Faith / Scripture / Spirituality

Learning from Jeremiah: The A-Ha! of Calling

One of the temptations I succumb to most easily is to take the calling of God for granted. Assuming I’ve begun to comprehend how God can use me, I can project how his plan will unfold over time. That doesn’t seem too presumptuous, does it? Yet, God’s grace in this broken world is always greater than I can possibly imagine, and his call is always a walk of faith.

This was part of my response as I mused recently on Jeremiah 24. I’ve been working my way through Jeremiah, and observed that this chapter, about half-way through the book, repeats some of the key terms that God spoke when he first called Jeremiah. Only this time there is a surprising twist.

In Jeremiah 1:10, God interrupts a young priest with a call to become a prophet. “See,” God tells Jeremiah, “today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Negative and positive: uproot and plant, tear down and build. God had warned his people that if they proved to be unfaithful he would uproot them from the land and send them into captivity. (See, for example, Leviticus 26:33 & Ezekiel 39:23-24). Jeremiah prophesied at a time when the dreaded judgment occurred as the armies of Babylon destroyed the land, overthrowing the Israelites and carrying them into exile. When I studied Jeremiah 1, I had assumed the uprooted ones would be the exiles.

But then in Jeremiah 24, God surprises us by turning things on their head. The uprooting, he says, is not among the exiles but among those remaining in the land. There is a negative and a positive, but his perspective isn’t what we expect. “I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians,” God says. “I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them” (24:5-6). It is those not in exile that will face destruction (24:8-10). I had it backwards.

It’s easy to do. Since I know something of my calling, I presume to know how his plan for me will unfold. But sometimes I get it backwards. I have been trying, for example, to write a book on discernment. I believe it is part of my calling, which has been affirmed by those who love me and hold me accountable. Yet, time to write has often been interrupted, most recently by people in our home. I’ve found the interruptions difficult.

When I wrote about this in a recent report to our Board, Bonnie Liefer responded. “i wish that you would not feel so bad about how much you did or did not get done,” she wrote in her email—where, by the way, she never uses capitals. “hospitality is one of the most draining things anybody can do since you can’t ‘go home’ after a day’s work. it wears me out just thinking about it. the value of what you are doing is worth far more than what didn’t get done so you should just trust God since He knew what you would get done anyway. (maybe that is easy for me to say—but as a board member i am saying you should just chill about proposed deadlines since they are self imposed anyway.) i am eager to see you write—but your investment in mentoring is IRREPLACEABLE.”

Then, I read this quote by Henri Nouwen: “You know…my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

We can know, by his grace, something of God’s call in our life. But living it will always include surprises, because his call to us is finally not to some blueprint which we can fully comprehend, but to a walk by faith. But don’t take my word for it—spend some time musing on Jeremiah 1 and 24.


Nouwen in Receiving the Day by Dorothy Bass (San Francisco, CA; 2000) p. 40.