Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Lamentations 3: Great is Your Faithfulness

Hi all!

Well, my exams are finally behind me and I'm on holiday, so I look forward to posting many more articles, and perhaps fixing up the design of this blog, Lord willing! 

Before I launch into the amazing passage that sparked this particular blog post, I want to add another note in. I'm slowly learning that while God often calls us to go through trials in this life, of one kind or another, He is also a loving and gracious God who also gives us periods of grace. Please don't take this as a universal rule: but it is something I have observed in my life so far. We may go through really unpleasant times and then, suddenly, experience some "sunshine behind the storm" so to speak, or alternatively "the calm before another storm"! At the moment, this is where I am, praise the Lord! :D 

However, when we are going through pleasant times, we must always be aware that no doubt trials await us just around the corner - the Lord will always be refining us until we go to be with Him, and we are always battling with our sinful natures which means that trials are an inevitable part of the Christian's walk. This means that we cannot afford to waste the periods of grace that are given to us, rather we need to be using it constructively to grow in our knowledge of the Lord by searching the scriptures. Sure, we do need to rest and re-energize but we also need to be careful not to slip into bad habits of laziness, something that I really struggle with (prayer for that would be great)! It is vital that we learn to cling to our Saviour regardless of our circumstances. Food for thought, anyway! 

And now, to Lamentations 3....

I was reading this book of the Bible all last week, and this passage really stood out to me. To really get its full impact, it helps to read it in context of the book as a whole (and it is only a short book, 5 chapters long, so I highly recommend you read it)! Here is the third chapter:

Lamentations 3: Great is Your Faithfulness
1 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.

10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.

13 He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.

31 For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.

34 To crush underfoot
all the prisoners of the earth,
35 to deny a man justice
in the presence of the Most High,
36 to subvert a man in his lawsuit,
the Lord does not approve.

37 Who has spoken and it came to pass,
unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?
39 Why should a living man complain,
a man, about the punishment of his sins?

40 Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the Lord!
41 Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
42 “We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven.

43 “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
killing without pity;
44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can pass through.
45 You have made us scum and garbage
among the peoples.

46 “All our enemies
open their mouths against us;
47 panic and pitfall have come upon us,
devastation and destruction;
48 my eyes flow with rivers of tears
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.

49 “My eyes will flow without ceasing,
without respite,
50 until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees;
51 my eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the daughters of my city.

52 “I have been hunted like a bird
by those who were my enemies without cause;
53 they flung me alive into the pit
and cast stones on me;
54 water closed over my head;
I said, ‘I am lost.’

55 “I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
56 you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!’
57 You came near when I called on you;
you said, ‘Do not fear!’

58 “You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life.
59 You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
judge my cause.
60 You have seen all their vengeance,
all their plots against me.

61 “You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
all their plots against me.
62 The lips and thoughts of my assailants
are against me all the day long.
63 Behold their sitting and their rising;
I am the object of their taunts.

64 “You will repay them, O Lord,
according to the work of their hands.
65 You will give them dullness of heart;
your curse will be on them.
66 You will pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under your heavens, O Lord.”
The reason this passage stood out to me so much is that right throughout this book there were really harsh words focussing on God's wrath and judgement. And then, right in the middle of it is this passage, like a ray of sunshine, full of hope!

Seriously, how many of us have felt like Jeremiah (who was the prophet writing this lament)? I'm sure that if you are still reading this, you, like me, have gone through dark corridors in your life where you can echo what he says from verses 1 to 20. There are times in our lives where like Jeremiah, we cry out to God in the depth of our despair and sorrow and yet it seems to us that He doesn't listen and so we feel like a God of mercy and love simply cannot exist. We feel like saying with Jeremiah that we "have forgotten what happiness is" and that our "endurance has perished and so has [our] hope from the Lord".

BUT ... then there are verses 21 to 41, and praise the Lord that Jeremiah wrote those too! He recalls God's faithfulness and remembers that the Lord uses our trials for good - indeed, that He is more patient with us than we really deserve. He demonstrates to us that we need to be using our suffering to look at ourselves in light of God's standards, and to return to Him again.

To conclude this passage, Jeremiah acknowledges from verses 42 through to the end of the chapter that truly, it is the Lord who saves and delivers and that He does hear the cries of His people, and that one day He will judge those who have turned against Him. Jeremiah turns his lament from one of frustration towards God, to a heart attitude of repentence - and I think that this is what we need to do. Rather than simply looking at our circumstances and growing angry towards God, we need to look at what He has done, and all that He has saved us from by sending His Son to die on the cross in our place. We really need a 180 degree shift in our thinking!

I think this is one of those incredible passages of scripture that I wish was preached on more or at least cited more frequently when someone is going through a troublesome time. It is certianly a passage I hope to remember to return to the next time things are not going well, and my prayer is that you will turn to it often too.

As a little side note, it's amazing how the Lord will give us little reminders of His word throughout the week! I was feeling so built up through this scripture last week and then it just "so happened" (no such thing as coincidences when God is in control!) that the fictional book I was reading this week quoted extensively from Lamentations, with a verse at the top of each chapter. What can I say but amazing!  


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