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."
"Ah, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child."
But the Lord said to me, "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," declares the Lord.
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 nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."
-Jeremiah 1:4-10 (NIV84)
Standing in the middle of a living room filled with garbage—the abandoned waste of delinquent tenants—with a bag in one hand and a clipboard in the other, I asked myself the question: Why am I here?
I understood the immediate answer to the question: I was there to clear out the furniture and garbage, as well as take an inventory of what maintenance work needed to be done before the next tenants moved in. My question, rather, was aimed at the larger picture of where my life was at that moment. I was working odd jobs—property maintenance, coaching, landscaping, etc.—renting (along with my wife) the upstairs apartment of a church member’s house, and living on a shoestring budget while taking seminary courses and interning at a church. Why am I here?
I remember a second situation on campus. The clicking sound of the second hand echoed in the empty meeting room; empty save for me and the Bibles and handouts I brought with me. Seventeen minutes into a Bible study, I still held out hope that someone might come. Ten minutes later, I packed my things up and began the walk home, asking myself: Why am I here?
Inevitably, the question rises to the surface of our minds, bubbling up from the depths of the fear, frustration, confusion and doubt within us. Whether in the library, under the burden of impending deadlines; the classroom, despondently looking at the exam scores posted on the wall; the bar, suddenly aware that life is changing (perhaps more quickly than you imagined); in the lonely silence of a bedroom, mind racing as you try to go to sleep; or any number of other situations: Why am I here?
Through his calling of Jeremiah, God speaks four phrases to the prophet-to-be. Four phrases that not only fueled his ministry to the people of Israel, but also provide us with timely comfort and assurance as we struggle along the way of faith in living out our callings in the world.
1. "I formed you..."
This phrase was a reminder that God is the Lord and giver of life; all of creation has been fashioned by God and belongs to God. He made Jeremiah, and he made you and me.
2. "I knew you..."
This phrase denotes God's intimate relationship with Jeremiah as one of his covenant people. Even though the Lord was not physically in the household of Jeremiah as this boy grew up, he was nevertheless present and knew Jeremiah better than anyone else (even before he was born). Similarly, the Lord knows each of us better that even we do, and for those in Christ, we share a special relationship with God as members of his covenant community.
3. "I set you apart..."
Not only did God make Jeremiah, and know Jeremiah, but he chose Jeremiah and set him apart for a particular (special) purpose. In much the same way, those whom God has called in Christ have been set apart (sanctified) for works prepared ahead of time (Eph. 2:10), and are daily being sanctified by the Spirit in thought, word, and deed.
4. "I appointed you..."
Finally, God commissioned Jeremiah to serve as his prophet. He sends this young man out on a mission to do the work of the Kingdom in the world. Similarly, as Christians, we, too, are called to go out and, as Our World Belongs To God, poetically states:
Anointed and sent by the Spirit,
the church is thrust into the world,
ambassadors of God's peace,
announcing forgiveness and reconciliation,
proclaiming the good news of grace.
Men and women, impelled by the Spirit,
go next door and far away
into science and art,
media and marketplace--
every area of life,
pointing to the reign of God
with what they do and say.
These words to the prophet are reminders--creational, relational, sanctified, and missional--of God's purpose for our lives to live as agents of grace in the world, proclaiming the gospel and working for the Kingdom through the vocations we've received. Engineers, artists, teachers, accountants, administrators, business men and women, farmers, construction workers, writers, politicians, pastors, and all other vocations alike.
In those moments when I asked myself, "Why am I here?", I reminded myself of my calling: You have been called by God to be a minister to his people; a shepherd of those entrusted to your care. As I prepare (God willing) to continue with seminary coursework to become an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church in the Spring, I remind myself of this calling. And as I continue to do the work given me to serve the university, I remind myself of this calling.
So, remember your calling. Persevere with assurance, knowing that the Lord has made you, he knows you, he has set you apart, and sent you into the world. And in those moments of fear, frustration, confusion, and doubt, be comforted by the words God spoke to Jeremiah, words echoed by Jesus in his commissioning of the disciples: Go, for I am (and will be) with you.