Guest Post by Peter Worrall
This is the second half of the Day One chapel message that Peter and I shared with the Moody Bible Institute student body last month.
Before you read it, I encourage you to pull out your Bible and read Lamentations chapter 3.
I (Peter) first turned to Lamentations 3 when I was 18. The biggest trauma I had experienced was getting dumped by a girlfriend, one I particularly liked. And in my hurt, I punched a wardrobe for the first time. After realizing that was a bad idea, I searched Scripture and found Lamentations 3.
After finding the passage for the first time, I kept coming back to it—any time I felt lost or in a dark place—because of its beauty and consolation. During the events in our life, which Kelli described (in the previous post), I was pushed back again to this sanctuary in Scripture.
The teaching I received as a student in Moody Graduate School explained the passage even more. Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing shared with my class that the whole book of Lamentations is structured like a ziggurat. Unlike modern, western writing which builds to a crescendo at the end, this book builds to a climax in its middle. The whole structure, ascending like the steps of an ancient temple to the beacon of hope surrounded by the overwhelming circumstances of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Like a lighthouse surrounded by the fog, so this is a passage of light.
Lamentations chapter 3 is surrounded by the darkness of the rest of the book.
Also important to our understanding of this passage, and the book of Lamentations as a whole, is the fact that the experience of the author personally is parallel to the experience of the community and the city as a whole. There is both an individual and a corporate experience of desolation and isolation. There is nowhere for either Jerusalem or the author to escape. God’s hand holds the writer firmly in place—just as He holds His people—to the point that he rubs their face in the gravel. This tragic situation is inescapable.
However, just when all hope is lost there is a ray of new hope
like the beam of a lighthouse in a dark and foggy sky.
What does Lamentations 3 teach us about this hope?
First of all, we see that the basis of our present and future hope is God’s love and faithfulness remembered from the past. In verse 19, the writer remembers his affliction and his wandering. He remembers, and he is downcast.
But in verse 21, he turns his attention to the past. “THIS I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed. For His compassions never fail.”
Encouraging ourselves and our community in memory is key to healthy lament. When we have a full picture of reality, we sometimes are traumatized, remembering the bitter times, but also we remember the redemption.
And in looking beyond our current circumstances, we catch a glimpse of the glory. The reality of our present situation is contrasted through faith with the reality of God’s steadfast love, His unfailing compassion, and His ability to sustain. “We are not consumed!”
God is love, and His love is loyal and kind. In his commentary on Lamentations, F. B. Huey writes:
The basis for renewed our hope is God’s “great love.” The Hebrew word hesed, sometimes translated as “covenant love,” is a word that has the basic meaning of loyalty or faithfulness, especially as related to the covenant initiated by God; the word involves obligations to family, friends, and the community. Another basis of hope is God’s unfailing “compassions,” which are experienced in a fresh and new way every day.
God’s love never ceases.
His mercies are new every morning. They are continuing.
Great IS HIS FAITHFULNESS, the writer proclaims!
God is faithful in ways that are fearsome and awe-inspiring. He can tear down a great city like Jerusalem, but He can also create beauty from the ashes. God has faithfulness to destroy and faithfulness to build up. God is faithful to the people of Israel by reminding them of His constant attention to them. He reminds them of His faithfulness to their broken covenant by bringing them low. Now the people have no option but to remember their God.
Second, we see that holding onto hope requires patience, trust, and perseverance.
In verses 24-26 God brings His people all the way back to the beginning and asks His people to wait.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
The repetition of the word good harkens back to the pronouncement of God on His good creation in the book of Genesis. The writer reminds himself and God’s people of the time when God created order out of chaos. God’s mighty Word has created goodness once before. And He will do it again—in His time.
But we must wait for Him. Quietly. Patiently.
And when we do, when we seek God with perseverance and trust Him to act, we will see him form a new creation where now there is despair.
We will see His salvation!
But third, we see that holding onto hope also necessitates our humility and surrender!
Verses 27 – 40 describe the humbling condition of the people. They are weighed down under a heavy yoke. They sit alone in silence. Their face is buried in the dust. They must offer their cheek to the one who would strike them.
The people have been forced into a complete surrender to the conquering Babylon, but this is just a small picture of their need to completely surrender to the God who has allowed His people to be brought low. As they look from a prostrate position in the dust, they may have hope.
They do not have to sit passively, waiting for a change in their fortunes. While hope may require waiting, it is not passive. We do not just wallow. We seek HIM!
God does not purpose for His people to be left in the dust—rather, knowledge of the whole story of God leads to hope. God does not willingly crush people. Quite literally, His heart is not in allowing His people to be crushed. His heart is in the restoration of His people—a restoration that can only be achieved once people have been laid low and have surrendered to the potter’s forming hand. He allows the bad and the good. And when God lays a hold of His people, He re-forms and remakes them, which is when His heart is glad.
Finally, in verse 40, we are called to authentic self-examination, confession, and repentance.
Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.
Our times of greatest pain are our opportunities for greatest growth. It is God’s call to restoration!
Lamentations 3 calls us to stop, to feel what we feel and process those emotions. To be authentic, and communicate our heart, raw and rubbed in salt, to the God who heals.
Lamentations 3 calls us to remember God’s faithfulness from times past.
Lamentations 3 calls us to cease our activity, sit silently, and wait.
Lamentations 3 assures us that when we are crushed and our face is ground in the gravel, true greatness is found. True greatness originates, though, outside of ourselves.
Lamentations 3 points us to a sure and steady HOPE—a hope that is only found in the steadfast LOVE OF THE LORD.
I first found Lamentations 3 to be a source of great hope when I was 18.
I clung to Lamentations 3 when Kelli and I were going through those dark years.
And we return to Lamentations 3 in these difficult days. It is a beacon of light in the fog.
It reminds us to remember.
We remember His faithfulness to us personally.
We remember that He used my dad’s cancer to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
We remember that He gave us two beautiful children through adoption to love and to raise.
We remember that He used our pain to drive us to a deeper dependence on Him and to grow our understanding of His love.
We remember His faithfulness to Moody Bible Institute over its 132 year history.
And perhaps even more than what He does, we remember God’s faithfulness because that is WHO HE IS!
We wait with you—to see His salvation.
And we surrender.