His Great Faithfulness in Our Great Suffering
March 26, 2012
By: John Barnett
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When we listen closely to Christ's words near the start of His ministry, we hear Jesus say to all believers of all time, “Rejoice when you face persecution” (Matthew 5:10-12). At the end of His public ministry, this same Jesus also goes on to say that for those at the end of days, the worst is yet to come (Matthew 24:9-10).
When we listen closely to Christ's words near the end of His ministry, He tells us of a future time when all of us who know and love Him will suffer greatly; and when we add that to all of the struggles, trials, challenges, hurdles, and disappointments life brings—we get a huge amount of suffering in a lifetime.
So this evening as we turn towards Lamentations 3, we turn to the greatest reminder in all of God's Word that when there are great sufferings, during them we can find the assurance of God’s greater faithfulness.
Lamentations is a book that is about what it sounds like its about—the lamentations of a person in deep suffering. Do you remember all of the weeping prophet Jeremiah’s woes? His testimony is the 25th book of God's Word, and it is aptly called Lamentations. Does that title suggest anything to you? It is the cry of a troubles soul. It is the testimony of a man who knew pain, weakness, and much sorrow.
Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet
But before we turn to Lamentations 3, look at the prior book, named for the prophet Jeremiah, and let me briefly sketch the life of this incredible servant of God. Jeremiah must have had an incredible childhood. The Scriptures tell us God had chosen him before his birth to be a prophet. His family was notable in their service for the LORD. Life was exciting for the son of a high priest.
Jeremiah 1:1 "The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin," (NASB)
One of the great blessings of Jeremiah’s life was that his dad was the one who found the lost book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8). How Jeremiah’s love for the Word showed through in his life as God’s prophet. But even the great family heritage, and calling of God did nothing to prevent horrible sufferings. In fact Jeremiah’s life could be described as one of the most difficult lives of hardship and woe found in the pages of Scripture. How does God work with someone:
When Troubles Come in Overwhelming Waves
Jeremiah’s woes were unimaginable to our relatively peaceful lives. He lived through the death throes of the final days and hours of the nation of Judah.
- From an earthly perspective Jeremiah’s life was a failure. During his lifetime he watched the decay of God’s chosen people, the horrible destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the nation to Babylon.
- He preached for 40 years and saw no visible result among those he served. Instead those countrymen he warned for God sought to kill him if he wouldn’t stop preaching doom (Jer. 11:19-23). He had virtually no converts to show for a lifetime of ministry.
- He had no one to find joy and comfort with as his own family and friends were involved in plots against his (12:6).
- He never had the joy of a godly home because God never allowed him to marry, and thus he suffered incredibly agonizing loneliness (16:2).
- He lived under a constant threat of death, as there were plots to kill him in secret so no one would find him (18:20-23).
- He lived with physical pain while he was beaten severely and them bound in wooden stocks (20:1-2).
- He lived with emotional pain as his friends spied on him deceitfully and for revenge (20:10).
- He was consumed with sorrow and shame and even cursed the day he was born (20:14-18).
- His life ended with no relief as he was falsely accused of being a traitor to his own country (37:13-14). Jeremiah was arrested, beaten, thrown into a dungeon, and starved many days (37:15-21). If an Ethiopian Gentile had not interceded on his behalf he would have died there.
- In the end, tradition tells us he was exiled to Egypt, where he was stoned to death by his own people.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this book is the fact that despite the terrible woes of the life Jeremiah was called to (1:5), he saw that it was all at the Master Potter’s Hand (18:1-6). At the point of near despair over his failed ministry, God asked Jeremiah to go to the Potter’s house and there he would get a message from the Lord (18:2).
Although Israel had failed so grievously, the heavenly Potter was able to bless them again if they would but repent and yield to his Perfect Touch. So for us who have heard Christ's reminder that we will suffer just because we belong to Him; and for us who live in the times approaching the end of days, we can learn a great truth to live by.
Jeremiah’s life is a wonderful canvas, across which is painted the truths that you can see and display God even more clearly:
When your Whole Life Hurts
As we turn to Lamentations 3, what are the Biblical afflictions God uses, manages, allows, and most of all, what are some of the hurts that HE can handle? Jeremiah’s like and testimony clearly describe a huge spectrum of the afflictions and troubles that God allows to come our way so He can be closest and dearest to us. These are what Jeremiah faced, starting in v.4. He had:
1. THE HURTS OF BROKEN PHYSICAL HEALTH:
Lamentations 3:4 He has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones.
2. THE HURTS OF DEEP EMOTIONAL STRAIN:
Lamentations 3:5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe.
3. THE HURTS OF PERIODS OF DARK DEPRESSION:
Lamentations 3:6 He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago.
4. THE HURTS OF DESPERATION AND BURDEN OF BEING TRAPPED:
Lamentations 3:7 He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy.
5. THE HURTS OF FEELING OUT OF TOUCH, DISTANT FROM GOD AND LEFT BEHIND IN LIFE:
Lamentations 3:8 Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer.
6. THE HURTS OF FRUSTRATION AND CONFUSION:
Lamentations 3:9 He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked.
7. THE HURTS OF ANXIETY AND SADNESS:
Lamentations 3:17 You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity.
8. THE HURTS OF PHYSICAL WEAKNESS AND HOPELESSNESS:
Lamentations 3:18 And I said, “My strength and my hope have perished from the Lord.”
9. THE HURTS OF BITTER AFFLICTION AND AIMLESSNESS:
Lamentations 3:19 Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall.
Those nine verses describe some of the deepest woes, struggles, and trials imaginable. If you have known any or all of them, then you are in good company. Jeremiah faced all of them at once and did so completely alone (remember God made him stay single and never get married). So what he says next is vital. Jeremiah shares with us the cure He found, that kept Him from being destroyed by these immense sorrows. He shares with us his:
A Prescription from The Great Physician
So what possible blessing could ever come from such a desperate condition of affliction and hurt? Look back at this passage because it contains the greatest message of Hope in all of God's Word. This is what our Faithful God offers:
1. IN OUR FAILURES: God always offers HIS UNFAILING LOVE
Lamentations 3:22 "Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. "
Jeremiah didn’t say he was perfect- he said I know that I am weak and what the Lord revealed to him is even if we fail, God’s love never fails. The Lord’s mercies, his compassions, they fail not. He loves us with an unfailing love.
2. INTO OUR MONOTONOUS LIVES: look what the Lord promises- HIS DAILY FRESHNESS
Lamentations 3:23 "They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."
Have you ever thought about how monotonous life could be without God’s faithfulness, His newness and His freshness? Basically, many of us do the same thing every day at work. I have done the same thing for my entire life’s work, for over 31 years, every single day.
Each day I have to spend a large portion of my time wrestling with this Book. It is the same Book, by the way, that I have been reading for a lot more than 30 years. But vocationally for 31 years, full time, this is what I have done. I know a lot of men in ministry who say it’s so monotonous—we have to find something new—and they are always trying to find something different.
Look at this 23rd verse- what Jeremiah says: God’s Words are new every morning. Into our monotonous lives, God wants to insert daily freshness, if we will allow Him to. There is such newness in our walk with Christ everyday, because He is faithful and when we are afflicted, we realize how faithful He is. Look at verse 24:
3. IN OUR WEAKNESSES: He gives us a PERSONAL DOSE OF STRENGTH
Lamentations 3:24 “The Lord is my portion,”
I have with Bonnie fed 8 children from their first meal onward- when they stopped the milk regimen and went into the real food as we call it, I remember how you sit there on your plate and you chop, chop, chop this way, then you chop, chop, chop that way. Some times you mash, mash, mash some of those peas and squash in there when they are not looking- into the potatoes so they will get a good balanced meal.
I remember that I would have this little tiny spoon that was only about this big. I didn’t use the serving spoon, I didn’t use the ladle to put in to that little mouth, I know what portion they would be able to handle so they wouldn’t choke on is. Look what he in verse 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, He knows the personal dose of strength I need in my weakness “Therefore I hope in Him!”
He said my soul is weak, the Lord knows the dose or portion I need. Therefore I hope in Him.
4. IN OUR OFTEN FRANTIC LIFESTYLES: HIS PROMISE OF BLESSINGS: Lamentations 3:25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
You want a great study? That word “wait” is one English word and you will find that word all the way through the Old Testament. There are 8 different Hebrew words translated into English—wait. You know waiting is really important to God. Waiting is very foreign to us.
One morning as I drove to church, a fancy big black, jacked up SUV blew by me on 169. I pulled up beside him toodling along at the stop light on the exit three miles later. He had passed me five minutes before, but that light is so long—I edged up like this so he would notice me—and before the light turned, he ran the red light and squealed around like that. I thought—Americans, we don’t like to wait. He couldn’t wait for the speed limit, he couldn’t wait for the light, he couldn’t wait for anything.
You know what God says? Look at this, The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, Waiting is so important there is 8 different Hebrew words that we translate wait. The translators were in such a hurry they didn’t have time to translate them 8 different ways, they just put one word—not really, I am just teasing. But To the soul who seeks Him—Our lives are often frantic but God promises a blessing to those who wait for Him, who don’t try and run away from the affliction, who don’t try and run away from the hard time, who don’t try and escape it but say Lord, now I know that Your judgments, You don’t change and they are right. I know that in faithfulness you are allowing this in my life so I just lift up my antenna and I say what is the message, Lord? Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth. The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him.
5. INTO OUR ANXIOUS LIVES – HIS SALVATION GIVES QUIET HOPE: Lamentations 3:26 It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
What he is giving us is---- Jeremiah is telling us what he learned in his affliction. What did he learn when he had broken physical health, deep emotional strain- verse 5, dark depression- verse 6, when he had desperation and felt trapped- verse 7, and when he felt out of touch and distant from God in verse 8 of chapter 3. When he was frustrated and confused in vs. 9, when he was anxious and sad in vs. 17, when he was physically weak and hopeless in verse 18 and when he had bitter affliction in verse 19--- what did he learn?
He said this is what I learned in verse 22-- when I fail, God’s love never fails. Verse 23- when my life is monotonous and awful, His freshness pervades my life. Every single time I open this Book, it’s like a breath of fresh air. You know the last week, it has been so cool we have been able to have our windows open. I look forward to that season. Air conditioning is nice, but I love cold air from outside, it’s nicer. I couldn’t wait till it cooled down and got into the 50’ and 60’s and I opened that window and you can just feel it rolling in.
Did you know, every time you open this Book, in the hot, triple digit temperatures of life, there is a freshness that comes, if you wait on the Lord. The Lord is the One who gives freshness every morning-- Great is His faithfulness if we will allow Him to. In our weakness- His personal dose of strength, verse 24, he is our portion. In our frantic lives, verse 25, his promise of blessing. In to our anxious lives, verse 26, we hope and wait quietly. Here is the last one- verse 33- this is where we end this morning.
6. INTO OUR CONFUSING LIVES: He writes HIS PERFECT PLANS
Lamentations 3:33 For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men.
He says this is not just capricious, it is not roulette living, it’s not happenstance, God has a plan. When affliction comes, as this 33rd verse says, it’s not an affliction that is a willing, you know----- just want to rattle your cage a little bit and just cause you some problems--- No--- He has a plan.
Please open to Hymn # 372.
His name was Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960). Born in a humble log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, on July 29, 1866; without the benefit of high school or advanced training, he began his career as a schoolteacher at the age of sixteen in the same country schoolhouse where he had received his elementary training.
Where did such a confession come from? A 1st Century saint? No, just from a man who was too weak and sick to do he wanted to do in life. He had to leave full time vocational ministry and do a door-to-door sale job just to stay alive and eat.
At 51 Tom wrote out his personal testimony of consecration in song. This poem, prayer, and consecration hymn has been the pathway of thousands who have sought to deepen their devotion to Jesus. “Living for Jesus” was published that same year in a hymnal, in 1917.
The words of this hymn were written when the author was 51, unable to finish the career he studied to do, weak and sickly, unemployed, and trying to make ends meet selling things door to door.
Remember this hymn was his testimony of how he made it through life when it seemed everything was going against him, and the world around him was crumbling. Look at the bottom of page 372, what year did he write these words? 1917.
What was happening in the year 1917? Lenin was conquering Russia and World War I was grinding on across Europe. Hundreds of miles of trenches oozed with millions of fighting men in a river of death, gas warfare, and plagues. Now look at those words written in some of the darkest hours of human history. And from those times come one of the greatest hymns of our time!
"Living for Jesus”
Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please Him in all that I do, yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free—this is the pathway of blessing for me.
Living for Jesus who died in my place, bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace—such love constrains me to answer His call, follow His leading and give Him my all.
Living for Jesus thru earth’s little while, my dearest treasure the light of His smile, seeking the lost ones He died to redeem, bringing the weary to find rest in Him.
Chorus: O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee, for Thou in Thine atonement didst give Thyself for me. I own no other Master—my heart shall be Thy throne: My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.
Just 6 years later Tom published the result of that prayer “Living for Jesus” when he penned and shared with the world in 1923 that grand hymn (#43) of the faith, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.
“Great is Thy faithfulness”
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
How God wants to use Affliction in our lives Today
That plan is--- we are going to go back and end with our starting verse, Psalm 119:75- I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right (You don’t ever change), and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. You know what? God wants to teach us something, He wants to teach us that He is faithful. The way He teaches us He is faithful is, He brings affliction into our lives. If we will wait quietly before Him, and say Lord, I want what You are teaching me. He will bring into our lives everything that I just shared with you from verse 22 all the way down to verse 33 of Lamentations.
• Into our failures He will bring His love
• Into our monotonous lives he brings freshness everyday, he will open the windows of blessing
• Into our weakness, He will give us a little spoonful of what we need, our personal dose of strength
• Into our frantic life styles, He promises blessing if we wait for Him
• Into our anxious lives with anxiety, He gives us a quiet hope that is serenity in the midst of the storm
• Into our confusion, He says I have a perfect plan