of experience and of understanding. What you want in someone doing work on your house is someone who understands the ins and outs of it all; how this and that applies and how it all fits together. Yes, head knowledge is important but you want it all to work in practice and not simply on paper. So, you ask the electrician.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi he told them that he was praying for them that their love might abound in all knowledge and discernment. Both of those words have a very practical sense in the original. Paul doesn’t pray that his friends’ heads’ will be simply stuffed full of information but what he does want is for his friends to know how to make more and more use of all the information they do possess. He wants them to see what the most important things are and what these truths actually means for them in their everyday lives and how they should be applied to real life situations.
The type of knowledge Paul prays for is the type that could be described as having a good perception. Perhaps you have been in a strange part of the country and you’ve got lost – you have a map, all the information is there, it’s all accurate – but until you realise just where you are on the map and how everything fits together it won’t be of any help to you. But when it suddenly clicks and you "see" where you are then the map will guide you to where you want to go.
This evening we are going to consider another aspect of Jeremiah’s prayer life and our goal is a simple one. We don’t just want to know what Jeremiah did but we want to learn from him so that we might pray in a better more appropriate manner as we put what we know in practice in our own praying.
Our focus will be upon the element of praise that punctuates Jeremiah’s praying.
The General Context
You know by now, I hope, that Jeremiah was called to serve at a difficult time in the history of the people of God. The religious reforms that had been begun by King Josiah had not been successful in dealing with the spiritual condition of the nation and Jeremiah was called upon to preach an unpopular message of judgment. While he faithfully carried out this task over many years Jeremiah saw precious little fruit for his labours and indeed endured much personal suffering instead. He was despised and mocked, treated as a liar and a traitor to his own people. Harsh treatment followed including imprisonment and deprivation.
This is the context in which Jeremiah not only ministered but in which he also maintained his own spiritual life. His intimacy with his God grew out of this unpromising situation and developed when everything seemed to be against him.
Already there is a simple truth for us to note here: while our circumstances will undoubtedly influence our spiritual walk with the Lord they do not need to determine it. We do not need ideal circumstances where everything seems to go in our favour in order for our spiritual lives to prosper. As the apostle Paul would later write to the Christians in Rome:
Rom.8:28 "We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose." GNB
This does not automatically mean we will feel good about all our circumstances but we do not by any means need to lose heart as though God has forgotten us or to fear that we have no future.
Jeremiah kept on serving the LORD and kept on praying and he did that even when he didn’t understand quite what was happening. On several occasions he complained to God and questioned him but he nevertheless went on and on praising God. He knew who God was. He knew his power, his faithfulness, his justice. But he wasn’t content simply to hold these things in his mind as a set of doctrinal truths to which he subscribed. No, he perceived how these truths ought to influence his behaviour and impact upon his life and so he gave praise to God.
So this evening we are going to look at examples of how Jeremiah praised God. For this I intend only to consider expressions of praise that are to be found in Jeremiah’s prayers. This limitation is not meant to imply that praise was restricted to his prayers alone – his faithful preaching of the many "words of the LORD" that came to him certainly involves praise and the very content of those messages includes descriptions of the praiseworthiness of the LORD. I am limiting myself to the praise of Jeremiah’s prayers in order to see what might be of help to us as we too seek to apply the truths that we know about God to our own prayer lives.
Jeremiah’s Praise in Prayer
As Jeremiah prays we notice that he did not only emphasis one particular trait of the LORD, he referred instead to several different qualities in God which drew forth praise in him.
We’ll begin with the matter of the power/strength of the LORD:
1:6 "Ah, Lord GOD!"
The very first recorded prayer that Jeremiah uttered begins with praise as he addresses himself to God.
The terms he uses are important and must not be relegated to mere labels. As he begins his prayer he uses two different terms to describe the God to whom he is praying:
Adonai – Lord. Jeremiah calls God his Master, his ruler and it is a term that signifies his reverence for this God. How easy it is in our self-
Yahweh – this the covenant name of God, of God as he has made promises and committed himself to his people. It is the proper name of God, the One True Living God and it emphasises that he is the self-
When we pray let us remember that the names and titles we use to speak to him are not without meaning but in themselves carry a tremendous weight of truth and significance.
Jeremiah will use this particular combination of titles in subsequent prayers but he does not restrict himself to just one way of speaking to the LORD.
He regularly prays to the LORD but also varies the mix of titles that he ascribes to him – this is one way of enriching our prayers as we focus on different but related aspects of our God’s greatness:
In ch.11:20 Jeremiah prays to the LORD as the "LORD of hosts" – hardly surprising that he should employ this variant which emphasises the almighty power of God because the LORD frequently referred to himself in this way as he revealed his word to Jeremiah. And in ch.15 Jeremiah employed one further variant as he spoke to the LORD as the "LORD, God of hosts".
And of course in other places Jeremiah continues to focus upon the mighty power of the LORD but simply uses other words:
Eg. 16:19 "O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble"
17:17 "you are my refuge in the day of disaster."
Jeremiah would then ask God on the basis of such a declaration to not allow him to be put to shame by his enemies.
Praying in this manner glorifies God because Jeremiah by it was not affirming some abstract truth but rather he was declaring his personal confidence and reliance upon the God who was able to provide help, protection and safety. And Jeremiah knew plenty of such occasions in his life when he needed to know he was not on his own abandoned to a helpless destiny.
Doctrinal statements, turned into statements of personal praise, become solid grounds for confident expectant prayer.
Reminding himself of this power of God to intervene in the direst of circumstances meant that he could also praise his God as being the "LORD, the hope of Israel"(17:13) who was the saviour of his people (14:8), a saviour who was not some frustrated warrior unable to save (14:9) but in perhaps the most developed of his prayer statements concerning the mighty power and authority of the LORD:
32:18 "O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts"
In that same prayer Jeremiah would continue by spelling out some of the ways in which such power had been demonstrated in the real life of the nation as he set them free from Egyptian slavery and brought them into the land he had promised he would to them:
Not only was Jeremiah’s God strong and mighty he was also unique, one of a kind.
The various nations that surrounded Israel each worshipped their own gods even though they were not true gods at all. The dreadful thing about the Israel of Jeremiah’s day was that the people had effectively turned their backs on their God and gone after the gods of others and yet the LORD was and is the Only True God:
None of the false gods of the nations is able to bring about any sort of change in the world in which we live but the LORD on the other hand rules providentially over all:
14:22 "Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O LORD our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things."
Expectancy should characterise our praying when we know how great and good is our God.
Another element that figures prominently in Jeremiah’s praising of the LORD is that of justice. Not only is the LORD powerful but he also engages his power in the pursuit and application of justice. How encouraging we should find this too – what a terrible world it would be if the only God there is, the Almighty God, was not interested in matters of right and wrong. The proper word for power which is indifferent to justice would be tyranny and our God is, happily, no tyrant!
11:20 "But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause."
12:1 "Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you."
In the light of this Jeremiah can pray both for his own correction and for judgment to be passed on the guilty nations of the world:
This God who sees all is well able to judge what he sees and to differentiate between the righteous and the guilty – another reason to sing to, and praise, the LORD:
Love, wisdom, counsel
A lovely combination of attributes are brought together in a short compass in ch.32, a chapter to which we have already referred. Listen to how Jeremiah brings them all together along with along with the power to create and the power to save:
There are times when we don’t understand what it is that the LORD is doing -
While we can pray following Jeremiah’s example it the light of the NT we can go further than Jeremiah was able to go. Jeremiah prophesied the establishment of the new covenant but it is we who have the privileges that flow from that new covenant. Jesus has come securing new creation, new birth and new life by means of his death for us upon the cross. The salvation he brings transforms and deepens the way in which we relate to our God. In Christ this Almighty, All-
So, let us too praise the LORD for it is fitting for the upright to praise him.