1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
There are quite a few things I didn’t learn or appreciate until I became a pastor. One of them was the prophet Jeremiah. I rarely gave him a thought before serving in the ministry. Soon after arriving at my first parish, I realized what it meant to sit alongside the deathbed of a believer, to comfort someone sick with cancer in the hospital, to struggle with criticism. The prophet Jeremiah soon became a companion of mine in my personal devotions. The Pastoral Prophet is a series of devotional reminders and encouragements I needed - that ministry isn’t really about me, it is about selflessly serving Christ. I wanted to share that Jeremiah-like ministerial encouragement with other called workers, too.
2. In the foreword, Robert Hiller reminds us of Luther’s claim that every theologian “is made a spectacle for both devils and angels”? How does this apply to Jeremiah as well as to your readers?
The prophet Jeremiah might very well have felt like he was physically “made a spectacle" as much as any believer throughout history. The spiritual spectacle sometimes made itself manifest in the physical struggle Jeremiah witnessed. The devil and his angels often used the false prophets, angry priests, and uninterested people of Jeremiah’s day to stop the prophet from sharing God’s prophetic words. Yet, by the grace of God, Jeremiah stood out and spoke up. As Jeremiah found out early on in his ministry, there is no hiding God’s Word. He had been called to speak, as even angels and demons looked on.
3. How did the process of writing this book change your approach to ministry?
Early on in ministry, I found it alarming when situations became difficult. My own mistakes led me to ask some difficult questions. Did that member of mine leave in a tirade because I had failed as his pastor? Why are other churches increasing in members when mine are shrinking - what am I doing wrong? Should I even be a pastor? I think a lot of called workers ask those questions at one point or another.
God used the book of Jeremiah to change my approach to ministry. All those questions focused on me and my failings. I have many of them. But the ministry doesn’t hinge on me. It is founded on Christ. I’m here to be a faithful servant, like Jeremiah and so many others before me. I’m not a perfect servant, but the Lord in his wisdom and power can use even me to speak and live his Word.
4. Each meditation closes with select verses from a hymn. What was your thought process in this stylistic decision?
A professor once told me that some of the best-written prayers are hymns. That’s another encouragement I didn’t fully appreciate until I became a called worker. If you count up the composers of those closing hymn verses, you will notice many of them were written by Paul Gerhardt. If anyone in the last half millennium could understand Jeremiah’s difficult ministry, it might have been Gerhardt. In my humble estimation, his words perfectly melodize Jeremiah’s ministerial laments…and joys.
5. In the introduction, you allude to Homer’s The Iliad. You write, “If Jerusalem rested on the precipice of destruction like the ancient, tragic city of Troy, then Jeremiah was her Cassandra.” Can you elaborate on this statement?
I’ve always been drawn to Cassandra. Homer introduced her in his Iliad, and Vergil minted her a hopeless prophetess in his Aeneid. If I remember the story correctly, the Greeks appeared to finally give up their attack on the city of Troy. But they left behind a massive wooden horse. Every Trojan in the city thought the horse was a parting gift from a defeated enemy…except Cassandra. The city was celebrating a victory that was actually an impending defeat. Only Cassandra knew the truth: the Greeks were about to use the horse to open the city gates of Troy and win the war. Cassandra knew every sad detail, and no one believed her.
Jeremiah stood in a similarly sad situation. God told him that the destruction of his city and the exile of his people were inevitable, and yet no one listened. Cassandra’s tragic experiences were fiction, but Jeremiah’s remained all too real. Where does a prophet, a pastor, a teacher, a father, a mother or a God-fearing citizen find hope in such situations? In the words Jeremiah preached. In the Savior Jeremiah prophetically saw. Cassandra will forever remain a sad figure of fictional history. The real prophet Jeremiah stands before his Lord in heaven, by the faith his Savior, Jesus, gave him. God does that for us. He turns our hopeless Cassandra pessimism into Jeremiah’s daily view of heaven.
6. In this time of the coronavirus, what word from Jeremiah would you offer to pastors navigating ministry in the midst of crisis?
It is a testament to the timelessness of God’s Word that Jeremiah’s message, written so long ago, remains a perfect comfort during this coronavirus pandemic. Suffering, tragedy, loneliness and longing remain ever-present companions throughout Jeremiah’s ministry. Today we might feel those hardships more than we ever thought possible. But who better to listen to than the prophet God chose to navigate a ministry seemingly surrounded by crisis.
On many of the days in Jeremiah’s ministry, we find a steady, constant, even-keeled prophet. Even during the various crises that he faced, his words and his actions were the calm amidst the calamity. I think there is a lot that we as pastors can learn from Jeremiah’s example as we navigate ministry today during this crisis. Don’t perpetuate fear and anger, but calm your people with God’s promises of protection and forgiveness. Jeremiah found a city full of people with nothing much to do but listen when he was shut in Jerusalem under siege. Many of your people have been forced to sit and listen, too. And there we are with them. My encouragement from Jeremiah’s life is for all of us as called workers to continue to find ways to connect to our people. Be that calming, caring companion that shares God’s Word with them, and enables them to share that Word with their family at home through their personal devotions. There isn’t a more Jeremiah-like ministry and message than that.
7. Is there any advice or thoughts you want to share with potential readers?
I know you have your “Jeremiah moments,” when you feel like a failure, when no one seems to be listening when doom appears on the horizon. Sometimes, oftentimes, I feel that way, too. Jeremiah had those moments as well. Take heart in God’s truth that Jeremiah sounded forth.
There was a time when I was tempted to think that God’s Church and the ministry entirely depending on me. It was yesterday. Every day the devil is going to throw that temptation at me. Maybe he’s been throwing it at you, too. Take heart, God’s ministry does not depend on you - or me! God wasn’t running around wondering what to do until you arrived. God’s ministry, and your calling, are in the most capable, powerful and loving hands. That truth permeated Jeremiah’s life and ministry. Let that be your strength, too.