I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel inadequate. Even though I know that God has big plans for me, and has called me to be a youth/college minister, I sometimes convince myself that I’m not skilled enough, not old enough, not wise enough, not spiritual enough to do any good. This leads me into the belief that God can’t use me–I’m nothing special. If you’ve ever been there, you’re not alone.
A long, long time ago, there was a guy named Jeremiah who went through something like this. God sent a message to Jeremiah, telling him about his plans.
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.‘” (Jeremiah 1:4-5, New International Version, emphasis added)
God specifically called Jeremiah to be a prophet. In fact, before Jeremiah was born, this was his purpose. There is a good chance that Jeremiah was terrified of the idea of being God’s prophet. After all, if the people were offended by the message God had for them, they had a tendency to take out their anger on the messenger. Regardless, his immediate response to this is to say “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” The New Living Translation reads, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
What follows this appears to be God fathering Jeremiah, teaching him the ways of prophecy. Jeremiah’s excuse is, “I can’t speak; I don’t know how!” God’s response is, “Let me teach you.” Jeremiah’s excuse is, “I’m too young!” God’s response is, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” (verses 6-8, emphasis added)
Jeremiah continues his personal account of this: “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See today I appoint you over the nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.'” (verses 9-10, emphasis added)
Notice how God reaches out to Jeremiah, and initiates contact. God gives Jeremiah the words to say, and then teaches him how to use them. You also might notice how violent this message seems. There is destruction and a tearing down of kingdoms that will take place; people will be overthrown and uprooted from their places. Would a loving God do things like this?
My answer would be absolutely. Did you catch that last part of the verse? Jeremiah is also being commanded, “to build and to plant.” In other words, there are some things that need to change in Jeremiah’s culture.
Look at it this way. If you are taking care of a garden, and you want to just grow tomatoes, anything that isn’t a tomato will probably be torn out of the ground and uprooted. If the goal is to grow tomatoes, it’s not safe to be anything other than a tomato. You have to protect the tomatoes from any other plants that might steal nutrients from them. You have to weed out the garden in order to keep it healthy. That is sort of what’s going on here. God wants the right kind of growth to happen, but the garden is full of weeds. This sets the stage for what Jeremiah will do for the next 40 years of his life.
God continues to build up his prophet, training him in the interpretation of visions. “Look, Jeremiah! What do you see?” (v. 11)
Jeremiah replies, “I see a branch from an almond tree.”
God then adds, “That’s right, and it means that I am watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans.” (v. 12)
The interesting thing here is God’s use of Jeremiah’s language in the vision. Jeremiah sees a branch from an almond tree, and this means that God is watching. You see, the Hebrew word for “watching,” though spelled a bit differently, sounds almost exactly like the Hebrew word for “almond tree.” This allows Jeremiah to better pick up on the intended meaning of these visions; he better understands how God will communicate with him..
After one more of these visions, God tells Jeremiah, “Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land–the kings, officials, priests, and people of Juda. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken (Jer. 1:17-19, NLT)!”
Wow. Not much time to get used to this. But God gives assurance that he will take care of Jeremiah. Notice, however, that God never says he will give Jeremiah tons of happiness. In fact, God tells Jeremiah that the people will fight him. But God also says that they will fail in this fight. Jeremiah was fully prepared and informed of his situation–God made sure of that. He now knew why he was alive.
Now for the practical part of this.
Maybe you wonder why you are alive sometimes. Maybe you have doubts about who you were meant to be. I have said all of that in order to say this: God can use anyone, no matter who you are or where you come from. Sometimes God decides to use us in a way that is completely new to us (like for Jeremiah), but it also isn’t uncommon for God to use us in ways that we are already used to (like our hobbies, skills, or personalities). God can use anyone, especially those who are the least qualified to do anything. By doing this, it becomes clear that God made it happen, and we didn’t.
I was talking to a friend about ministry today. He knows that God has called him to reach out to Atheists. Many of his friends, in fact, are former Atheists who came to know God because of their friendship. He seemed frustrated though, because he didn’t feel like God was actively using him, or that he was even prepared to do anything. He’s got so many things burdening him in his life that he doesn’t think he can do any good. Maybe you can relate to that.
My message to you is that when God wants to do something, he tends to put people in your life who help you grow so that you can accomplish that task. He tends to put you into situations where you gain the necessary experience. The difficult thing is that it’s much easier to see how God is working when you look back to the past. It’s much harder (but still possible) to see God preparing you in the present. Like Jeremiah, if God has called you to do or be something, he will give you everything you need before you do it. It probably wont be through visions, or a booming voice from the heavens. Maybe it’s in a passion that you have or a book that you’re reading. Maybe it’s in your personality or friend groups. Or maybe all you need to do is ask God to prepare you.
Wherever this training comes, you don’t have to worry; God is watching, and will go with you. People may fight you, and you may go through hard times, but the hard times will never have the victory at the end of the day.
Never underestimate what God can do through you.