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hoping through suffering

The 3rd chapter of Lamentations is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, which may seem unusual since the entire chapter describes Jeremiah's trials. In vs. 20 he says, "When I remember them (his trials), my soul is downcast within me."

Of all the prophets in scripture, Jeremiah’s life might’ve been the most difficult. He preached for 40 years and had zero success in terms of people responding, but he preached on. He was unmarried without children, thus loneliness was surely something he struggled with. To make matters worse, people persecuted him relentlessly. They called him a traitor and put him in a dungeon. At one time he was up to his armpits in mud. Many scholars believe that it was during his imprisonment that he wrote Lamentations, which means "grieving."

Jeremiah struggled with depression too. He said that God had filled him with bitterness and had given him a cup of sorrow. "He has made me chew on gravel," he wrote, "and rolled me in the dust." He said, "Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost.” It reminds me of that line at the end of Psalm 88, where the writer says, “Darkness is my closest friend.”

But suddenly, unexpectedly, something changes! His lamenting swings the other way on the hinge of hope, the kind of hope that only comes from God. The chapter ends with him saying, "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." One of the great hymns of the church is based on that last phrase.

Jeremiah thinks about 3 things that reframe his hope: 1) God’s inexhaustible love, 2) His unrelenting compassion, and 3) His constant faithfulness. As he "remembered" these things, his perspective changed. Truth will do that for you.

Lots of people work hard at remembering the wrong things; they remember their breakdowns instead of their breakthroughs. Jeremiah did that for the first 20 verses, then says “Wait a minute, I DO have hope,” and a man can live with anything, as long as there’s hope. Reasoning our way out of despair is rarely as successful as remembering our way out of it. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called this “preaching to ourselves.” He said, “...there’s a sense in which the primary task of the Scripture is to teach us how to talk to ourselves.” I believe that. Perhaps the greatest battle in life is the battle we fight between our ears to simply remember the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Let me land the plane here with a few applications: 1. Stay close to Him. Trust Him a day at a time. People under a lot of pressure and pain sometimes say to me, “I just don’t know how to trust God for the future.” I usually reply, “Can you trust Him today? Hey, just do that.” Martin Luther struggled with depression his entire life. He said, “The only way I survive it, is believing God at all odds. I must trust my Great Physician, not my pain.” We can do the same...a day-at-a-time.

2) Keep Going. We can’t win at anything if we quit. Fall 7 times, get up 8. Progress in life is a process. Sometimes it’s agonizingly slow...but there’s no progress without a process. Keep going.

3) Finally, remember God's past faithfulness. He IS faithful. We have to believe that, and that's a choice, not a feeling. The best example, of course, is Jesus. He was persecuted too. He was beaten and despised. He felt alone. He struggled with the will of the Father. He wept too. He was engulfed in darkness on the Cross...but in the end, He chose to trust His Father. So can we.

Charles Spurgeon, maybe the greatest preacher of all time, struggled tremendously with depression. He told his 15,000 member congregation, “I’ve spent more days shut up in depression than probably anyone else here.” He frequently considered quitting the ministry because of his struggle with melancholy. But he also said this (many times), “I find no better cure than to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and seek to realize afresh the power of the peace-speaking blood of Jesus, and His infinite love in dying upon the cross to put away all my transgressions.”

When a man thinks like that...he will always have hope. Try it, dear one, and see.

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