7Lord, you enticed me, and I was taken in. You were too strong for me, and you prevailed. Now I’m laughed at all the time; everyone mocks me. 8Every time I open my mouth, I cry out and say, “Violence and destruction!” The Lord’s word has brought me nothing but insult and injury, constantly. 9I thought, I’ll forget him; I’ll no longer speak in his name. But there’s an intense fire in my heart, trapped in my bones. I’m drained trying to contain it. I’m unable to do it. - Jeremiah 20:7-9
It pains me when I see the oft-quoted verse, Jeremiah 20:9, taken out of context and framed in inspirational terms. Jeremiah likens God’s word of prophecy to a fire in his bones. Many a Christian website and song have expressed this thought jubilantly. God’s word as a fire burning inside us conjures images of Pentecost. We equate the fire to the Holy Spirit, a living flame burning within us to proclaim God’s truth. That is not what this passage is about at all.
Jeremiah likens God’s word to a fire in his bones because he feels like he is being burnt up through the inside out. He has had his consciousness ripped open by God in order to proclaim God’s word to the people of Israel. This word is one of calamity, hardship, exile and defeat - it is an unpopular one for the Israelites. They call Jeremiah a traitor and collaborator; he is mocked and ridiculed regularly for offering this word. What’s worse is that he feels compelled by God to continue. He receives a frightening foretaste of his people’s future and he persists because he feels as though he has no other choice.
Jeremiah is a man who is stretched by God to the breaking point. Do you feel stressed? Many people suffer from burnout and exhaustion. People in caring professions like medicine and psychology often speak of compassion fatigue- they are so worn down by helping others that they feel as though they are in need of help. Have you ever felt this way? How do we “recharge the batteries” so to speak?
Like Jeremiah, we are often taken to the brink by God. In some ways, it is an aspect of any calling- to sometimes feel as though it is a burden rather than a blessing. The challenge is to find ways to be refreshed by the living water of Christ so that we have the strength to discern and carry out the will of God each day. Exercises in mindfulness, controlled breathing, and meditation are helpful. Another good idea is to write a narrative, either of your day or of a significant event in your day. By doing so, you may reach catharsis and alleviate your burdens. Like Jeremiah felt compelled to speak, do not silence yourself. Allow the words to tumble forth so that you may find some experience of relief.
Jeremiah was a man haunted by the trauma of his experiences and resentful of how others had treated him. We all feel the same way from time to time; find healing in putting a voice and words to what you are feeling so that God may engage with you through compassionate presence.
Discussion Questions: Have you ever felt burnt up by stress, relationships, past traumas, etc? How, if you have, come to terms with it? Over the next week, be conscious of the positive ways in which you cope and utilize them more conscientiously.
See more devotions from Kyle and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.