Have you ever begged God to show you what to do or where to go, desperate for a direct answer? I was so irritated the other day while reading Jeremiah 42. Check it out really quickly before continuing. There was a remnant of Israel that went to Jeremiah asking him to seek God for direction, promising that they would do whatever God wanted them to do. God responded telling the people not to go to Egypt, but instead to stay where they were and that He would bless them and protect them. Guess what happened next? They disobeyed God and decided to follow their own desire to go to Egypt! This made me really mad because I would give anything for such a direct response from God.
How could this remnant possibly hear from God so clearly and yet choose to disobey and do the opposite of what He told them to do? First of all, it seems to me that they weren’t really close to and connected to God. When they initially went to Jeremiah they referred to God as Jeremiah’s God, rather than their God (vs 2). If you aren’t close to God then what He wants you to do isn’t going to matter a whole lot.
Think of the people in your life who have the most influence over you. You care about what they think and say and long to please them. I would be fairly certain that these are people you feel most close to. In the same way, it is when I am close to God that I truly value His plans over my own and long to obey Him. The remnant was missing this connection with God. this is evident in later chapters when God calls them out for worshiping other gods aside from Him (Jeremiah 44:8).
The second thing to notice is that their hearts didn’t match their requests. Initially their request appeared genuine, at least it did to me. They ask God “show us the way in which we should walk and the thing we should do.” They weren’t making this request because they longed to do God’s will. They were looking for relief and an easy way out. When this is the reason behind your request there is a good chance you wont obey if God’s response doesn’t line up with your desires. They wanted instant comfort and pleasure. It seemed more realistic to them that they would get this in Egypt, where everything looked nice and pleasant, rather than staying put with the imminent threat of Babylon close by.
Our goal should never be to find relief from difficulty or to feel safe and secure. Our goal should be to please God and to be as close to Him as we possibly can be. Our level of true safety and security comes from our closeness to and connection with God through His son Jesus Christ, and should be totally unrelated to outside circumstances. This is what Paul meant when he said he learned to be content whatever circumstances (Philippians 4:10-13). A poor man without Christ is no less secure than a rich man without Christ.
Reading this caused me to look very closely at my own requests to ensure that my goal is to please God and to do His will, rather than to find relief and comfort. What I found is that I have to set aside any hoped for outcomes and be open to whatever God might have and desire for me and my family. Just recently my husband and I were led to make a decision that went against everything we had hoped for and desired. To be honest it wasn’t fun and it was certainly scary. Knowing that God is in control and close to us enabled us to face it and move forward toward something different, something unplanned for. The remnant was blinded by their hoped for answer from God, which was to tell them to flee to Egypt and find comfort and safety.
How can I avoid making the same mistakes that the remnant made? What I concluded is that I can hopefully avoid this by following three principals I learned from reading this chapter.
Principal 1: Make sure my goal is to be close to and to please God, not to find relief. Isaiah 55:7 tells us “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” Hebrews 10:22 says “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” I need to focus on drawing near to God and living a life that is pleasing to Him.
Principal 2: Release any desired responses I feel I need to receive from God. I need to be open and willing to obey whatever God calls me to do, even if it is 100% different from what I wanted. Proverbs 20:24 tells me “A man’s steps are of the Lord; How then can a man understand his own way?” If God’s Word tells me that I wont be able to understand my own way then why am I always expecting to have it all figured out? I need to be willing to give this up and allow God to truly guide me according to His will.
Principal 3: Trust that He will deliver on His promises. God’s Word is full of promises for me and for you. The remnant gave into fear rather than believing God. Romans 8:28 tells us “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” If we know this and believe this then we can trust that no matter how scary or uncertain things look, if God has called us it will all work out. This doesn’t mean that we will be comfortable and will have endless worldly pleasure, what it means is that our lives will bring glory to God and will impact this world for Christ.