We read a lot of stories in the Bible about God calling people to do his work or speak in his name. Have you ever noticed how often those people act just like we might act if we were in their shoes?
Moses, for example, wriggled around as much as he could before finally saying, “O Lord, send someone else!” His tactic didn’t work, by the way. Jonah tried to run away, which also didn’t work.
And sometimes we have people like Jeremiah, who doesn’t try to escape God’s call as much as he wonders why in the heck God would call him. As we read his response, we see him willing enough to do what God asks him to do, but he’s pretty sure he’ll mess it up somehow.
“I don’t know how to speak,” he says. “I’m only a boy!”
Jeremiah knows that in his culture, people listen to folks who can show signs of wisdom. Obviously, wisdom has many signs, but people considered gray hair and a long beard good indicators that the speaker had it.
Although some parts of our culture work in reverse of that idea – remember how young people in the 1960s advised each other never to trust anyone over 30 – we also believe experience is a good teacher and a good path to wisdom. Those folks from the sixties don’t say that about people over 30 anymore, for example.
So we could see how Jeremiah might think his youth would block him from speaking God’s word effectively. Perhaps God should choose an older, wiser, more established person to speak for him. Someone people will listen to.
I’m long past the time where I could say to God, “Hey, I’m too young for this!” Still, I don’t have to look hard to find my shortcomings and the ways in which there would have to be at least a thousand people more qualified for this job than me.
But God seems uninterested in Jeremiah’s shortcomings. “Don’t say that. You will go where I say and say what I tell you to and I’ll be with you all the way.” In fact, according to God, Jeremiah will be the one in charge of whatever situation he faces. The hand of God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and God says he has placed his words there for Jeremiah to use. Since Jeremiah is in fact a young man, I can imagine his response: “Duuuude!”
Jeremiah and all of us who have felt like him when we’ve heard God’s call have the same problem – we’re all too aware of our own unworthiness. And not in the general sinful human being sense. We have specifics. We’re too young, too old, too dumb, too smart (hah!), too clumsy, too tongue-tied, too busy listing reasons we’re not able to do this, and so on.
The bottom line is we know we’re not good enough. Sure, there are people who think they’re plenty good enough and then some, and they’re just as wrong as we are, but that’s another sermon.
Notice how God doesn’t fix Jeremiah’s shortcomings. He doesn’t age him or make him somehow look wise and knowing. Time will do that one day anyway, because Jeremiah will have a long career. It seems as though God will take Jeremiah’s youth as it is and work with it.
I say that because it seems to me like God does the same thing with all the other not good enough folks he decides to use for his work. He somehow takes this collection of cracked pots and defective merchandise and uses us to spread his kingdom, preach his word, care for the sick and help the poor.
And despite everything common sense would tell us about work done with defective materials and inadequate tools, that work gets done. Not perfectly, of course, but a whole lot better than any quality inspector would believe possible.
I could ask “Why?” and be wondering about a bunch of things. Why use imperfect people? Why does your work get done in spite of them?
But the answers show up immediately, don’t they? After all, I don’t believe God had a lot of perfect people to choose from. And the work gets done in spite of their flaws for the same reason God told Jeremiah not to fear: He is with them.
So sure, every now and then we all probably stop and think how inadequate we are to the tasks God has called us to. It’s only natural to do so.
I try not to dwell there, though. Because this imperfect person is being used by the perfect God, and odds are pretty good he can make up what I might lack.