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Ambition, Brand, Comfort

Baruch was of more noble birth than the prophet Jeremiah yet was his scribe. For many years he had prophecies that were ignored and sometimes burned in the flames. Poor old Baruch had to rewrite them. After a slew of people had been taken captive to Babylon and only the stragglers remained in Israel this remnant came to Jeremiah and asked, “Should we go back to Egypt?” It took Jeremiah 10 days to get an answer from God and it was a resounding “No!” The problem, however, was that the leaders had pre-decided that they wanted to guarantee their comfort and go back to Egypt. They hoped Jeremiah would confirm their predetermined plan. They predictably ignored his counsel and, to make matters worse, dragged Jeremiah and Baruch, his scribe, with them. History says Jeremiah never saw the Promised Land again. 

No wonder Baruch was feeling despondent. When he signed up for the job of scribe to a great prophet he probably didn’t think that Jeremiah would be beaten, bound in chains, thrown in a muddy pit, and then dragged off to Egypt. The WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) became IDSUFT (I didn't sign up for this!). Jeremiah, not known for his soothing rhetoric, wrote a short chapter addressed to his assistant.

This is what Jeremiah told Baruch one day in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign as he was taking dictation from the prophet:

“These are the words of God, the God of Israel, to you, Baruch. You say, ‘These are bad times for me! It’s one thing after another. God is piling on the pain. I’m worn out and there’s no end in sight.’

“But God says, ‘Look around. What I’ve built I’m about to wreck, and what I’ve planted I’m about to rip up. And I’m doing it everywhere—all over the whole earth! So forget about making any big plans for yourself. Things are going to get worse before they get better. But don’t worry. I’ll keep you alive through the whole business.’”

There are many today who have honestly tried to do what they felt God had asked them to do or at least been following their conscience on matters of wrong or right, yet things seem to be going from bad to worse. The Jews chose to go back to Egypt because of twisted logic which said, “When we served a false god, we were fine; when we stopped worshipping our fake gods we had trouble.”

Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings, and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” (Jer 44:15-18)

When we ask the “what’s in it for me” question we open ourselves to deception. It is fair to know that God is our rewarder and expect the best from him. If our aim is extending the Kingdom of God and we have aligned ourselves with God’s work of seeing nations reconciled to himself, however, then we do well to remember two things: first, it’s not about us. Second, things sometimes get worse before they get better… therefore we need to guard our minds and hearts. Kingdom adversity has a way of rooting out ambition and self-interest.

And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring disaster on all flesh,’ says the Lord, ‘but I will give your life to you [as your only reward and] as a prize of war wherever you go.

Sometimes the reward for obedience is escaping with our life. There are parts of the world today—Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, China, Northern Nigeria, and more—where believers in Jesus are not even escaping with their lives. Jesus said this to his disciples:

So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ” Luke 17:10 (NKJV)

There’s an amazing delight in collaborating with God to see his design for the planet restored to his original intent by the wisdom and works of the Holy Spirit. If, as sometimes happens, we insist that the prize for our work be on this side of the thin line that separates today and eternity we set ourselves up for a Baruch moment. ‘I am overwhelmed with trouble! Haven’t I had enough pain already? And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.’ (NLT)

It’s not always ambition that breeds spiritual entitlement, however. When our daily intake of what defines success comes from Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or LinkedIn as opposed to scripture—the Word of God—we set ourselves up for disappointment. Biblical Christianity asks, “What is right? Am I faithful? Do I obey?” Perverted spirituality asks, “Do I get a reward now? Does this add to my success? Will this make me look good? Does this build my brand? Does this take me in the direction I want to go? Is this building my ‘me and God’ story? Will this increase my influence? Might this make my life a little challenging? Will it stretch me too much, taking away my “me” time?”

As I write this in late 2021 things are a little crazy in the world. We don’t know what “the new normal” will be. There is a rise in socialism in the Western World. Radicalized groups are taking off. Christian values are being slow-boiled to neutrality. It is an all-out cultural war about which many have no clue. If we are followers of Jesus and we are focused on what’s in it for us, we are on the wrong bus. If we want to impact nations we should recognize that it will sometimes be a good day when we simply escape with our lives. Let’s wake up! Our main reward is not on this earth. Let’s rid ourselves of ambition, brand protection, and comfort.

Are you looking for great things for yourself? Do not look for such things. …I will allow you to escape with your life.

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