“If you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?” -Jeremiah 12:5
We’re starting a new Wednesday Bible Study series focusing on the life of the prophet Jeremiah, and we’re using Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson as our guiding text. Peterson uses what scripture reveals about the person of Jeremiah to illustrate the potential of a life fully engaged with God and opens his book with this observation: “The puzzle is why so many people live so badly.”
Why do so many people live at less than full capacity? Why do so many Christians live at less than full capacity? Why do so many faithful church leaders live at less than full capacity? How does the promise of abundant life turn into a frazzled, over-filled, directionless life?
The simple answer is that life is hard sometimes. Even when things are going well, we face constant challenges as we struggle to balance and allocate our time, attention, energy and resources. People, priorities, obligations, temptations, distractions, and all sorts of amusements and hobbies constantly compete for first place in our lives. The urgent and the important vie with the not so important and even less urgent and we fail to give our best to anything. We are bombarded with competing messages about how to structure our time and what constitutes the "good life."
It doesn’t take long for any of us to find ourselves overwhelmed and overextended. Some of us just shut down when we’re overwhelmed. Others of us work ourselves into frantic frenzies, seeking to keep all the plates spinning. All of us who find ourselves overwhelmed eventually come to the conclusion that we’re failing to live with the direction and purpose and significance we’d initially hoped for. We find ourselves anxious, aimless, sometimes embittered, and—believe it or not—in the middle of all our activity, restless and bored.
The more we try to direct our actions toward fulfillment and purpose, the more we find ourselves scattered and fractured, living at less than full capacity. The problem is that we live in a culture that teaches us to be self-directed.
On Wednesday we learned that the Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s day was dominated by self-direction, too. For generations, the Hebrew scriptures had been lying unused and forgotten, misplaced in a corner of the Temple. Absent the instruction of God, self-directed living led quickly to a people and a country in disarray.
Jeremiah offers a prayer of confession on behalf of the people, praying, “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps” (Jer 10:23). Our lives our not our own. Self-direction will never quench our thirst for wholeness. Authentic lives have God at their center— a calm, confident and steady core to quiet the confusion of our lives.
On Sunday, we’ll talk about the Kingdom of God, a vision of the world where Christ is king, as part of our “The Big Idea” series. Living within the Kingdom is the opposite of self-directed living and produces opposite results. Anxious, aimless, frazzled, restless and bored no more, we become people with God-given peace, direction, balance, purpose and vision.
So many of us want so badly to control everything; to establish our own power; to exert our own influence; to develop our own strength. But we can’t do those things and live in God’s Kingdom. The Good News, though, is that we need not sacrifice power, influence and strength to be Kingdom people. We need only to cede control to God, and in so doing claim God’s power, God’s influence, and God’s strength as our own.
That’s the promise of living into the coming kingdom. We’ll talk more about that promise this Sunday. I hope to see you then.