Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” – Jeremiah 1:9-10 ESV
The book of the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament opens with Jeremiah talking about his call to be a prophet to the people. In this passage, as God is telling Jeremiah about the work he is to do, God tells him about the power of His words. God says that the words He put into Jeremiah’s mouth were, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” This dichotomy of purpose in the words Jeremiah will speak can be applied to our lives as well.
The first thing is to notice that the opposites here are referring to removing and giving. In other words, God will bring into our life, through us listening to Him, a flow of things. Sometimes things will come in, and sometimes things will go out. Ecclesiastes confirms this as well with the passage, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We need to acknowledge that there is time for being built up and receiving and there is a time for allowing ourselves to be destroyed.
Wait, that doesn’t sound right, does it? Why would God want to destroy something in our life? The obvious answer is that sin is in us and needs to be taken out. Seems simple enough, but yet it is often this work of tearing down that we fight.
When we think about who we are, we often have an image that God will keep adding or giving or teaching us where we are at. We become more and more like Him and this is how we go for the rest of our lives. Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet door and had things fall out on you? The storage space was too full to hold in all the things that were supposed to be in there. This is what happens to us if we keep wanting God to add and build, but we aren’t willing to let go of anything.
What falls out of the cupboard when it’s opened? The dusty things in the back that are covered in other dusty things? No, the thing that we’ve just put in, because that’s what we don’t have room for. If we want God to be giving us new words and new understandings, we must be willing to admit there are things that have to go.
When we first become a Christian, this isn’t all that hard. There are many things we can pull out and get rid of. In fact, we feel lighter and lighter as we hand off burdens and cares. He begins to heal us and to grow us.
After we’ve walked with the Lord for a while, we start having trouble finding the dusty things that can be cleared out. The trouble is that now the things the Lord is destroying in us are deeper and more personal. Pride stands in the way and says, “That’s not a sin, that’s just my personality!” There are behaviors we do that are driven by fear or selfishness that we’ve done so long, we can barely recognize them as problems.
We find that instead of simply removing problem behaviors, God wants to start changing our view of our very identity. He wants us to stop defining ourselves by our past and our troubles and our reactions and instead start defining ourselves in Him. We cling to our identity very tightly. The idea of letting go of who we think we are, even if we know it’s to experience who we could be, is terrifying.
But it must happen. He has to have access to destroy anything in the dusty, dark recesses of our spiritual cupboard that He knows is keeping us from being built up. Only then can we be ready to accept the new truth He’s teaching us so we can begin to grow and be built up. He will build us up; He promises. We have to trust Him enough to give up anything and everything He’s asking to destroy from out of ourselves.