Those were the first funerals I had ever been to. In each event I got to celebrate lives well lived, grieve with those who lost, have joy at the impact they make and wish that I would earn the same accolades when I pass into eternity as well.
Far from being glum and depressing (perhaps because they were African American Baptist and Nigerian affairs) they joyously celebrated the lives of Godly people who loved their families and served their communities. It’s rare when you are holding back tears one minute and then laughing uproariously the next, they were almost like weddings they were so happy.
These events were actually inspiring to me and when I left, I felt like I had known the person who passed for some time, even though that wasn’t the case.
At one, I heard a sermon preached on a little passage in Jeremiah that completely changed my view on suffering in life, and gave me pause about the hope that I have. For context, the sermon was preached by the son of the pastor who had died. It was very powerful in its simplicity – I’ll try to summarize.
"If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” - Jeremiah 12:5
Jeremiah was getting frustrated. God had called him to be his prophet to Israel, to get them to repent and pronounce the consequences if they didn’t. While Jeremiah had initial confidence in this task, his trust faded when things started getting very difficult. He is known as the “weeping prophet” due to his grief for Israel and the difficulty he endured at their hands (he gets thrown in a well and left to die at one point), and especially the troubling visions of its destruction in the book of Lamentations.
So like Elijah, Job and David, he gives his complaint to God when he is at the end of his rope The verse above was the beginning of God’s response. So why did I find God putting Jeremiah in his place so inspiring for my life now? Because it reminded me that I get tired easily when I run on my own power (fueled usually by my own pride). God hadn’t designed us to do anything worthwhile – much less ordained by him- on our own power. That is why Job, Jeremiah, Elijah, David, Moses, Abraham and everyone else whom we reckon as “righteous” has a similar conversation with God in which they laid their frustrations at his feet.
When we are worn out with the trials of life - our “men on foot,” that experience produces the diligence and humility in us to go to God so that we can race even against horses. I believe God was showing Jeremiah his weakness, warning him of the trials to come, and proving his faithfulness and wisdom by implying that it is possible to thrive and succeed in harder circumstances. By letting us and our desires get frustrated even in the “simple” things of this life, I think God is actually preparing us. We are stronger than we know if we depend upon him, and much weaker than we thought when we don’t.
Have you ever looked back on something and realized it was God who got you through it? Have you ever accomplished something and realized it was not on your own? By reminding Jeremiah that he is not doing as well as he anticipated, with trials still on the horizon come, I think God is actually being very fair and inspiring to him, though Jeremiah may not feel that way at the time. Sometimes the best advice or critique does not suit our ears upon first hearing. But the truth is there, God will not forsake us, and will actually bless us and empower us to endure and accomplish that which he has in store for us. However, we forsake ourselves when we don’t stop our striving and get coaching from Him.
I learn I run better and longer when following common wisdom, the advice of those smarter and more experienced than me, and in communion with others who are better. How much more so God, who is with us and will avail his infinite power, wisdom, and love to get us to finish the race and receive the crown of life He has in store for us.
So yeah, two funerals and one wake halve allowed me to see that over the course of these lives that impacted so many people - they raced against horses and won a reward in heaven. And we are expected to do the same. Be blessed.