“You’re name is NOT Jeremy!” the large, black man shouted into my ear with his thick Caribbean (or African?) accent. His hands were heavy on my shoulders as he stood over me as I sat helplessly in a chair in a dim-lit room. “Your true name is Jeremiah! You are the weeping prophet!” he continued in his deep, James Earle Jones voice with black-preacher style. “The weeping prophet?” I wondered to myself. What in the world might that mean? It didn’t sound pleasant! (Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” due to all the difficulties and personal anguish he experienced in his ministry efforts recorded in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations.)
The man prophesying over us that day is named Kunday, and he was a traveling holy man with a prophetic gift. My good friend sent him to our church on the eve of our first ever worship service in our new MainStreet space in Mound. It was a monumental moment for Keri and I, after years of hard, faith-stretching work and leaps of faith. I wasn’t about to turn down any opportunities to be prayed over.
But I was raised Lutheran, and don’t typically find myself in the company of traveling prophets and charismatics. That is, until I found myself sitting next to Keri in my freshly painted church office, with hands laid on us. For about 30 minutes, heaven cascaded down upon us while Kunday spoke divine words over us, into us, under us and piercing through us. Occasionally, when I begin to lose my way, drift from the plot, grow weary and disillusioned, forget who I am and what God has called me to do, I find the voice of Kunday Earle Jones speaking afresh through the Holy Spirit.
“Wisdom is the ability to speak the right word into the right situation at the right time,” says my professor. When such wisdom is backed with divine authority we call it ‘prophetic’. When you find yourself confused and helpless, beaten down and battered, lost and disillusioned, a wise prophetic word is a welcome gift and lifeline to lead a soul out of the wilderness and into a bright new day.
Wise guides and prophetic voices are in short supply in today’s world. We’re coaxed and prodded by the spirit of the age to “make our voices heard” and to “give voice to the voiceless.” To “be silenced” is the worst offense and self-expression is a highly prized value. These are all good and appropriate things, and they have their proper place in a healthy civilization. However, they all place the Self at the center of reality and lead us away from the ancient path of wisdom that Jesus invites to traverse.
Spiritual growth and divine guidance often comes only when let ourselves be silenced and give voice to the Voice we’ve rendered voiceless in our social-media saturated day. Self-abegnation is the path, and self-expression often a distraction, on the path that leads away from self-absorption and toward spiritual liberation and fullness.
In our noisy world, we need to retreat more often to the wilderness and seek a burning bush, tune our ears to Wisdom, wait for the divine word delivered at just the right time. For me, this often takes the form of a scripture text that anchors me when I’m being blown back and forth, and gives me fresh direction and sense of focus. Sometimes I find myself already inhabiting that scripture or story, and find myself encouraged that I’m facing the same challenge and/or situation that Jesus and/or his disciples faced.
I found myself spiraling into a dark emotional and spiritual place this spring and early summer, and was grateful to be able to retreat and regather myself this July. The past several weeks have been holy hell, a dry wasteland refuge, a horrible place of self-examination and purgation. And yet my valley of desolation was haunted by the presence of a merciful God with plans to catapult me back onto the mountain. I was so confused and aimless. I was so weary and disillusioned. We expect sheep to wander off, but its disconcerting when the shepherd (pastor) begins to lose his way.
Well, we do.
“You are Jeremiah, the weeping pastor!” Kunday’s voice from 5 years ago leapt out of nowhere. I drove west for a night at the cabin, and got reacquainted with my biblical namesake by listening to Eugene Peterson’s book on the life of Jeremiah called Running with the Horses. Peterson spends a chapter reflecting on the meaning of his name. In Hebrew “Jeremiah” means one of two possibilities (or both?): 1) One whom exalts God, or 2) One whom God exalts or lifts up. I’m choosing to embrace both meanings.
God has chosen me to be his servant who gives his life to lifting up God-reality to those with ears to hear. But as a weak and vulnerable pastor, prone to occasional bouts with the blues in the valley of self-pity and self-doubt, I desperately need to be one whom God repeatedly lifts up out of the muck and mire. I am Jeremiah, indeed, the weeping pastor.
But how did I land in the lowlands this time? I’ve spent the past 6 weeks pondering that question. While there are certainly “fleshly factors”, and basic human dynamics at work, I’ll mention the more spiritual and vocational reason here. Put simply: I took myself and my role too seriously, and was crushed under the weight of my concern for other people’s burdens, choices and brokenness. I’m called to follow Jesus’ example in my ministry, but I’m not called to be Jesus. I’m called to be Jeremy, or Jeremiah.
I find myself inhabiting and trying to navigate the follow text in this season of ministry:
“Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” (Matt. 9:35-38 The Message)
Let me add one more:
“But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)
Jesus was also a weeping prophet. He meandered his way through life, observing people on the path to self-destruction, watching the confused crowds helpless in their various sin-stained conditions. His heart broke. He had compassion on them. Everything in him wanted to lead people down the narrow path to peace, and he wept when they preferred to continue on the wide, crowded path to ruin.
Jesus had the advantage of divinity over me! But we have many of the same goals, and I buckled under the self-imposed pressure to lead people (willingly or unwillingly) down Wisdom’s road this year. I got overwhelmed and discouraged when hoped-for results were slow in coming. I set the bar too high. I demand too much at times. Instead of the patience of Job, I sometimes have the quick trigger of the Sons of Thunder! I stopped writing/publishing on my blog in May when my words began to grow sharp and prickly, no longer “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).
So, I’m still weeping in the valley of impatience and ministry fatigue. Like Elijah being fed by ravens, I’m being fed morsels of scriptural truth by this stream of humility. I’m still weeping over a lost and confused world, longing to point people down Wisdom’s life-restoring path. I am ordained a shepherd commissioned to go gather sheep into the Father’s fold, rescuing all I can from the cliff’s edge.
But I’m also weeping over my own sin and folly, pride and impatience, idealism and wander-lust. The blows of the Artisan’s chisel are painful, but shaping me into a better, more compassionate pastor.
My true name is Jeremiah.
I am called to lift God up with my life for others to see His saving love.
And I need to be lifted up by God daily and sustained by His power this calling.
I am the weeping pastor, weeping with compassion for those yet to be found, and weeping over my own propensity to wander away from my Shepherd’s care.
Kunday, the traveling prophet, spoke many other words over us that momentous day many years ago. I haven’t experienced such impassioned prayer and authoritative speech ever since. I hope to share some of the other things he prophesied over Keri and I at another time. For now, I rejoice in all those whom God calls to be bring his divine wisdom and truth to the right person in the right place at the right time. Perhaps you will be that person to somebody else!
Let all who have ears to hear, listen!