Hope Amid the Darkness
Pastor Oliver walks us through Lamentations 3:19-24 on how to cultivate hope amid the darkness.
We all have experienced darkness. When nothing seems to go right. Everything around us is falling apart. When we feel the depression in our gut. What do we do amid such darkness?
And it is in the darkness that we find the prophet Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah cries out amid the devastation and ruin of Jerusalem. Because of Judah's turning away from God; because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant they made with God, God brings judgement to the nation. God judges and destroys the nation, the city of Jerusalem, the temple and the kingship. God uses the armies of Babylon to bring to ruin every outward visible symbol of God's presence with Judah. Everything is reduced to rubble. The people of God suffer at the hands of the Babylonian. There is darkness.
You and I have experienced similar darkness because of sin—either because of our own sins or because others sin against us. What do you do when the darkness does not seem to lift? "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." These are the words of Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Lamentations 3:22-23 serve as a light in the darkness. These verses lay in the middle of the book of Lamentations and are now on one of the pillars in our ground floor car park as we come into our church building. The first devotion I did at our church monthly prayer meeting almost ten years back was on these verses. In 2016, I revisited these verses again during another prayer meeting. Four years on, I find myself turning back to these verses again. As I get older, I find myself increasingly worn down by life and tattered at the edges—I find myself needing these words of hope again.
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet 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. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him." (Lam 3:19-24, NIV)
How do you hope amid the darkness? There are five steps.
The first step: you face the disappointment. In verses 19-20, Jeremiah remembers his suffering and disappointment and the inward distress that it causes him. Rather than avoiding the issue, you turn to face it. You accept the truth that the suffering that you are facing is caused by your own stupid sinfulness and wrongdoing. You face the reality that the broken relationship with your good friend was caused by your selfishness. You accept the fact that we live in a fallen world and that others will do evil to you. You face the fact that your colleagues will without basis gossip and do wrong against you. You face the reality that in this broken world, bad things will happen. You face the fact that you will get sick and ill and grow old. You face the continual struggles with your family. You do not evade or run away—you turn to face the disappointment head-on.
The second step: you bring your thinking back to God's perspective. In verse 21, Jeremiah despite the darkness and disappointment, "call[s] this to mind and therefore [he has] hope". He takes captive of his thinking and recalls God's perspective. Amid emotional distress, you can fall into morbid introspection and let your emotions spiral out of control. Rather than doing this, you make a conscious decision to bring back into your thinking God's perspective on the situation. You let your mind rule over your emotions, deciding not to wallow in your dark feelings and depression. You take captive of your thoughts despite your emotional turmoil and turn them to God.
The third step: you remember God's steadfast love for you. In verse 22-23, Jeremiah remembers God's great love to his people: God shows mercy even amid His judgement on their sin. "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed…great is your faithfulness." This recalls Exodus 34:6-7. These two key verses tell us of God's character after the greatest act of redemption in the Old Testament—in the exodus event when God rescues the Israelites from Egypt. It describes a compassionate and gracious God of steadfast love and righteous in His judgement. Even in His judgement, He shows mercy to forgive if His people repent and turn back to Him. It is not our faithlessness that matters, it is God's faithfulness to His promises that counts. God's faithfulness is seen in the greatest act of redemption in the New Testament, in the death of His son Jesus Christ on the cross to rescue us from our sins. 1 John 4:10 tells us "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." You remember God's steadfast love for you as demonstrated at the cross of Jesus Christ. Despite your faithlessness, God is faithful and continues to love you.
The fourth step: you see God's daily compassion for you. In verses 22-23, Jeremiah sees God's faithfulness expressed in His daily compassions, "…for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning." God's compassion for you is new every morning. God's mercy towards His people does not come to an end no matter how God acts in judgement against their sin. Every morning, Jeremiah sees afresh tokens of God's lovingkindness. God daily provides for His people. You gratefully recognise how our good and wise God gives you resources to cope with the challenges of life. You learn to see that the phone call from a church member to invite you out to a meal and encourage you is God's way to express His compassion for you. You take a deep breath in the breeze of the evening as you see the sunset at East Coast, and you delight in God giving you a beautiful artwork that is His creation to tell you that He cares for you. You see that this day, this gift of life is God's gift of compassion for you. You see God's daily heart for you.
The fifth and last step: God is yours; you tell yourself to wait for God. Rather than regarding the land at Canaan as his portion, Jeremiah sees God himself as his inheritance in verse 24. "The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him." God is Jeremiah's inheritance, and he will wait for God. He trusts in the character and commitment of the LORD in His steadfast love for us. He looks forward to God's presence. Jeremiah's immediate circumstances have not changed; what has changed is his outlook. His anguish, disappointment and suffering remain, but now Jeremiah is confident. He awaits a time when everything will be made right, and when he will enjoy God's favour and presence forever. A glimpse of this future to be realised has already touched his heart. My beloved friends, you can be sure that God is your inheritance, and you can wait for God. When you trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, all of God's promises are now a "yes" and "amen" in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 1:20). You wait for the promised beautiful vision that the apostle John saw to become a reality.
Then I saw "a new heaven and a new earth", for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev 21:1-4, NIV)
"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." You wait, and you hope amid your darkness because there is light. You wait for what you trust by faith to become sight. And we know this will come to pass, become the light has already arrived in the person of Jesus Christ and He shines amid our darkness.
1. EQUIP: What does the Bible say about sex? (Saturday, 12 Sept, 330–530pm)
In a broken world where sex is often associated with sin, guilt and shame, how can God’s people still affirm the goodness of sex? Join us for Equip to hear what the Bible has to say about sex, and how we can glorify God with our sexuality. Zoom link: https://tinyurl.com/equip-12sep2020
2. The elders have decided that during phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, we will offer the Lord’s Supper on site every Sunday. This gathering will be limited to 50 people. Participants will have to register online at http://gracebaptistchurch.sg/service-registration. Online registration for Sunday, 30 Aug closes this Saturday, Aug 29 at 9pm. Places will be allocated to the first 50 registrants on a first-come-first served basis. Please present your email confirmation for admission into the church building.
3. This Sunday we will be looking at Luke 11:27-36. The message will talk about “True Blessedness”. Join us this Sunday, 30 Aug at 9am as we livestream over YouTube. Pray for God’s Spirit to prepare our hearts to receive His word.