This is an interesting challenge that I believe God is speaking to His church right now. “You think you’re tired now? What are you going to do when the pace picks up?” He’s been saying this for the past couple of years.
And now the pace is picking up. If we were content to jog along in the back of the pack, maybe also in the back pew, not pressing very hard into “God things”, then we’re discovering that isn’t working as well as it used to. I expect we’ll find the back rows of the church becoming more sparsely populated as their usual inhabitants can no longer keep up and fall away.
But the Denizens Of The Back Pew aren’t typically readers of blogs, particularly blogs like this one whose purpose is to challenge the status quo. Readers of this type of blog are more likely to be followers of
Christ who are intentional and pressing forward in their relationship with God.
Believers who take the position of, “I want more in God,” tend to be among leaders of this race that we’re running with the footmen. And if the pace of the race is picking up, if the pacesetters are no longer soldiers but horses, then what will happen to those runners who were not falling behind? What will happen to the leaders of the pack?
What do we do? An examination of this passage reveals some answers.
First, the terms are military: “footmen” refers to solders on foot, and they only ran to the battle they looked forward to winning (a different verb was used of fleeing from a defeat). The run to the fight is indeed capable of wearying us, though it does not need to; by running regularly, with discipline and passion, we can keep up with the footmen. That’s valuable when we’re running with the footmen – as we have been, but not as valuable when the horses come onto the battlefield – as is beginning to happen now.
But the assumption is that after running with footmen for a while, we will run next with horses, or more precisely, we will “contend with horses.” Horses, while valuable other uses, were primarily tools of war in this era, nearly always pulling chariots, so the image is still one of warfare.
But the verb
Jeremiah chose is not about “keeping up with” the war horses and their implied chariots; it’s about contending with them. The Hebrew word charah is a primitive root, speaking of passion, jealousy, anger; it’s related to an Aramaic root word meaning “to cause fire to burn
Let’s just be bold and come right out and say it: our pace is picking up. It used to be that we could keep our place in the race by running with a certain level of exertion, and it isn’t working any more. We’re running just as hard, but we’re falling behind.
The solution is not about running harder. There is benefit in running harder when the pace is slower, when the pace-setters are foot soldiers. When the battle horses come onto the field, it’s not about running harder, it’s about charah: it’s about passion, anger, burning.
In this phase of the race, running harder won’t help. Passion is the only thing that will get us through this season, passion for the Man Jesus, for our relationship with Him, passion for the battle we’re facing, for the people who will be the spoils of war for one side or the other. Passion, fire in our soul, is the solution in this season we’re entering.
In traditional Hebrew fashion, the question is asked twice, using two different metaphors:
· If you’re getting weary just running with the footmen, what will happen when you need to contend with horses?
· If you’ve gotten weary in a land of peace (in which you’ve trusted), then how will you do in the floodplain of
The phrase “floodplain of the
Jordan” is interesting, particularly as we’re heading toward that place, away from the land of peace that we’ve become comfortable with. In the Hebrew, “floodplain” is a the metaphorical translation of the KJV and NKJV, while NIV and RSV translate “thickets”. The original word references “majesty” and “splendor.”
Both speak of abundance, of increase. The region around the
Jordan was thick with growth, nearly a jungle compared with the rest of the land, and the reason was the water of the Jordan. So the figure of speech “floodplain of the Jordan” is talking about a season of fruitfulness, of increase, of abundance: an increase of the River, an increase in growth, an increase of harvest.
It might be worth noting that the increased growth around the river also provided cover for predators: lions particularly were known to hide in the cover there. Where there is an increase of harvest, there is often an increase of predators.
The point is this: “If you have been caught up in the crises of the land of peace, what will you do when I begin pouring out more of my river, when you enter the season of fruitfulness?”
It’s easy enough to be caught up with the stuff of life. We have challenges from information overload, from on-line distractions, from provocations coming from landlords, co-workers, other drivers. It’s easy to become overloaded in the drama of this season of running with the foot soldiers.
The fact that it’s foot soldiers we’re running with should help give us perspective: this isn’t about my comfort: we’re running to a battle. I need to be prepared for that battle, my attention needs to be on eternity in order to not be caught up in order to not be wearied in this race. I must “fix my eyes on
Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2) and run with the discipline of a single focus to keep up with the soldiers. That season was marked by “Just keep on running. Just keep running.”
But with the increased pace of the war horses, there comes an entirely different focus. This season is being marked by an increase of the River among us, and by an increase of growth and of harvest. In this season, we’re beginning to experience the outpouring of God and the ingathering of the lost that we’ve been praying for during the years and decades of “just keep running.”
This is what we’ve been praying for, what we’ve sacrificed for, what we’ve been waiting for! But now that God is answering those prayers, things are different than they once were. The water is higher. The undergrowth is thicker. There’s life sprouting up all over the place, whether in healings, in people coming to (or back to) faith, or in unbelievers being open to hearing the gospel of life.
But there are lions hiding in these bushes as well, still roaring, still seeking someone to devour. If not you, then some of the new believers, some of the people who have been recently healed, some of the folks asking questions now.
We’ll be sustained in this battle by the fire of passion. Discipline – which was so valuable before – is of less value now; its place is perhaps a safety net: if passion falters, then we’re not completely destroyed. But the successful warfare strategy will be to develop a burning heart, to fan the spark of our love for God and for His people into a flame and nurture it into a bonfire. In the wild, have you noticed how a campfire always draws the people around it, but the wild animals are driven away from it in fear?
The successful strategy in this season is to cultivate a fiery passion for God. In that way, we’ll contend with the war horses, we’ll gather together with other passionate believers, we’ll chase off the lions, and we’ll have both warmth and light for our work.