I’m reading through Jeremiah as part of my Bible-in-a-year reading schedule. The other night I read Jeremiah 13. Probably the primary lesson of this chapter is the warning against pride, which in my opinion is the sin that is the root of most others sins. Pride leads us to believe we can live without God and that we know better than He does what behavior is best for us; pride puts each of us on our own throne and seeks to throw God out into the darkness (an impossible task, to be sure, but one pride will convince us we have succeeded at).
But that is not the aspect of this chapter that I really want to write about. Jeremiah 13 starts with God telling Jeremiah to do something that sounds quite strange. He is to wear a linen loincloth but not wash it; then bury the loincloth by the Euphrates River; then a long time later go and dig up the loincloth that he had buried. These are strange directions, but Jeremiah follows them in perfect obedience to God. It reminds me a bit of the Israelites following God’s direction for how to make the walls of Jericho fall, but with Jeremiah he doesn’t know the reason why God has directed him to act this way until after he has been completely obedient.
Ultimately, God uses the condition of the long-buried loincloth, now rotting and “good for nothing,” to illustrate the condition of the Israelites who have wandered far from God and rejected His ways to follow after false gods and worship idols. Their pride has made them good for nothing.
Sometimes God uses seemingly strange circumstances to illustrate a point to us, just as He used the rotting loincloth to illustrate a point to Jeremiah and the people of Israel. I recently had an experience where God used something odd to point out an important lesson to me about my own priorities. Interestingly, it was the afternoon before I read Jeremiah 13 that the lesson finally hit home.
This story starts about 6 weeks ago with fingernails. Generally, I have very nice fingernails; they have always been long and strong, and I never wear polish and have certainly never had fake nails. I frequently get compliments about how beautiful my hands and nails are, and have had quite a few people tell me I should have been a hand model.
About 6 weeks ago my nails were all looking particularly beautiful when I managed to get a small break in one of my thumbnails right at the base. Normally when that happens, I would trim the nail so that it stayed long but would be skinnier to cut out the break, and then trim the others so that they matched in length. At church that Sunday I complained to a friend that I had this break and was going to have to trim all my nails, and she said if they can glue on fake nails I should be able to get something that would glue this break and not have to cut my nails at all. So after church I went to the store and bought some clear nail strengthening polish with minerals, and went home and put on the polish. For the next 3 weeks I tried in vain to save that nail, with the break getting bigger and bigger. I finally cut it quite a bit shorter and shortened the others, but continued to use the polish. The very next day as we were headed out of town to visit family, I realized I had a similar break in another nail, and spent all weekend trying to save it only to catch it on something and rip off the nail super short.
When we got home that Sunday, I decided to take off the polish and trim all of my nails a little shorter. Much to my dismay, when I removed the polish I discovered that all of my nails were in terrible shape. They had cracks and were brittle and white even over the nailbeds. My nails have never, ever looked so bad. For the next 2 weeks, as my nails tried to grow out, they all kept breaking and peeling. I’ve been very frustrated.
Then the other night I complained to my husband about how frustrated I was just before heading off to a meeting at church. But as I drove to the meeting, God revealed to me my pride and vanity over my fingernails. He showed me that I had become more concerned with how my hands looked than what I did with them. The real beauty of hands is not in how they look but in what they do. The real beauty of hands comes in using them to serve and help others. With so much need in the world, my concern and frustration over the length and look of my nails was so petty and unimportant.
The hands of Christ healed and fed many, and then were nailed to a cross so that all might be healed. We are now the hands of Jesus on this earth. As Christians we are called to use His hands to heal and comfort, to feed the hungry, to minister to a lost and hurting world.
As I was writing this, I was reminded of this wonderful song by Casting Crowns from their debut CD, called “If we are the body.” It reminded me that our hands, my hands, need to be used to help heal those in need of His grace. The Christian church these days is known so much for what we are against. We use our mouths to condemn instead of our hands to heal. We need to be His hands healing, and we need to use His Word to teach the truth of His love and grace.