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Therefore, the Lord proclaims: If you return to me, I will take you back and let you stand before me. If you utter what is worthwhile, not what is worthless, you will be my spokesman. They will turn to you, not you to them! — Jeremiah 15:19
Wait. What did he just say?
“If you return to me…”
Why have I never heard this verse before? And why now?
I was sitting in church, only our second visit to this particular one, and the words uttered by the pastor seemed to scream at me. “If you return to me…” It wasn’t a coincidence. I actually don’t believe in them. It was a direct word from God to the core of my soul. At that moment, those words were meant for me and me alone. I felt that a spotlight was shining down on me, calling me to once again take my rightful place as a spokesman for God. Now the answer was up to me.
“If you return to me…”
To say I can be stubborn would not be completely off base. But I didn’t really consider that I was stubborn with God. I actually thought I was rather obedient. But the light had definitely been turned on to highlight my sinful ways. The truth is, I didn’t realize I had ever left God. Clearly, I had.
I was called to ordained deacon ministry many years ago for those who may not be familiar with my backstory. Coming from the Greek word diákonos (διάκονος), my calling was to mimmick that of Phoebe and Stephen, as a messenger or servant of God.
What exactly was my calling? It was mental health counseling, specifically as a Biblical counselor. Sometimes it would be in an office setting. Other times, it would be in another country. It was often trauma-related, and always spiritual. I was mandated by God to not only share the Gospel, but to also Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. — Matthew 28:19-20 I was called to deliver the message to those in need that their healing could only come from Jesus Christ.
Because of the uniqueness of my call, God set me apart to live a higher standard, thus, ordaining me before Himself and the Church. I had absolutely no desire to be ordained. But God wouldn’t leave me alone. From the time I was a young girl, I fought with God about my life and what I would do with it. Even after obtaining my mental health license, God continued to convict me in my work. I would offer people secular tools to deal with their problems, knowing in my heart that I was denying them the one thing that could ultimately heal them. In the end, I surrendered to God, knowing the tremendous amount of pressure I would face the moment I said, “yes.” Backlash from the mental health community. Isolation from peers.But most of all, I knew what it would mean on my eternal soul.
My dear brothers and sisters, don’t be so eager to become a teacher in the church since you know that we who teach are held to a higher standard of judgment. — James 3:1
After saying yes, I felt like the world took over. As with all of human history, man and God collided. I stayed quiet as I was ushered by the local church into the pulpit rather than supported within the true nature of my calling. I began to fill a role as preacher and administrator in order to please those I admired. As a consequence, God’s desire for me as His servant took a backseat in my life. This was the reality of my existence for seven years.
Oh how precious those two words are. But God intervened when I cried out to Him to rescue me from a place I didn’t really know how to escape. Leaving the local church was awful. There is no other way to say it. But it should have been freeing. Unfortunately, I focused so much on the pain that I had no room to see the freedom. And somewhere along the way, I left God. I left Him.
I never stopped believing. I never stopped loving Him or desiring Him. But I stopped being with Him. I stopped seeing Him in my life. He was there but kept at a distance. All the while, my mental health practice was growing.
I would have patients tell me that God spoke to them through me and still I didn’t reach to Him. I witnessed miraculous healing from traumas and grief. I heard many stories of newfound faith after working with me. And still, I neglected Him.
The truth be told, I was living out my true calling while ignoring the strength of my savior. No wonder I was so tired all of the time. No wonder I was so empty.
If you return to me, Janean…
So there I was, sitting in a new church and all eyes were on me as the Lord called me out. Okay, maybe the eyes of those within the building weren’t on me but I can tell you that the angels were collectively holding their breath as they awaited my answer.
So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. — 2 Timothy 1:8
There it was. The mandate from God, placed on my heart. It was time to pick it back up obediently and be as Christ commanded me to be. I am called as a deacon in the Church. I am to work alongside those suffering in this temporary world, pointing them to the salvation promised by Jesus Christ. I am to sacrifice my comforts, my wants, and my will for His alone. I am to share in the suffering of others for the sake of the gospel, relying on the power of God. What about you? God calls each of us in very unique and intentional ways. We don’t get to pick and choose how we are to serve. God chooses for us. Are you obedient? Or, are you ready to return to Him?
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that the entire message would be preached through me and so all the nations could hear it. — 2 Timothy 4:17