Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” ~~Jeremiah 1:6 (ESV)Indeed, I've always been taught to admire and emulate his humility. After all, compared to the Lord, even the most erudite theologian must admit that his writings betray an infantile understanding of spiritual truth. On that basis, shouldn't we applaud the young prophet's self-abasement?
This morning I read this verse in context, and noticed that Jeremiah's supposed humility not only failed to impress the Lord, but actually incited the Lord to rebuke him. Granted, the Lord may have rebuked him gently, being sensitive to Jeremiah's young age (one commentator I looked at believed Jeremiah was about 14), but He nonetheless made it perfectly clear that the young man had the wrong focus. Look at the context of verse 6:
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.” ~~Jeremiah 1:4-8 (ESV)
For all his apparent humility, Jeremiah had his eyes trained on himself, completely ignoring the One Who had just called him into prophetic ministry. The Lord immediately shifted the attention away from Jeremiah's obvious inadequacies and back to Himself. He had called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, and consequently He would assume full responsibility for enabling him to perform that ministry.
As a matter of fact, the Lord had already said, point-blank, that He had appointed Jeremiah to prophetic ministry before the boy's conception. Pro-life people frequently use that verse in opposition to abortion, and rightly so. But that secondary application mustn't distract us from God's primary point that Jeremiah did absolutely nothing to acquire his ministry. The appointment originated from the Lord long before Jeremiah's parents conceived him.
If Jeremiah did nothing to merit the Lord's commission, what made him think that his youth and inexperience could prevent God from using him. As humble as his words in verse 6 appear, in reality he drew attention away from the Lord and back to himself. He failed to see what, five centuries later, the apostle Paul saw so clearly:
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~~2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
Regardless of how the Lord calls us to serve Him, let's guard against both boastfulness and false humility. Our abilities to serve Him come from His generous Hand, and our many inadequacies showcase His glorious strength.