Wither or Witness?

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat come, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

The book of Jeremiah is not easy reading. His words are harsh, but the times were harsh. Generations of unfaithfulness had rendered the people spiritually weak and insensitive. Jeremiah’s task was to shake them up. Typical of all prophets, however, Jeremiah interspersed hope among the dire predictions. The passage of this week’s GraceWaves is a good example of bright hope against a dark background.

This passage also has an autobiographical quality to it. Of all the prophets Jeremiah appears to have had the most difficult calling. He was reviled, beaten, thrown into a muddy pit, and  imprisoned. His long ministry was often a burden to him. Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet,” and we have derived the words jeremiad from his name. It means a long lamentation or mournful complaint.

Jeremiah probably spoke these words as much to bolster his own faith as to encourage faith in others. This passage needs to be highlighted in every Bible. It teaches us great lessons about the jeremiads of life.

First, heat and drought are a part of life. Even the most well-cared for tree is going to face times of stress. You cannot possibly be surprised when tests come. As long as you are breathing you will face tests. You will pass one and another will come soon after. They are simply a part of life, and at some point you simply must come to peace with questions of why? The world is broken, and sometimes a jagged edge will cut you.

Second, your only inexhaustible resource is your relationship with God. Life will wear you out. You will face tests beyond your capacity to pass or solve. By remaining close to God will you receive the strength to endure, but you must choose this daily. That is why neglecting worship, daily prayer, and regular Bible study is hazardous to your spiritual health. Neglect these and you will be much more spiritually vulnerable. Your trust, your confidence, must be the Lord. Send out roots deeply into Him.

Third, even during the most extreme tests God will enable you to learn and grow. Notice in the text that in the heat, the leaves remain green. In the drought, the tree still bears fruit. Tests do not silence your witness or prevent your growth. In fact, handled properly, a test demonstrates and enhances your faith. Any tree can be green and fruitful when the climate is favorable. But a green, fruit-bearing tree in a dry and barren landscape stands out. Something is different. The life is clear and obvious. In the same way, your faith becomes a witness when you are facing heat and drought. People will notice and be inspired to trust God.

This truth about your witness during difficult times is particularly important today. So many people place a high value on material wealth as a sign of God’s spiritual blessing. This glittery, bling-filled, testimony relies on good times and good health. The main message of the scripture, however, is precisely the opposite. God’s grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness not strength, power, or a pleasant arrangement of circumstances.

You can learn and live through difficult times, perhaps especially during difficult times, as the following poem relates:

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

The challenge you face does not silence or invalidate your witness. In fact, a difficult time can magnify your witness. You have an opportunity to lead others to glorify God by the way you face the heat and drought.

So how will you handle the present test? Will you wither? Or will your faith be a witness to those around you?


Dr. Terry Ellis

February 27, 2011