“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5 NIV
These were difficult words for Jeremiah to hear. He had just concluded pouring out his complaint to God about a plot against his life. Rather than hearing words of comfort and assurance from God, he hears this. God tells him that things are going to get worse before they get better. Oh joy! He is being challenged – it’s time to dig deep, to step up, to bring it! No room for a crème puff mentality here!
This scene in Jeremiah’s life is a metaphor of the Christian life. It’s been said that the Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible. How can a man on foot compete against a horse? He can’t. I don’t know about you, but I will bet on the horse every time. Realistically Jeremiah does not have what it takes to meet this challenge.
News like this, coming at a time when a person is already in a weakened state of vulnerability can be overwhelming. But in reading through the rest of the book of Jeremiah we find that somehow he was able to race with those horses and work his way through the thickets of the Jordan.
What answer did Jeremiah discover? The secret is the very essence of the Gospel message. And in the Old Testament it was revealed only to those with eyes of faith until the unveiling of Christ. It is rooted in an understanding of the interplay between the law (bad news) and Gospel (good news); where the impossible demands of the law are meant to drive us to the grace and enablement of the Gospel.
In preaching circles we talk about the necessity of a “means by which” being at the heart of every message. Simply put, good preaching directs people to the source of power, the “means by which” they are enabled to do what they need to do. That power source is found in Christ alone.
The presence of the “means by which” is what distinguishes Christian preaching from nice motivational speeches and pep talks. Just telling people what they need and must do without empowering them to do it leads only to frustration and failure. Good intentions and resolutions alone do not produce results, especially when we are faced with seeming impossibilities. It is the grace of God working in us both to will and do His good pleasure that makes all the difference. (Philippians 2:13)
Yes, it is time to dig deep. There are horses we must run down and thickets we must cut our way through. But God’s grace, found in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, is more than sufficient to empower us to do it, just as it did for Jeremiah.