A Thankless Task?


123835-20130225How nice it is to be appreciated—to have someone recognize you for a job well done, to receive an unexpected friendship card, to be noticed and complimented.  Such moments make us feel good about ourselves and give our self-image a boost.  But all too often we encounter situations in which we do the absolute best we can and nobody even seems to notice, much less care.  And what of those times when we are called by the Lord to perform a seemingly thankless task?  How do we react?  Are we more likely to run like Jonah did, or to obey?  Perhaps in those times, challenging as they may seem, we should give thanks because things could definitely be worse.  Consider the words of Jeremiah, a young man obviously not too sure of himself.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Then I said, “Ah, Lord God!  Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.   Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1: 4-8)

A heavy responsibility for a young man, but that was just the beginning—it did get worse—much worse!  Faithful Jeremiah began speaking God’s harsh words of judgment against the nations of Israel and Judah as the Lord directed him, but did anyone listen?  Did his audience applaud him for enlightening them with the truth?  Not hardly!  Instead, the word of the Lord came again, this time with a message most of us would definitely not be eager to hear…

So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you.  You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.  And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.  Cut off your hair and cast it away; raise a lamentation on the bare heights, for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath.  (Jeremiah 7:27-29)

And lament he did, as he cried out in prayer for his people and declared,

My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me.  (Jeremiah 8:18)

Yet things deteriorated even further as even his family betrayed him.

For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you. (Jeremiah 12:6)

Well, surely that’s about as bad as it could get, right?  After all this man was honoring God, following His every command regardless of the cost.  Wasn’t about time for some positive feedback or reward?  Nope!  The downhill slide continued.

The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.  For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases.  They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried.  They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground.  They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.   “For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord(Jeremiah 16:1-5)

Any chance we’re still feeling unappreciated?  Maybe while we’re still moaning and groaning and feeling sorry for ourselves, we should take go ahead and take a look at a few of the other Old Testament prophets.  How about Ezekiel?  He had such amazing visions and wrote an incredible prophetic book.  Wouldn’t it be great to be so gifted?  But perhaps we’d better look a little closer because God warned him right up front that he would be required to preach to an unrepentant crowd.  Is this the kind of commission we’d desire?

And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them.  For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand.  Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you.  But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.  Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads.  Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead.  Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”  (Ezekiel 3:4-9)

And things went down hill from there for him too!  Even as Ezekiel faithfully served God; delivering His message to an unbelieving people, he was often called upon to act out prophecies of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in uncomfortable and undoubtedly embarrassing ways.  And then he was required, as a prophetic witness, to stand in his faith to a degree that is unimaginable to us today.

The word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.   Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead.  Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”  So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died.  And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.  (Ezekiel 24:15-18)

Well, maybe Jeremiah and Ezekiel were exceptions—maybe God’s other biblical heroes were honored, appreciated, and commended for their actions.  If they were, it was posthumously!  How would any one of us like to duplicate Isaiah’s ministry and walk around naked for 3 years?  I have to wonder which was worse, the sunburn or the frostbite—assuming, of course, that the indignity and embarrassment could be set aside.

At that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.  Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.  (Isaiah 20:2-4)

Or Moses, who not only had to put up with Pharaoh’s hard heart but then had to wander around a desert for forty years with the constantly complaining and ungrateful Children of Israel.

Or Hosea, who was told to marry a prostitute; to love her, have children with her, and repeatedly forgive and take her back when she repeatedly ran off with other men.

Yep!  Next time I’m feeling slighted I think I’d better count my blessings, willingly forgoing the approval of man in favor of the approval of God.  Ultimately, the most important words of praise I hunger for are,

          “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”  (Matthew 25:21)

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