The capital city was in shambles. People were hungry and homeless. I can think of cities around the world today who are experiencing the practical implications of such a calamity. However, these people were living in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah. Foreign invaders, under the directive of the king of Babylon, captured the king. They murdered his sons before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes so that it would be his last visual memory. They burned the temple and every other house of size in the city, taking the best and brightest of the people captive. They did leave behind the poor, fearing no threat or reprisal from them. It is these, the poor and homeless, who stood in the rubble of what was once home, who came to an awareness of a need to seek God’s guidance. By the grace of God, Jeremiah was not taken captive and was allowed to remain in the land with these people.
Imagine the helplessness of these people. It was made worse by a power struggle going on behind the scenes in the chaos. A new leader was appointed by the invading king to govern these homeless poor. The new leader was murdered, along with many who gathered themselves around him, throwing these hungry, homeless poor into further chaos. Johanon, a leader who helped bring some order to the chaos, and personally rescued some of the people, felt things were about to get much worse. Fearing reprisal from the king of Babylon, these desperate people made up their minds to flee to Egypt.
In the calamity that swirled, confusion reigned in the hearts of God’s people. Perhaps your circumstances are not as dire, but you can certainly feel the desperation of these confused people as they grappled with decisions they needed to make in the midst of calamity. One of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity is:
- Confused People Tend to Follow Their Instincts and Feelings Rather than Following God.
Their decision to return to Egypt was based on fear and on their perceived personal need. When God delivered His people from Egypt through Moses, He intended for them to never return. Any return to Egypt was tantamount to abandoning their faith in the God who had planted them in the land.
Have you ever been flushed from your position of trust in the Lord by fear? When you evaluate your circumstances from the eyes of fear instead of the eyes of faith, you will follow your instincts, your feelings, your fears, rather than following God? This is what these people were about to do. However, to their credit, they realized their need for God’s guidance. Therefore, these desperate people sought out the prophet Jeremiah. They asked him to pray for them, asking God for direction. The directions God gave them, as well as their response, can be found in Jeremiah 42.
Remember, one of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity, is that confused people tend to follow their instincts and feelings rather than following God. Consider the following request they made to the prophet Jeremiah.
Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached 2 and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, 3 that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah 42:1-3
That request seemed, on the surface, straightforward and very sincere. Most of us are willing to quiz God concerning His guidance for our lives. We believe, just as they did, that God’s guidance is good medicine and should be considered in our decision-making process. What we believe and what we practice are often quite different.
Jeremiah gladly agreed to their request to seek God’s guidance in their behalf.
4 Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I am going to pray to the Lord your God in accordance with your words; and I will tell you the whole message which the Lord will answer you. I will not keep back a word from you.” 5 Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us.6 Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:4-6
However, these people suffered from the same basic problem we struggle with today when we seek a word from God.
2. Too Often, God’s People Seek a Word from God that Will Affirm the Way They Feel.
There is a great deal of commitment on the surface of their promise in verse six. There is also a great deal of truth in their understanding of the ways of God. It will go well with us when we listen to the voice of our God. Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you? Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God? Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction you have already taken or are about to take? Always make your decisions based on God’s guidance and His knowledge of your circumstances, and not your own.
3. When You Seek God’s Guidance, Make Sure You Abandon Your Personal Priorities in Favor of the Will of God.
While that appears to be what they had done, as the story unfolds, it is clear they failed to abandon their own plans. They were still leaning on their own understanding. Do you trust God’s will over your own? Do you believe God’s will is always best—that his directions are always right? Until you do, you will not abandon your ways in favor of His ways.
4. When You Seek God’s Guidance, You Must Be Willing to Wait for a Word from God.
Now at the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Jeremiah 42:7
How long did it take an Old Testament prophet to hear from God? The time varied—but it always required waiting. Jeremiah waited before the Lord for ten days. Seeking God’s guidance does not mean making a decision—asking for God’s blessing—and then taking steps in the direction of the decision that you have made. Seeking God’s guidance means praying, and making no decisions and taking no steps, until you have a clear word from God.
The greatest evidence of a person’s faith is not how quickly they make decisions but how long they are willing to stand still waiting for a word from God. Circumstances often scream hurry. Faith whispers wait. These people were forced into seeking God’s guidance by the desperation of their circumstances. What is the crisis that is prompting you to seek the Lord?
Then he called for Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were with him, and for all the people both small and great, 9 and said to them, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: 10 ‘If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. 12 I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil.Jeremiah 4:8-12
This was a crisis controlled by God. As they received God’s guidance, they learned their calamity was God imposed. It was sent because of their sins, and it was sent to prompt them to seek God. It was a calamity from which they could bedelivered, if they responded in obedience to their word from God.
If there is a storm of calamity swirling around your life, you need a word from God. You need to hear what God is saying to you in the midst of your circumstances. As the stormy mists swirl around you, you might be tempted to look at your circumstances through the eyes of fear. If you do, you will be guided by your feelings. Instead, ask God to show you your circumstances through the eyes of faith. In Experiencing God,Henry Blackaby wisely observed, “You never know the truth about your circumstances until you have heard from the truth.” What is God’s promise? What is God’s guidance? What is God’s perspective of your present calamity? Ask Him. Wait for an answer, and as you prayerfully wait, pledge to do whatever He tells you. Above all else, keep that promise and obey God!
5. God Waits for Our Obedience to Bring an End to the Crisis that Has Come into Our Lives!
God’s word was “Stay in the land…”The situation that swirled around them was desperate. All their precious things had become a ruin. There was terror on every side. But if they would hold their ground and trust God, He would work all things together for their good.
What is the word that God has spoken to your heart in the midst of your circumstances.? Has He whispered,“Wait, Stay, Trust?” Or could the fear in your heart be because He has whispered, “Go to a land that I will show you?”Whatever God’s word is to your life, your obedience is critical.
When you are seeking God’s guidance, you must come to the firm conviction that you will do whatever God asks you to do. Unfortunately, their commitment to obedience was a commitment of the lips and not a commitment of the heart. Is your commitment to obedience a heart deep commitment? Are you ready to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do?
6. When You Receive God’s Guidance, It Will Require You to Act in Faith in the Face of Your Fear.
13 But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen to the voice of the Lordyour God, 14 saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; 15 then in that case listen to the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, 16 then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious, will follow closely after you there in Egypt, and you will die there. 17 So all the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them.”’”Jeremiah 42:13-17
Remember, these people had already set their mind to go to Egypt before they consulted God. Does God know the true motives of our heart when we pray? Does He know when we are seeking Him to bless our plans and when we are seeking to know the blessing of His plan for us? He does! We would do well to hear the warning He gave to the people in Jeremiah’s day and to hear it loud and clear.
Please understand that the fears of God’s people were well founded. They had reason to believe the King of Babylon would retaliate because of the assassination of the governor he placed over them. But the King of Heaven was Sovereign over the affairs of His people. HE STILL IS! God is well aware of the dangers we face as we follow Him. If you continue to allow your life to be ruled by your feelings and your fears, you will miss the activity of God. The very things that we fear will hound our every step if we head in any direction other than the one assigned to us by God.
Remember their commitment:6 Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:6
Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.
19 The Lord has spoken to you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go into Egypt!” You should clearly understand that today I have testified against you.20 For you have only deceived yourselves; for it is you who sent me to the Lord your God, saying, “Pray for us to the Lord our God; and whatever the Lord our God says, tell us so, and we will do it.” 21 So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the Lord your God, even in whatever He has sent me to tell you. 22 Therefore you should now clearly understand that you will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, in the place where you wish to go to reside.Jeremiah 42:19-22
Their response to God’s word and warnings through Jeremiah is recorded in Jeremiah 43.
But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— 2 Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” 4 So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lordto stay in the land of Judah…. 7 and they entered the land of Egypt (for they did not obey the voice of the Lord) and went in as far as Tahpanhes. Jeremiah 43:1-4; 7
7. Never Take a Step that Will Violate Clear Guidance from God!
What a sad commentary on the faith of God’s people. They were walking by their feelings and not by faith. They were viewing their circumstances through the eyes of fear and not the eyes of faith. They made their decision, leaning on their own understanding rather than the guidance of their God. If you are on the verge of violating clear guidance from God, don’t! Stop! Wait! Reconsider! It will go well with you if you will do what God wants you to do! If you disobey God, the very disaster you fear will overtake you.
I don’t know your circumstances. I don’t know your calamity or how deep the chaos is that swirls around your life. However, I do know the God who spoke order out of the chaos of pre-creation, who spoke light out of darkness and life out of deadness. I know Him whose way is in the whirlwind and the storm and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He has the power to say to the storm in your life, “Peace, be still!”
Don’t make decisions without God’s guidance. Seek Godly counsel to help you understand the will and ways of God. Don’t act on fear or instinct. Always act in faith based on God’s promises. Seek a word from God in the midst of your personal circumstances. Be willing to wait for it. Whatever God says to you, be sure to obey His counsel and follow His direction.
What are the circumstances that stand in your face and scream for you to take matters into your own hands? The situation screams hurry! But in your heart, a still small voice whispers “Wait!” Which of those voices will you allow to govern your life?
Photo by Joshua Watson