Whether a person is a pastor, missionary, or any other form of ministry worker, all understand that ministry is a difficult road to walk.
Few understood this better than the prophet Jeremiah. The story of Jeremiah shows us that perseverance is possible even in the face of difficult ministry. Even more importantly, the story of Jeremiah shows that the true measure of success in ministry is visible in eternity and not always the present.
The prophet Jeremiah had a powerful call to ministry, recorded in Jeremiah 1. God explains that the prophet was chosen before birth to do great things for God. God additionally offers visions of encouragement for Jeremiah to strengthen him in the face of his youth and the challenges he would face. Yet God also lets him know that opposition and challenges will cloud his every step.
Indeed, the Book of Jeremiah and the later Book of Lamentations record the perseverance of this “weeping prophet” amid such opposition. The people of Judah and their leaders almost completely rejected Jeremiah. His writings were burned by the king. Jeremiah was ignored, persecuted, and ultimately killed for his ministry as a prophet. The very doom of which he spoke came true—the nation was taken captive, and the city of Jerusalem destroyed. It would seem, then, that he was unsuccessful in his ministry.
But the end of Jeremiah’s life did not mark the end of his impact. Jeremiah’s written prophecies took their place in the canon of Scripture, standing as a testament to the captive nation.
One man in particular paid heed. We discover in Daniel 9:2 that Daniel both read and studied the writings of Jeremiah, years after the death of Jeremiah. In his study, he realizes that Jeremiah had predicted 70 years of captivity (cf. Jeremiah 29:10).
In Jeremiah’s prophecy, the warning of exile also came with instructions calling for prayer and confession. They call for a return to God with a complete heart. This message had been ignored for years by the people to whom Jeremiah spoke. Yet Daniel read, listened, and obeyed. The rest of Daniel 9 is Daniel’s obedience to the very instructions that Jeremiah left, as he turns in prayer and confession for his nation. In so doing, Daniel receives a vision from God that remains one of the most important prophecies in his book.
Jeremiah’s long-term fruit is an example and encouragement for missionaries and pastors around this world. We pour ourselves out in prayer, proclamation of the gospel, and passion for God’s glory in countless ways in our ministries. Yet we are prone to seek immediately visible results.
There is nothing wrong with seeking to measure and categorize successes and failures. But the story of Jeremiah and Daniel should remind us that results come not from our effort but from the will and Spirit of God. Jeremiah’s words had impact—just not at the time he had hoped. Instead, God used his words to impact a great man of God and, eventually, an entire nation a generation later.
We, bound by time and flesh, see very little of the part we play in God’s work. Yet we should always trust God to use his Word through his servants in his time. If we are pursuing God’s will in our ministry, we can be confident that he will use it for his glory, no matter the timeframe. If Jeremiah’s success in ministry came almost 70 years after his death, then we too can trust that our efforts, when aligned with God’s will, indeed will accomplish God’s work.