This morning while reading Jeremiah 4, I didn’t get very far before having to stop—at verse 1. “If you wanted to return to me, you could” (NLT). We often approach God and faith as a fix-all for what ails us. We look to the Bible and maybe to people who are close to God to diagnose our problems and prescribe the solution.
For others, the Bible can become to us an instruction manual that we pull off the shelf to use when we need to troubleshoot life. Or, for the more cerebral of us, it is a science project that requires academic tools to dissect it in order to discover what makes us tick. All of these approaches leave us well short of one of its intended purposes: to know and trust its author.
So when we read a simple verse like Jeremiah 4:1, we’re caught off-guard. Our usual uses of faith and the Bible are confronted here with clarity. We don’t have to try to fix life’s brokenness or get to the bottom of what the Bible is really saying. If we wanted to return (and turn) to God to receive life, we could. If we wanted grace and repentance to be more than concepts, we could experience them. The opportunity is there. So why don’t we want to?
Jeremiah’s audience had grown impatient with God and decided that the religions of surrounding countries were worth a try. They traded devotion and loyalty to God for these other religions’ statues (idols) and practices. They didn’t believe that God would care for and protect them, and, in general, have their best interests at heart. They became dependent on them even though they did them no good.
Reflecting on the state of Western Christianity, it’s not difficult to find glaring similarities. Our attitudes and actions tell the story. We’ve become dependent on political powers, charismatic personalities, economies, and even church systems, and it’s hard to let go. They protect the brokenness and pain we continually seek healing for. They keep the truth of the gospel at a distance—nothing more than something to learn about. Their role in our lives keeps us from deep intimacy with God and experiencing the full and whole life he desires us to live.
Jeremiah 4:1 goes on to say, “You could throw away your detestable idols and stray away no more.” Oh, we have a choice? Yes. And it’s easier than it seems. In leadership coaching, when people get stuck in a pattern of thinking, attitude, or actions despite all their attempts to change, it’s almost always because they don’t have something to move toward. Ours is a culture where we work hard at eliminating our weaknesses. Try as we may, we fail. As Peter Drucker said in the 1970s, we make ourselves mediocre.
We fail because we’re only trying to say no. Only saying no keeps us captive to the idols. Having something else to grab onto makes it a lot easier to let go. The journey to the full life we seek involves saying “Yes” to and clinging to Jesus and his gospel. Get more articles to help you live it now, check out our free e-devotions, discover the NLT, and find just the right Bible at http://www.newlivingtranslation.com/.
Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father of four, Coach (www.redwoodcoach.com) ministry trainer and speaker, Dean of The Youth Ministry Institute of the Tennessee Conference UMC and adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary.