Jeremiah was not the most popular fellow in his day. He would have been a smash hit in Ninevah, but not in Jerusalem. His kinsmen were not interested in his rantings. Repent? Why? They were “good.” They were religious. They were God’s people. A little sin here, a little there. What’s that? Judgment, Jeremiah? Really? This guy was too much. Show him the door. No, how about a pit.
From the moment Jeremiah was commissioned, he knew he was not going to a receptive audience. It is one thing to speak to those who are all ears, it is another to have to speak to those whose faces are contorted with disgust or smoldering with anger. “Lord,” he says, “I am too young for this! I don’t have the experience necessary to hold up under the glare of such a hostile crowd. I’ll get cold feet just looking at them!” And then God gives these words to the young prophet that every oracle must hear: “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:8)
I have been in the ministry for thirty years now. I have preached in many places, to many people. I have watched their faces as I preach. At times, they nod and smile. At times, they purse their lips and shake their heads. At times, their eyelids grow heavy and they are soon gone. Vacant looks, hard looks, happy looks; the faces one finds are so varied. I know one thing: if you want to be popular, if you need people to like you, don’t become a preacher.
Better to speak the truth now that hurts. Better to find favor afterwards.
In another day, another young man faced a hostile Jerusalem crowd. His name was Stephen. I wonder what the face of Saul of Tarsus looked like while Stephen was preaching? Here is what you must always remember. It doesn’t matter what the ground looks like. Sow the seed. False prophets will always find happy, receptive ground. But in the end, that barren ground will curse them. Better to speak the truth now that hurts. Better to find favor afterwards. How much must Paul have blessed the memory of faithful Stephen.
Would you like to be successful in your ministry? You cannot gauge the success of your ministering by the initial reaction of those you speak to. Shouts of “Amen, brother!” are not proof you have succeeded. No doubt, false prophets heard that when they were preaching, “Peace, peace.” True prophets can expect to appear as complete flops. But utter silence, brooding looks, people getting up and walking out on you, are not signs that you are failing in heaven’s eyes. It may indicate complete success. It may mean you have planted a seed that God can now work the increase in. You may not know until heaven the fruit that came of your faithfulness to speak God’s truth.
Don’t be afraid of their faces. Don’t tailor your message to get the best, warmest response from your audience. Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, as you itch their ears. Woe unto you when their faces glow with joy while you speak, when they jump to their feet in loud applause when you finish, if God is looking down upon you with a frown. But blessing upon you, if men’s dark looks alone could kill you, but heaven’s face is shining upon you.
One day you will behold the only face that matters. Live to see His approving look now, and you will surely find it later.