Jeremiah was called into the prophetic ministry when he was young man. Humble and eager to serve God, he became a man of prayer and deep spirituality–a man who faced his trials with courage.
During his forty years of ministry, Jeremiah would suffer intense persecution. He was thrown into a dungeon, beaten, put in stocks, and threatened. Tradition teaches that he was stoned to death. Despite the opposition he faced, however, he remained true to the messages God gave him. He confronted the Jews with their rebellion and called them to confess their sins, accept responsibility, and ask God for forgiveness. As God directed him, he also spoke words of comfort to a people facing disaster.
Jeremiah was also a man of great compassion. He openly expressed his grief over the sinfulness of his people. In fact, he’s known as the weeping prophet. He shed many tears for the sin of his people and the destructive consequences he knew they’d face. After Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were exiled, Jeremiah wrote the book Lamentations to express his sorrow over the pain and loss of his people. There were times when Jeremiah openly and honestly complained to God about the work God had given him. Yet even in the midst of his sadness, Jeremiah never lost faith in God’s power to judge righteously, to reward liberally, and to restore his broken people.
Innocent bystanders often get hurt by the mistakes and poor decisions of others. Disasters happen that haunt us for life even though we have no direct responsibility for the events that take place. Often the best way to handle these things is to accept them and to make the best of the situation.
Daniel and his friends were innocent bystanders. They suffered a lifelong exile to Babylon because of their country’s prolonged disobedience to God. But they didn’t let their misfortune destroy their relationship with God. With courage and faith, they faced the realities of exile and lived successful lives. Their lives offer us insight into how to deal with tragedy.
After being taken from Jerusalem to Babylon, Daniel and his three friends were trained for service in the Babylonian government. Their captors often demanded that they do things that stood in opposition to God. To protect their relationship with God, Daniel and his friends set clear boundaries for their behavior. They followed God’s plan for their lives, despite its conflict with the command of their captors. And God protected these faithful men from the foreign laws and unstable tyrants they lived under.
Although Daniel and his friends were exiled to Babylon for the sins of their ancestors, they didn’t use that as an excuse for continued failure. Instead, they trusted God to redeem their lives, and they were determined to live according to God’s precepts and teachings. You can do the same.
Most men tend to stuff. Often, we trade our grief or sorrow for anger. But in order to release the past into God’s hands, you must fully encounter your grief, and you must be willing to forgive yourself and others for the pain that’s occurred.
This isn’t easy. But we can learn from some people who went before us. Many of the Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem after captivity in Babylon had forgotten the laws of God. During the exile, they hadn’t been taught his laws, so, naturally, they hadn’t practiced them. After rebuilding the city wall and the Temple, the priests gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law. The people were overwhelmed with grief and began sobbing because their lives in no way measured up. But the priests said to them:
‘Today is a sacred day before the Lord your God’Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
The process of releasing the past requires grief and forgiveness. Then you are given the ‘joy of the Lord’ as your strength. This joy comes from recognizing, even celebrating, God’s ability to set you free from the past, and in doing so, a new way of life.