READ: Jeremiah 3-5
THINK: I was listening recently to my recording of Simon & Garfunkel: Live in Central Park (incidentally one of the better things I’ve ever “borrowed” from my dad on a trip home to Iowa). I love the way that they harmonize, and their music is the type that is easy to listen to for hours on end. But it’s not just the tunes and the vocal gifts that makes that duo so great – it’s the profound nature of the lyrics and the way that they poetically describe some of the realities of the human experience. Trust me, this isn’t some paid (or unpaid) advertisement for them; it’s just a long way of saying that the opening verse of The Boxer really forced me to stop and think:
I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told.
I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles such are promises.
All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.
I heard it and wondered how often I have squandered my resistance to sin for the momentary pocket full of pleasure that this world promised me. How often have I bought into the lies and jests of this broken and rebellious world? How often have you? I think the sad answer for all of is that the number is too many to count. But why do we do it? The final stanza of the verse speaks to the reason: A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. When we’re tempted, because of our own brokenness, we desperately seek out any messages from any sources that back up our own desires so that we don’t feel so bad about doing what we want despite the messages that tell us we’re headed down a path to destruction. There is something inside of us that gravitates towards what we want to hear. And that disregards what we don’t.
As we look around us at our culture and the direction we’re headed I think it’s safe to say that “Hear what you want to hear and disregard the rest” has become something of an American motto. Sadly, and it breaks my heart to type this, that motto has even penetrated our church culture. We not only have a number of Christians who are willing to leave churches that challenge them until they find one that never does, but we unfortunately have plenty of leaders in plenty of places who are willing to compromise truth in order to gain popularity. We have a nation where there are too many pastors who have personally bought into the motto, modeled it, and embraced it as a growth strategy.
Make no mistake, it’s a temptation for all of us. I’m so sorry for the times in my life when I’ve done it – I must humbly acknowledge that there is little doubt in my own brokenness I have failed here. I’m so sorry for my colleagues in ministry who have done it intentionally and continue to.
We aren’t the first nation that has ever had this problem. In Jeremiah 6:30-31 the prophet writes, “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” This comes after clearly describing and decrying the spiritual corruption and depravity of the nation, often in a very graphic and powerful manner like “They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife.” God’s people had turned their backs on him, went searching for what they wanted to hear, lived in open rebellion, and sold out to sin, selfishness, and idolatry. And they loved it.
My prayer is that we learn from history before repeating its mistakes. We tend to recite that axiom without believing that it really applies to us. But the nation of Israel was conquered, oppressed, and stripped of its inheritance as a result. Sin is serious and the consequences are always more significant than we want them to be.
Jeremiah closes chapter 6 with an incredibly powerful question to his people: “What will you do in the end?” It’s a question worth asking ourselves. What direction are we headed in? As a nation? As individuals? And, when you think about the direction that your life is headed, do you like the destination? If not, maybe it’s time to stop hearing only what you want to hear and disregarding the rest. Maybe it’s time to start listening to God and turning your heart towards him completely.
PRAY: Confess the times when you’ve traded your commitment to God’s truth because you really wanted the pocket full of momentary pleasure that sin provides. Ask God to give you the wisdom to seek out truth and the strength to live it.