READ: Jeremiah 18-20
THINK: There is a bronze statue standing outside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa that depicts a man of deep passion doing that which he was most passionate about and probably better at than anyone else in the world. Dan Gable is the most decorated wrestler in the history of the sport. He never lost a match in his high school career, lost only once in his college career and won an Olympic gold medal without surrendering so much as a single point. He went on to win 15 national titles in 21 years as the head coach at the University of Iowa.
But there is something unique about his statue – something that sets it apart from the many other heroes and great men who have been cast in bronze all over the world. The statue does not depict Gable in triumphant combat on the mat. Nor does it depict him raising his fist in victory or wagging his finger while coaching his team. Instead, it forever enshrines the image of Gable complaining to the referee. This seems like an odd choice. But only if you lack context.
For those of you who didn’t grow up in Iowa, a state where wrestling is as much a part of the local identity and social fabric as corn, the gesture Dan Gable is making in that picture might not mean anything. For those of us who did, it very clearly communicates one thing: stalling! And it sums up Gable perfectly. Why? Because for him there was nothing worse in the world than for one of his wrestlers to be caught stalling. He refused to tolerate any wrestler who would walk out onto the mat and then back away from the fight, attempt to escape rather than attack, attempt to waste the clock rather than use it. This violated everything the sport was about, and Gable so loathed it that he once screamed at a referee until stalling was called on his own wrestler. Shying away from the fight was, for Dan Gable, a far greater sin than losing it.
There were a number of times when the prophet Jeremiah felt like stalling – a number of times when he was so beaten down and frustrated that he just wanted to quit, back away, waste the clock, and cautiously avoid confrontation. He pours out his heart about just that in chapter 20, verses 7-9:
“You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name…”
I love the last half-sentence there. It’s such a vulnerable moment as we get a glimpse into his heart. Jeremiah is so afraid of the world and the people around him that he wants to quit preaching God’s message. He admits that he’s tried quitting. Here’s my question today: have you? Can you identify with Jeremiah here? Can you relate to his fear and his anxiety? To his frustration with the results of his message – with the fact that he is mocked and ridiculed for speaking it? Have you ever kept the message of the gospel – the truth you know about God and who he is and what he’s done for us – inside of you because you were too timid to share it? Have you ever stalled on telling someone else about Jesus because you wanted to avoid ridicule or mocking?
Let’s all be honest with ourselves for a moment and answer “yes” to every one of those questions. We’ve done it. We’ve failed. We’ve backed off and been timid. So what do we do about it? Well, I love how verse 9 ends:
“…his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
My prayer is that this would be true in my life, and in all of yours as well. That God’s word would burn so powerfully in our souls that we cannot contain it. That it would burst forth out of us no matter what the cost. That we would boldly share it with a world that desperately needs to hear it – a world that is dying without it.
Make no mistake, we have a fight on our hands! And it’s not any easier for us than it was for Jeremiah. There are people all around us who are trapped in darkness, headed toward death and destruction, and living lives that are broken and hopeless. And they need the message we have. Eternity is on the line. Nothing less. The question that faces all of us is: will we be bold? Will we be Christians in the mold of Dan Gable’s wrestlers: fierce, uncompromising, unafraid, unrelenting, warriors? Or will we be so intimidated by our world that we become stallers instead? I think, even in the most difficult and frustrating times, we can be fighters if only we remember that stalling is a greater sin than losing – that God is responsible for the results and even if things don’t always go the way we wish they did our call is simply to faithfully and passionately bring the message. And we can do that confidently because, as Jeremiah reminds us in verse 11, “The LORD is with [us] like a mighty warrior.”
PRAY: Spend some time in confession today about all of the times when you have “stalled” and kept God’s message to yourself out of fear or cowardice. Ask him to help you be bold in proclaiming the gospel to those around you and to make you “weary of holding it in.”