What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. Psalm 8:4-5
Back in 1985, when I came out of law school and started work as a very wet-behind-the-ears lawyer, I expected to be stuck in the back of a law library for at least a year or two before I would be entrusted with anything which actually required much judgment on my part. I fully expected I would be researching and reading and gathering documents and other such tasks which were reasonably “safe” for a baby lawyer to handle. Imagine my surprise, then, in my FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB, when one partner handed me a file to take before a jury in just 3 short months and another partner handed me an appellate brief to prepare and argue before the Texas Court of Appeals in just 6 short months. I was scared to death! I was in pretty far over my head. I would not have done it that way. I thought to myself…they must really trust me!
I say it often about God and the church…I would not have done it this way. If I were God, I would not have chosen this strategy to reach this lost and broken world. To be blunt, I would never have entrusted my name and my reputation into the hands of a bunch of broken, flawed people like you and me. What an enormous risk!
In my work as a peacemaker in the church, I get the privilege of seeing the church often at its very worst behavior. I am reminded over and over again just how flawed we are…how very capable we are …
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. Jeremiah 1:11
“Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers.” Charles Spurgeon
It’s the first rule of communication: know what you want to say before you start saying it. Few things are more frustrating than trying to listen to someone who is trampling on this rule…their mouth is moving and the words are flowing and they have no idea where they are trying to go. That, I believe, is where the prophets of the ancient days set themselves apart. They were called “seers”…because they could see what was unseen by all the rest of us. It was not so much a gift of SPEAKING, as much as it was a gift of SEEING and then simply speaking the truth about what they saw. That calling was made so very clear in Jeremiah’s case.
I do not study scripture in the original Hebrew. But Charles Spurgeon did. And he notes that the Hebrew word for “almond” actually comes from a root word that means “awake” or, more specifically, “wakeful”. That is because the almond tree started to blossom very early in the Spring (even late Winter), while all the other trees were still sleeping. So, in the Hebrew language, this tree was known as the “wakeful tree”.
The imagery would have been clear to Jeremiah. His assignment was to see, first and foremost. If Jeremiah will remain wakeful to see, God will remain wakeful to perform His word just as Jeremiah sees it. God’s assignment came with a promise. It always does, doesn’t it?
And isn’t that the church’s assignment as well? Are we …
So people will be brought low and everyone humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled. But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts. Isaiah 5:15-16
Have you ever taught through the book of Isaiah? It is the same lesson, week after week. The people’s “religion” is meaningless, our hearts are not turned toward God, we show no compassion for our brethren in poverty, God is severely displeased and judgment is coming. Seriously, how many different ways can you teach this lesson and keep it fresh? After a while, it begins to sound like so much “white noise”, difficult to hear with any discernment.
So, that frustration makes me wonder what the people of Judah thought after about 40 years or so of hearing from Isaiah! Forty years! Can you imagine?
Maybe you can. Maybe there is a voice (or two or three) in your own church whom you have grown weary of hearing and have just tuned out. It is negative, and persistent, and harsh, and annoying, and you have (over time) just grown tired of it. So you have tuned it out. Surely, you have tuned it out because you have determined that it is not God speaking (or, at least that it has not been thus far). I suppose my first challenge to you is, are you sure? Because “negative”, “persistent”, “harsh” and “annoying” are all characteristics of possible words from the Lord, at least according to how I read my Bible. I suspect that Isaiah fit all of those. I strongly suspect he became just a bunch of “white noise” to the people of Judah after a few years of this message.
But God persisted. Isaiah persisted. Like the parent …