Shaped by the future

If you have ever heard of Cassandra, it’s quite possible that it is a result of having to study Latin or classical studies at school or you’ve seen Emila Fox take the role of the tragic figure in Troy.

Cassandra truly was a tragic figure in ancient mythology. Cassandra, the story goes, was given a supernatural gift: the ability to predict the future. She knew what was ahead. She knew that the Trojan Horse was an enemy ruse and said so.

However, along with her gift came a curse. The curse meant that though she could foretell the future, no-one would ever believe her!

Jeremiah was a biblical prophet who sometimes must have felt that he was destined never to be believed, even though he was an authentic prophet of God. Time after time he spoke the word of God to God’s people – from kings and priests to the masses – yet over and over again his words met with rejection. And over and over again, God called him to speak out.

It is easy to categorise Jeremiah as a prophet of judgment who was called to declare judgment on God’s people. That’s how I used to see this towering biblical figure. Until I read through Jeremiah a couple of summers ago. I read him with one question in mind “What can I learn from this great man about godly leadership?”

One aspect of his ministry that I had never appreciated before was that he was not only declaring what was ahead, he was attempting to prepare God’s people for what was ahead.

Jeremiah could see the future, and he was doggedly trying to impress that upon God’s people so that they would be ready for the shockwaves that were going to hit the nation. Perhaps one of the best known chapters in Jeremiah illustrates his purpose. Jeremiah 29 is all about going into exile and how the people are to respond to that new reality. And the famous words of verse 11 – “For I know the plans I have for you…” are reassurance that God will be with His people in a world that is totally alien to them and in circumstances that seem to undermine completely His faithfulness and their security.

Tragically, the people of Judah never did get it. They stumbled from one crisis to another.

Having a sense of what the future looks like and trying to prepare for it can often result in tension. People around you might not “get it”. Whether you’re building a life, a home, a business or a church, once you start to prepare for a different kind of future, you begin to change things. And once you begin to change things you might well create tension.

If you find yourself under pressure because you are trying to implement godly values, or you are trying to respond to what you believe God is saying about your future, and no-one seems to get it, you’re in good company. Like Jeremiah, let the future you see shape your today rather than letting your past or present shape your tomorrow.

 

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When grace gets the upper hand

Then all the Jews returned out of all places where they had been driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah, and gathered wine and summer fruit in abundance. (Jeremiah 40.12)

Most of us tend to think in terms of either/or. Good times or bad times. Profits or losses. Success or failure. Of course, in some areas of life either/or really are your only options. You can afford to move house, or you can’t. You passed that important exam or you didn’t.

However, sometimes our options aren’t that stark. Sometimes success or failure isn’t so clear.

Jeremiah the prophet lived in an era which for his country was one of almost unmitigated disaster. A settled refusal to obey the Lord over many generations, manifesting itself in idolatry and all sorts of social injustice, finally came to a head in 587 B.C. when Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Babylonians. It was disastrous. The temple was destroyed. The city walls were broken down. And some of the nation’s most talented people were dragged into exile in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, installed Gedaliah, a Jew, as governor of the broken nation.

From the outside looking in, and to the eyes of many of those Jews left behind in Judah, the whole set-up was completely unsatisfactory – indeed Gedaliah was eventually assassinated, plunging Judah into further chaos.

Nevertheless, despite all the upheavel and uncertainty, God began to bless His people. Those who had emigrated to surrounding nations for whatever reason, began to return back home. Abundant harvests became the order of the day once again. Despite the political instability and God’s obvious displeasure with Judah, grace was found in the midst of judgment.

There was a new order. The old, familiar order of things had passed away and its glory would only be rediscovered and surpassed in Christ. There would be no return to empire. And it was pointless to try to restore what was lost or resist the new order of things. Why? Because, hard as it was to accept, this was actually God’s will. But within this new framework God would continue to bless His people and provide for them and teach them how to relate their faith to an unfamiliar, pagan world.

In some ways the church in the West has arrived at a similar juncture in its history. We are faced with a world and a political order which is not only unsympathetic to our moral and spiritual outlook, but is sometimes, perhaps increasingly so, downright hostile.

The same can be true for us as individuals. Developments at work or at home – or even in church! – can leave us feeling that we have entered territory that is way off the map in terms of our experience.

We can take some encouragement from this scripture in Jeremiah: even in times of great uncertainty and insecurity God provides grace. He is still relentless in His love. He is still only too ready to restore. And He will forever prove Himself to be a faithful God in whom we can trust. With God, grace and difficulty aren’t either/ors. They can both coexist. Thankfully, His grace is there to ensure that difficulty doesn’t need to get the upper hand.