For men, it doesn’t always come naturally to admit weakness or hurt. Many of us strive to avoid the kind of fragility that faints in every day of adversity (Proverbs 24:10).
That made it the more challenging, a while back, to share that I felt spiritually exhausted. I needed a break. I felt, with Bilbo Baggins, like “butter scraped over too much bread.” My strength waned, my spirit slouched, and I caught myself often staring out at nothing in particular. “Have mercy on me, O Lord,” I sighed as sleep would overcome me.
I confessed my staleness to my wife and a few men. Many kind words of encouragement were given. Helpfully, they reminded me that, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I could continue steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that my work my was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). This helped. But God decided to add a missing ingredient, words he first spoke to another fatigued man.
“Be about your Master’s business. His alone is a cause worthy of your life.”
Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, had been saying, “Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest” (Jeremiah 45:3). Exactly, I thought. I wondered how God would comfort this man of God who had endured many trials for his name. What promise of future reward would he give? His response to Baruch’s groans struck me dead between the shoulders: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5).
Most Unlikely Sign of Pride
Sometimes — not all the time, but sometimes — our fatigue as men comes less from our great self-sacrifices and more from our selfish ambition. We must not always assume, as I had, that we are tired and despairing from running after the right things.
Certainly, selfish aspiration is a favorite temptation of Satan to all people. He who was thrown down to the earth with his hellish pride excites the same sin in both men and women. He told Adam and Eve that they could be like God. But I feel especially burdened for men.
God created men to work the ground and keep it; we are naturally ambitious, determined. Our blood quickens to seek for glory, honor, and immortality — and this can be righteous (Romans 2:7). But that same faculty, with a different end in view, leads countless to destruction: “For those who are self-seeking . . . there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8). Man, climbing upon the winds of his aspiration, too often shares the fate of Icarus: “Who soars too near the sun, with golden wings, melts them.”
My own season of fatigue began with hearing that someone whose work I respected did not respect mine. Beyond this, ministry wasn’t going as planned, and great things were not happening for me. I imagined that more would be happening by now, and when my hope was deferred, my heart grew sick.
This tendency in men makes God’s confrontation of Baruch so needful for some of us today. From his story we see how pride makes us weak, opposes God’s plan, and insists on its own glory instead of God’s.
Pride Makes Us Feeble
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, “Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.” (Jeremiah 45:2–3)
Baruch entered his ministry with high expectations. His very name meant “Blessed.” He labored next to Jeremiah, one of the few real prophets of God in those days. A promising start by all accounts.
He wrote down God’s message, and even delivered a sermon on Jeremiah’s behalf. How was it received? After he delivered it, he was told to go into hiding. When the king finally got his hands on the manuscript, he burned it and sent men to hunt down Jeremiah — and now Baruch — and bring them in (Jeremiah 36:25–26). This was in line with the rest of Baruch’s ministry.
Soon some Jews labeled him a public enemy of the nation, the mastermind behind Jeremiah’s condemning messages meant to deliver them into the hands of their enemies (Jeremiah 43:2–3). He expected praise and received persecution. And this disappointment added bitterness to his sorrow, weariness to his pain. The weeds of frustrated vanity slowly choked his manly fortitude. He began to slump into self-pity and grumble to the Lord because he expected more.
“Do you want to make a difference? Seek not great things for yourself; seek great things for Christ.”
With Baruch, our egos subtly, slowly make us brittle. Self-importance becomes the small crack in the hull to gradually drag us under. God heard Baruch’s prideful whimpering, his mumbled prayers, his sighs, his drooping scribbles. He saw his head shakings, his slowness to rise for the day, his lightening grip on the plough. And behind it, he saw his pride, his hopes of grandeur, of recognition, of glory, like a parasite, draining his strength to serve his God with gladness. And he sees ours as well.
Pride Opposes God’s Plan
Next, God explains his plan to Baruch, the same plan he told Jeremiah from the beginning: “Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up — that is, the whole land” (Jeremiah 45:4; 1:10). Their ministry would be one of warning, of breaking down, of judgment. They ministered to a rebellious people who did not love God. The little shrub of success that Baruch planted and so carefully attended would be swept away with judgment on the people.
But Baruch wanted great things for the name of Baruch. He wanted to be a hero of the people, not hated by the people. And when God’s plans did not align with his, he began to pout. He grew tired without the adrenaline of applause. I too began wanting great things for my own name — who was so-and-so to not respect my work? Why wasn’t I receiving the success I deserved? Why wasn’t God’s glory (and mine) increasing?
Pride Insists on Its Own Glory
After giving another overview of his plan and Baruch’s role in it, God stabs at our tired and proud hearts with a question: Are you awakened to the hope of amassing great honor for yourself? Do you hope, at last, to be seen as somebody great? Should you increase and your God decrease? “Do you seek great things for yourself?”
“Seek them not.”
God confronted Baruch and all men standing behind him who are tempted to seek empty glory: Cease striving after the exaltation of men. I have not called you to be a scribe to scribble noble accounts of yourself. Stop groping for camera time. Stop exhausting yourself on yourself.
“Sometimes, our fatigue as men comes less from our great self-sacrifices and more from our great self-ambition.”
Do you want to make a difference? Seek not great things for yourself; seek great things for Christ. Raise the banner: “Not to me, not to me, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1). Pray that you might decrease and he increase (John 3:30). Use your ambition to name Jesus where he has not been named (Romans 15:20). Spend your competitive spirit on outdoing one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10). Work harder than the rest (1 Corinthians 15:10) that the greatness of your Lord might be seen as marvelous (1 Peter 2:9). Be about your Master’s business. His alone is a cause worthy of your life.
Seek His Greatness
God called both Jeremiah and Baruch to thankless work with stronger words than we often hear: “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. . . . They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:17, 19).
Baruch’s campaign, as with many of our campaigns, will not end with human praise, but with survival: “I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go” (Jeremiah 45:5). When Baruch saw himself in a war, not in a theater, he became more concerned for his life than for his praise.
Jesus recalibrates his men similarly in the New Testament: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Do not rest your joy upon career achievement, ministry success, or commendations from men, but upon the promise that you have eternal life, that your soul will survive the judgment.
And should our ears ring on that day with the heavenly commendation, bellowed by our God in the presence of all, we will receive more than the trinkets of human accolades. His “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) will blow away all human praise and censure as bubbles thrust against a mountain. His is the greatness we must seek — a greatness he will, in some real sense, share: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).