Stop Praying!
Tim Temple

Introduction

In looking at Jeremiah, chapters 7-10, think about this scenario: A solemn procession winds its way up a long hillside to a beautiful, ornate temple on the top of the hill. A great choir is singing and chanting as they move along the trail toward the temple. The king himself is leading the way. On the way, as they are chanting this chorus of praise to God, suddenly, to everybody's complete astonishment, a young man jumps up on a prominent place at the entrance to the temple and shouts out, “Hold it. Put a stop to this.” Everybody stops. He begins to preach to them.

That is the scene as we turn to the second message in the ministry of Jeremiah to the people of Judah in the Old Testament. His ministry came toward the end of the time that their nation was in existence just before the time that they were taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

In our last study we saw that the prophet's first message to the nation of Judah had to do with God's revelation of the extremely dangerous situation they faced as a nation. But he also preached that the way of return to God was still open to them.

During the declining years of Israel and later Judah, after the reign of Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into those two kingdoms—the tribe of Judah and Benjamin becoming the southern kingdom and the other ten tribes becoming the northern kingdom. We have talked about all that before. Israel by this time had become two nations. God sent prophets during those declining years after the golden age of Israel under Solomon and David, to Israel in the North and to Judah in the South to preach to them the importance of coming back to Him. They had left following His ways and God had faithfully sent prophets to show them the danger of what they were doing and to call them back to Himself. Jeremiah was one of the very last of those prophets. In fact, he was alive and lived into the captivity, the very captivity that he has been prophesying was going to happen. We are studying this history of his life and ministry at this particular time because these are messages that are still applicable today. Even though they were written thousands of years ago, they are applicable, I believe, to our nation and unfortunately I believe they are also applicable to many of us as individuals.

Jeremiah's Second Message

We want to focus on the second message that Jeremiah brought to the nation. It is found in chapters 7-10 of this book. You need to know that we are not going to look at every verse in those chapters like we normally do. We are looking at Jeremiah's book in terms of the messages and looking at significant points in those messages rather than verse by verse as is usually our custom.

As nearly as Bible scholars can tell, this message was offered about five years after the first message because we are told over in Jeremiah, chapter 26, that it was given in the eighteenth year of King Josiah. No doubt Jeremiah preached other messages during those five years that are not recorded. He wasn't just sitting around for five years, but this is the next message that God had him record in his book.

We are not even going to be able to catch the thrust of this message unless we understand the setting of this interruption when Jeremiah jumped up on the steps of the temple and stopped the procession. The setting of the interruption is given to us in II Chronicles, chapters 34 and 25. We are not going to take the time to turn back there, so let me just quickly review with you. We have mentioned before that King Josiah was a young, godly king in Judah. He came to the throne when he was eight years old and no doubt ruled with the influence and advice of prophets and scholars. He was a godly king and in his sixteenth year had a revival in his spirit and became even more godly, trying to turn the nation back to God.

In that revival he ordered the cleanup of the temple which had basically been turned into a warehouse. A lot of junk had been stored there just like in our attics and garages today, a lot of things that nobody could even remember why they were there and why they were stored. In the midst of that cleanup of the temple, the high priest, Hilkiah, who very probably was the father of Jeremiah, found an old scroll containing the law of Moses. Imagine that, things had gotten so bad in Judah, in what had been Israel, that the very Word of God had been put away in the attic, so to speak, and forgotten about.

Hilkiah took out that scroll and dusted it off and began to read it and realized what it was. He took it to the king, and King Josiah trembled as he read that scroll because he began to see how far the nation had drifted from God. He saw also that God had announced in advance to Israel what He would do if the nation had come to that condition. He was convicted of the fact that the very things that God had warned about had come to pass in the nation. He called his counselors and formulated a plan to try to turn the nation back to God.

As King Josiah and Hilkiah read the scroll, they read about the Passover. They discovered that nobody had celebrated the Passover in Israel since the days of Hezekiah, a hundred years earlier. This central focal point of the worship of Israel had not even taken place for a hundred years. You can see how bad things had gotten. Orders were given to have a great celebration of the Passover. II Chronicles 35, verse 18, tells us that there was never before a Passover in Israel like this one and that there would not ever be another one like this one. It was a gigantic celebration.

Finally the great day arrived when the sacrifices were to be offered in the temple, and II Chronicles describes how the chanters and the singers were prepared and this great procession led by King Josiah himself wound its way toward the temple to worship there and to obey that command from God to perform the Passover Feast. The priests were swinging their incense pots and chanting and apparently a hymn that they were chanting included these words: “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.” The people were probably breathing a great sense of relief and thinking, “Finally, God will be satisfied. Now He will give us strength against these nations around us that are always trying to invade us and all these problems that we are having. We are settling our religious accounts with God.” As they were on the way, thinking those things and singing those songs, suddenly Jeremiah jumped up on the steps of the temple and yelled out. Everybody stopped and he began to preach the message that we are looking at today.

The Misconceptions

It is out of that background then that we find this shocking interruption in chapter 7, verses 1-15. In verses 1-11, we have the statements that Jeremiah made to them in that interruption. First, he talks about their misconceptions, in verse 1-4:

Jeremiah 7:

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
2 Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.
3 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.
4 Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.

The gist of what Jeremiah is saying is, “Who do you think you are kidding? Do you think that He is limited to your abilities and that He can be fooled and will spare this land just because you are chanting and marching in procession? Do you think that God is only interested in outward activities? Don't you know that God knows what is going on?” That is the thought of those verses.

Then he goes on in verses 8-11 to describe the manipulations that they were doing. Skip over verses 5-7 for the moment and look at verse 8:

Jeremiah 7:

8 Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
9 Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not;
10 And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?
11 Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.

Let's stop again there with verse 11. That is very much like what was going to happen some centuries later when a young man stood up in the temple and drove out the money changers saying, “You have turned My Father's house into a den of thieves,” isn't it? That is very probably where Jesus got those words that He said as He cleansed the temple all those years later.

In the rest of this dramatic interruption that Jeremiah has made, he delivers this message which God has for His nation. Here is a people who were trusting in performance, trusting in outward ritual to satisfy God. They acted as though they didn't realize that God knows the heart and that He knew what was really going on. Therefore, the only thing that was left for this people was that they would be judged.

You know, when people allow themselves to get so spiritually blinded that they can't see what they are actually doing and they really think that God can't see any further than the outward appearance, then the only thing which will open their eyes is judgment. Perhaps some of us have been in that place. The problem with sin is that it begets more sin and sin begets blindness, and it is possible for even a believer in Jesus Christ to come to the place that he thinks that God is not really aware of what he is doing or that he assumes that what he is doing is okay with God. When a person comes to that place, when a nation comes to that place, the only resource God has left is to bring judgment. That is exactly what Jeremiah is going to say to them in the next paragraph of this message.

Before we look at that part of the message, notice in verses 5-7, which we skipped over a minute ago, that He once again faithfully points out to them the basis for salvation. God always preaches salvation along with preaching judgment. Look, beginning in verse 5:

Jeremiah 7:

5 For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;
6 If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt:
7 Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.

God was not through with Judah, but He was warning them sternly about the danger in which they stood.

You know, people very often question how a loving God could allow to happen to a nation that He had actually called His own chosen people all the things that He has allowed to happen to Israel all down through the years. Why would God allow that on His own people? Without taking the time to go into detail, let me just point out that this passage is typical of many, many other passages all through the Old Testament that the things that came upon Israel and other godless nations only came after 400 years of warnings. God put His people and continues to put His chosen people through tremendous difficulties. To this very day, they live in danger of their lives from day to day at least as a nation and many times individually; but none of that took place without His first having warned them and pleaded with them for 400 years.

How long has God been pleading with you? May I ask you that today? God pleads. God begs His people to come back to Himself. When they don't, sometimes He, in His grace and mercy, becomes even more severe, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

If the Heart is Right, Right Actions will Follow

The message that God preached to these people is a very simple message. “It's your heart that I am looking at, not your outward activities and your displays of religion.” Look at the activities in verses 5-7 that He lists. They are really matters of the heart–fair judgments in verse 5; care for the downtrodden and the oppressed, in verse 6; swift and fair administration of justice and true worship of Jehovah in the last part of verse 6.

You see, these are matters of the heart. There are certainly outward matters, too, but they come from the heart. If the heart is right with God, the right actions will follow. A lot of times when we preach from a passage like this, people get the idea, “Well, I can do whatever I want to. If my heart is right with God then it doesn't matter what I do.”

No! God's principle is if your heart is right with Him, your actions will follow. Your actions will always follow your heart. If your heart is in the world, your actions will be worldly actions. If you want to make a change in those worldly actions, if God is convicting you of some sin in your life, some sin of attitude, perhaps, in your life, what you need to do is not just change those activities, not even to change those attitudes, what you need to do is beg God to cleanse your heart. If God has your heart, the actions will fall into place. It's not that you won't be taking any action, and it's not that you will suddenly start doing a bunch of religious external things, but it is that if your heart is right with God, your actions will spring from that heart that is right with God and you will choose not to do things that are displeasing to God. You will choose to do those things that are pleasing to God.

Israel and Judah Turn Away from God

I can tell you from experience, and many of you know from experience, that that is a miraculous thing. It is a transformation that only God can accomplish. That is what Jeremiah is saying to his people here in verses 5-7. He comes back, though, in verse 12 with an even more specific illustration of obliteration. In verse 12, we read:

Jeremiah 7:

12 But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh [That was the capital of the northern kingdom, Israel.], where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.
13 And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not;
14 Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.
15 And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.

Here is the tragedy of the nations of Israel and Judah. They turned away from God. Without fail, when people turn away from God, they lose the sense of their own worth. We saw in our last study that when these people turned from those living fountains of water, and Jeremiah uses that touching illustration of turning from those living fountains of water to hewing out cisterns for themselves, turning from the abundant supply of God, they turned to what little they could eke out on their own. That is a familiar pattern we see in our society today in many individual lives. When they turn from that, Jeremiah said, they become like animals in heat, just seeking anything they could go after to try to satisfy their desires, not just sexual desires but all kinds of desires—materialism, power, all kinds of lust and desires.

“When a person turns from God, he begins to act like an animal in heat,” Jeremiah says, “and as they continue to do that, they more and more dislike themselves and hate themselves.” That is always what happens when a heart turns away from the living God. When you lose your love for God, you no longer can respect yourself. If you can't respect yourself, you can't respect your neighbor either. Of course, that is what Jesus was saying when He told the people of His day, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The concept of love is not just a matter of being sweet to people and trying to do nice things for people. The matter of loving ourselves is a matter of being able to respect ourselves because we understand who we are in Christ. We understand how important we are to God and what great things He loved us enough to do for us. We can respect ourselves because of His opinion of us, not necessarily because of our own opinion of ourselves or the opinion of other people of us, but the fact that God loves us enough to do these things for us. If we turn from that love, we lose respect for ourselves and we lose respect for other people. When that happens in enough individual lives, society goes into chaos.

If you have no sense of who you are as a person in God's sight, how precious you are to God, then you are not going to look at anybody else as important either. Eventually, you come to the place that you don't look at God as being important. That is what Jeremiah is preaching to these people. That is why the book of Jeremiah is so important to us even though it was written thousands of years ago. It is relevant to us today. Maybe it is relevant in this particular thing I am talking about to someone in this very room. It's certainly relevant on a larger scale to our nation. Our nation has lost respect for itself. Therefore, it has lost respect for God because it has forgotten about God. It has turned from God. Things that are chiseled into the monuments and the buildings in our nations' capital in many cases have now become illegal to follow through with. Our nation has turned from God and has now lost respect for itself and is willing to sell our influence and our position to other nations just for the money that might be generated to re-elect an administration that is in power.

That is a loss of respect for ourselves. It comes because of a loss of respect for God, from a turning away from God. It is easy for us to sit and talk about Washington, DC, but let me remind you that this audience to whom Jeremiah was preaching was his nation, but he was preaching also to individuals. Let me exhort you to think about these things I am saying in terms of your own life as well as in the life of our nation. Remember that this nation will not be turned around by God to any greater extent than you allow Him to turn your heart around. If there is to be a turn-around in our nation and its fortunes, it is going to be on an individual basis, person by person by person. When there are enough godly people in our nation who are willing to insist that our nation be a godly nation, God will work in our nation, but first He has to work in your heart and in mine.

Jeremiah Told to Stop Intercession

It is at this point that Jeremiah was given one of the most shocking instructions that we find anywhere in Scripture. It is the instruction that I take the title of this message from. He tells Jeremiah to stop interceding for his nation. Look at verse 16:

Jeremiah 7:

16 Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.

Imagine that. God commands Jeremiah to stop praying for the nation of Judah. He wasn't to ask God for their deliverance any longer. He was not to cry out to God for them, to fast or pray or any other way intercede on behalf of the people. God said, “Jeremiah, stop praying.” In I John, chapter 16, the Scripture tells us in this New Testament age that “there is a sin unto death, and I do not say that you shall pray for that.”

Stay with me here because this is easy to misunderstand. There is a principle involved in which it is time to stop praying. Most of us think of prayer as something to do when everything else fails, I'm afraid, but the Scripture tells us that it is the first thing we ought to do. No matter what happens, the first thing we ought to do is to pray about it, so surely the last thing God would ever command a person to do is to stop praying. Yet, we find that here. If you are in the habit of picking out verses in the Scripture to satisfy whatever you want to do, then you are going to have trouble with this passage. If you pick out verses of Scripture here and there and say, “This is the way God always works,” then you are going to have trouble with what we're looking at here. If that were not bad enough, in verse 27, God expands that command. Notice:

Jeremiah 7:

27 Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee: thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee.

In other words, God says, “Stop praying, Jeremiah, but keep preaching.” If you think about it for a minute, maybe you will agree that that is a very difficult thing to do. I know that most of you don't think of yourselves as preachers, but anyone who tries to speak a word for God to those around him, and I trust, I hope, that that would be all of us in here, is in that sense a preacher.

Think about your own efforts in whatever little way you can influence people around you for Christ. Think about how frustrating it would be if you couldn't pray about that. If God told you to stop praying about that, which by the way, is exactly what Satan wants us to do, except in these cases where God may tell us to stop praying. Satan loves it when we don't pray. Satan understands that it is much more important for you and me to talk to God about men than it is even for us to talk to men about God. Satan loves it when we don't pray, but there are those times, and Jeremiah illustrates, and I John, chapter 5, tells us that it is time to stop praying. That is one of the toughest assignments that God has ever given to anybody.

Once in a while, not very often, but once in a while, I can tell that some of you are not listening when I am preaching. You didn't know I could tell that, did you? Sometimes I think that maybe somebody is not listening, and do you know what I do about that? On my way home, I pray for you, or after I get home, at some point I pray for you. We all do that. If we are witnessing to others, if we are trying to have an influence for God in other people's lives, it is a very natural thing for us to pray about that. Jeremiah could not even do that. They were not going to listen to him, but he was to keep on preaching anyway, and he was not to pray that they would listen.

If you are thinking with me, I believe that you will agree that if God said to stop praying, our ministry would probably just fall apart, wouldn't it? Prayer is a great refuge and a great strength to me in the course of serving the Lord.

God's Interpretation

Before you give up on me and think that I am just misunderstanding this passage, think with me of the third section of this message about the sovereign interpretation that is given in chapters 8-10. There are just a few things that I am going to pick out in these chapters to share with you, but it is extremely important for us to understand God's interpretation. Why did God tell Jeremiah to stop praying? He was not just doing it for the fun of it. If you read these instructions to Jeremiah, as though God is saying, “I've had it. I can't stand it any longer. I am going to get rid of these people. I am going to smash them. I am going to destroy them. I am never going to have anything more to do with them,” then you misunderstand the passage. If you do read it that way, you are in good company. Evidently, that is the way Jeremiah read it.

Turn to chapter 8. This chapter goes on to tell us about his action. Look at verse 18 and you can see the prophet's reaction. What we will see is He was deeply grieved about all this. He didn't understand what God was doing. Before we look at verse 18, let me just point out that one of the major lessons of this message of Jeremiah was the effect that it had on Jeremiah himself. The most baffling times in the Christian experience are those times when God acts completely contrary to what you thought He would do, aren't they?

Have you been in that place where maybe you even claim a verse of Scripture and you think, “This is what God is going to do. I'm going to trust Him to do it and I know He is going to do it. Then not only does He not do that, He seems to do something completely opposite. That is hard to deal with, isn't it? I have had that experience, and maybe some of you have also. That is where Jeremiah was. When we do that, when Jeremiah did that, what we are doing is saying, probably without even realizing it, this is what God is going to do. It is what God will do. If He doesn't do that, there is something wrong with Him. Jeremiah comes to that place and in verse 18, he says:

Jeremiah 8:

18 When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.
19 Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her…

Let's stop there in the middle of verse 19. Jeremiah was visualizing, he was looking ahead, at what was coming. It made him sick to think about especially the women of Judah, the daughters of his people being in captivity and saying, “Where is God? Isn't God on His throne? What's happened here?” God answers in the last part of verse 19:

Jeremiah 8:

19 …Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities [idols]?

I want to come back and talk about that verse again in a few minutes, but Jeremiah continues his questioning. He is saying, “God, Your people are going to be in captivity, and they are going to be wondering where You are and why You haven't delivered them.” And so, in verse 20, he says the people will say:

Jeremiah 8:

20 The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
21 For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

You see, Jeremiah feels so intensely about what's going to happen that he cries out, “God, where are You now? Where is the Healer? Where is the Great Physician? Is there no balm, is there no ointment that will solve this problem and heal this sick people?”

Have you ever felt like that in your life? Have you cried out to God about your own life or maybe for the life of a loved one? “God, where are You? Why aren't You at work? Why aren't You doing what I thought You would do?” Jeremiah just simply didn't understand the situation. “Why would You do this, God?” In order to get this all together, we need to look at the profound reply that God gives, woven into the message. First, go back to verse 19, which I mentioned but said I wanted to say more about.

The essence of this principle is in the last part of verse 19, where God said: “Why have they provoked Me to anger with their carved images and with their foreign gods?” It is a very simple answer. God says, “I will not tolerate the sharing of My glory with any other focus in the lives of My people.” Isaiah, who was a prophet just a few years before Jeremiah, said it this way: “I am the Lord; that is My name, and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praises to carved images.”

By the way, do you realize that? If you try to take the glory for something that God is doing, you are on very dangerous ground. That was the reason this nation was in such trouble. Go back to chapter 7 to another verse that we looked at a minute ago. This truth is elaborated on back in verse 13 of chapter 7:

Jeremiah 7:

13 And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not;

Let's stop there. The first thing that God does when people begin to drift away from Him is to warn them of what the consequences are going to be. He warns them through sermons that they hear or Scripture that they read or comments that some friend makes to them, but the essence of His message, He is faithful to tell us is, “If you sow to the flesh, you will of the flesh reap corruption.” That is the law of God. That is a principle of God's Word, a principle of God's activity. God warns that that flesh, that thing of the flesh, is going to hurt people around you if you continue in sin. That is what He says here first: “Because you have done all these works, I spoke to you.”

God begins to warn them and then He says, “When I called you, you did not answer.” Do you see that here in the last part of the verse? Here is this loving God rising up early to call to His people. He is calling out to people who are in the process of going astray. This is the story of the Father of the prodigal son, standing out in the gateway, looking to see if his prodigal son was coming back, longing for him to come back. Sometimes this goes on for years with God's rising up early and calling out lovingly and compassionately for us to come back to Him. During this time, He moves other people to pray for those who are away, to reach out to them and support them by the power of prayer if nothing else; but when that doesn't work, He only has one step left and that is judgment.

You see, judgment is not God's saying, “I am through with you. I don't want to have any more to do with you.” That is the impression we get when we talk about judgment a lot of times, but what God is saying when He warns about judgment and what God is doing when He brings judgment is not abandoning His people. It is in fact, as hard as it may be to believe, a loving act. It is a severe act, but it is a loving act to bring His people back to Himself. It is the last resort of His love. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures. He speaks to us in our work. He shouts at us in our pain.” To some of us, God may be whispering right now. He may be saying, “You are getting off the track. You are beginning to veer.” He is not making a huge issue of it and He is gently reminding you of what you are doing. To others, you have reached the place where He is having to speak to you. Perhaps it is a little more obvious and a little more painful, but listen, if you and I, as God's children, don't respond when He whispers, or when He, rising up early, speaks to us, He will have to, and He will be faithful to shout to us in judgment, to bring difficulty into our lives.

That is what Jeremiah had to learn. If he was going to preach effectively to the people, he had to understand that principle. He didn't understand that his beloved nation had reached the place where the only thing God could do was to bring judgment in order to heal it. He didn't understand that it was God's love that was insisting that that happen. That is why God said, “I want you to stop praying.”

God said to Jeremiah, “I have reached the place in my relationship with Judah that I am going to bring judgment and you don't even need to pray about that, Jeremiah. In fact, if you keep praying about it, it will hinder what I am going to do. I want to cut this cancer out. To do that, I am going to bring judgment on this nation and you must stop praying.”

Why would that be? “You are to go on preaching,” He says, “but stop praying.” Listen, praying holds off God's judgment. Preaching accelerates God's judgment. Do you remember what Jesus said about the Pharisees when He was on earth? He said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin.” In other words, they would not be aware of their sin. But now they have no excuse for their sin. Preaching hastens judgment. Preaching is pointing out God's truth and God's principles so that people will have to be aware of what God is going to do. Praying holds off God's judgment long enough for the preaching to be done. God said to Jeremiah, “I want you to stop praying and keep on preaching because I am going to bring that judgment as quickly as I can.” What Jeremiah's nation needed to restore it and to heal it was judgment, and God said, “Don't stand in My way. Don't delay it by praying about it. Don't hold Me back.”

God's Personal Reassurance to Jeremiah

It was at this point that Jeremiah broke down and wept before God. In verses 23-24, Jeremiah said these things about his sadness, his weeping for the daughters of Israel, and God gives him a personal reassurance in chapter 9, verse 23:

Jeremiah 9:

23 Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

Here is what Jeremiah needed to know as he faced this judgment of his nation: Man cannot understand what God is doing. Man cannot solve the problems that God wants to solve. Man's wisdom is not enough. He says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” Why should a wise man not glory in his wisdom? Because man's wisdom is only partial wisdom. It can solve the surface of the problems. Over the years, over the history of humanity, there have been times when men thought we had our problems solved. Then those very solutions turned out to be problems.

One example is the atomic bomb. When the atomic bomb was developed and deployed successfully, people thought and said, “It is the end of warfare in our time.” Yet now, if we are thinking at all, we live in fear and dread because some underdeveloped and undisciplined nations have that atomic power in their hands and there is no telling what they may do with it and no way to control what they may do with it. This thing that we, in our wisdom, thought was the solution to man's problems has now become a huge threat to the human race. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” Even those things that look good at first can turn out to bite you in the end. That is the best that man's wisdom can do.

Only God Can Control Hearts

You can't trust the power of men, either. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. Let not the mighty man glory in his might.” Why not that? Well, think about this. Here is a tyrant, a king, a dictator, a despot, and he has all kinds of power at his command. He should be able to make people do anything he wants them to do, shouldn't he? But we have seen over and over and over again how the forces of truth and right could not be overcome by the most powerful dictators. Why is that? Because it is the Lord, it is only the Lord, Who can turn the hearts of men. A dictator with his power can control outward circumstances, but only God can control hearts. “Let not the mighty man glory in his might.” And He says, “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.” We don't even need to elaborate on that. We all know that money can't buy everything. Money, in fact, buys problems. “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.”

What can he glory in? “Let him who glories, glory in this,” He says, “that he knows and understands Me.” He says, “Glory in this, Jeremiah, that you have available to you all of the might of God, all of the wisdom of God, all of the riches of God.” God would say to you and me the same truth.

Man Does Not Direct His Steps

As we come to the end of Jeremiah's message, we find the prophet's reflection on the whole thing in chapter 10, verse 23. Jeremiah learned a lesson that all of us need to learn as we face the problems that we face in our church, in our individual lives, a principle that is foundational to our lives. He says, in chapter 10, verse 23:

Jeremiah 10:

23 O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

Have you found that out? What an important lesson that is to know that we do not direct our steps. The way of man is not in himself. You don't have what it takes to live life by yourself. Jesus said that to His disciples. “Without Me, you can do nothing.” Many of us have had to learn that the hard way. It is not within our power to direct our steps. Many of you who have known the Lord for a long time can look back over the years and see the hand of God in your life, opening doors here and closing doors there, and you can give thanks with Jeremiah that the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of ministry for me. Thirty years ago today I began my ministry in Wichita Falls, Texas, at Grace Church, and twenty years ago today began my ministry here at Abilene Bible Church. I can see so many places where I made the wrong steps. I made the wrong decision. I sinned against God, and yet, God, in His mercy and His grace, turned even those mistakes, those wrong steps and directed them in His way. Let me tell you, it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Years before, Solomon said it this way in Proverbs, chapter 3, verses 5-6:

Proverbs 3:

5Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Conclusion

That is the way to handle life and there is no other way than that. Are you perplexed today? Has God done something that you didn't think He was going to do or has He not done something that you thought He was going to do? Trust in the Lord and lean not unto your own understanding.


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