Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Great Is Your Faithfulness" - Lamentations 3:19-24

“Great Is Your Faithfulness”
West Branch Ministerium Thanksgiving Service
Lamentations 3:19-24 :: November 24, 2013

Let me ask you a question.

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

For me, it was the stillbirth of our first child, Charis Mitchell.  It happened back in 1999, and I remember so much of it vividly and painfully.

What is it for you?

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

What is the worst thing that you have suffered?

How did it feel?

Did you know what to do with it?

Did you have a category for it?

Suffering can be so bewildering, so confusing, that unless we are prepared in advance for it, we won’t know how to respond to it.

Unless we’ve got a great, functional, practical theology of suffering before it comes, the chances are that we will buckle under it and flail around not knowing what to do.

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

The worst thing that ever happened to the prophet Jeremiah was the exile of Judah and the destruction of his beloved city of Jerusalem.

In the year 586 BC, God brought judgment upon the nation of Judah.  He had promised exile and warned of judgment for hundreds of years.  And Judah had, by and large, ignored those warnings.

And in 586 BC, God kept His promise to bring disaster on His rebellious people.  The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, sacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem.

And Jeremiah, the prophet, was there.  He saw it with his own eyes. And his eyes were full of tears.

Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet” because even though he had to faithfully deliver a message of woe to the people, he didn’t have to like it.

His message was, by and large, a message of doom, condemnation, and judgment.

And it caused him to weep.

The worst thing that he could imagine was the destruction of his beloved city–Jerusalem.  The capital of the nation.  The headquarters of the homeland.  The jewel, the apple of the Israelite’s eye. The location of the temple.  The city that stood for the people.  When Jerusalem went, so did the people.

And Jerusalem fell.

So Jeremiah wept.

And Jeremiah wrote about his suffering in a little book tucked away between the major prophets called Lamentations.

I’m going to read from chapter 3 of Lamentations to you this evening.

I’m going to read the most famous verses in the book of Lamentations.  We sing the words of these few verses all the time.  They are very familiar.

We always sing them this time of year, near this holiday.

But they’re tucked into the very middle of the one of the saddest books in the whole Bible.  I mean, the name of the book is “Lament.”  Which basically means to be sad.  “Sad-Thoughts” is the name of the book.  Lamentations.

And that’s great!  We need books like Lamentations.

Because life is not always happy! It’s not always smooth.  It’s not always pleasant.

So, we need books like Lamentations.

One of the most amazing things about Lamentations is how it is structured.  4 of the 5 chapters of Lamentations are acrostic poems.  Do you know what an acrostic is?

It’s like every sentence starts with a different letter of the alphabet in order.

Like the first line starts with A and the second line with B and so on.  That’s something that the Hebrew poets loved to do.  Psalm 119 is like that.  And Proverbs 31 is like that.

But Lamentations is even more carefully structured.

Here in chapter 3, which we’re going to look at closely, each stanza (like a paragraph in poetry) begins with the next letter of the Hebrew Alphabet (Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Dalet, etc) and each sentence within that stanza also begins with that same letter.

It’s very carefully composed.

I think that’s awesome.

You know why?  Because it says that there is a lot of thought that has gone into this expression of sad thoughts, of bad feelings, of lamentations.

Jeremiah (who I believe wrote this book, actually formally anonymous, but most people believe that Jeremiah wrote it, Jeremiah) put meticulous thought in how to express his grief and sorrow and pain over what had happened to him and his beloved city.

And he shows us how to be sad. He shows us how to suffer.  How to practice the lost art of lament.

Today, we’ll see just a few, perhaps the brightest of the verses.  The whole book calls for careful study.

“Great Is Your Faithfulness”

It’s right here in verse 23.

“Great is your faithfulness.”

That’s where we get our song.  Lamentations 3:23.

We’re going to sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” in just a minute.

Its come right out of this passage.

Which isn’t a passage about good feelings.  It’s a passage about Bad Feelings.

A passage about Sad Feelings.  A passage about suffering and lamentation.

Great Is Your Faithfulness...

#1. WHEN IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE IT.

Jeremiah tells God that His faithfulness is great at a time when he doesn’t really feel great.

Things are not going well.  The worst thing that he could imagine has happened.

The threats are over...and so is Jerusalem.

And it stinks.  It hurts.  It’s painful.  It’s terrible.  It’s suffering.

Verses 19 and 20 say this, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”

That first line could be taken as a prayer request.  It could be translated, “Remember my affliction and my wandering.”

“Lord, don’t forget what I’ve suffered.”

Verse 20 clearly says that Jeremiah hasn’t forgotten.  And he, I think, is speaking in chapter 3 for the whole of the nation, especially the remnant who either believes or at least will repent.  V.20

“I well remember [my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and gall], and my soul is downcast within me.”

Have you been there?

I love the realism of the Bible.  The Bible is not sugar-coated.  It is not fake in the slightest.

There is no sense that if you come to Jesus then your life will be a bed of roses.

You will be healthy, wealthy, and well-liked.

Knowing God means an easy road from here on out.

No.

The Bible paints a realistic picture of life which includes suffering and sadness.

And it even gives us patterns to follow when those times of suffering and sadness come.  Divine patterns.

I love that about the Bible.

It doesn’t always feel like God’s faithfulness is great.

Sometimes our minds are full of affliction, wandering, bitterness, and gall.  Sometimes our souls are downcast within us.

And that’s okay.

We should tell God about it.

We can pray about that.  And pray like that.  Honestly.  He loves our honest hearts.

We can write it down in a song.  We can think long and hard about it.

We can express our lamentations in the right way to the Lord.

We don’t have to pretend that everything is fine and dandy.

It doesn’t always feel like God’s faithfulness is great.

But it is.

Things are not always as they feel.
Things are not always as they seem.

In fact, they often are not as they seem.

God’s faithfulness is great even when it doesn’t feel like it.  V.21

“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.”

Verse 21 is a turning point.

That “yet” in verse 21 says so much!

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope...great is your faithfulness.”

Even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Do you need to hear that today?

Maybe right now it doesn’t feel like it for you.

Maybe you’re in a dark night of the soul.

It’s Thanksgiving season, but you’re hurting.

Maybe God seems distant.

Maybe you’re very disappointed, confused, bewildered, sad.

Or maybe you’re okay today, but you need to remind yourself of this right now so that when the feelings come, you’re ready to call this to mind, “Great is your faithfulness.”

Even when it doesn’t feel like it.

And

Great Is Your Faithfulness...

#2.  EVERY SINGLE DAY.  V.21 again.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed”

The word for “love” there in verse 22 is “hesed.” It’s the word for God’s covenant love.  His unfailing love.  His love that is promised to His people and can be counted upon no matter what.  It’s often translated, “His steadfast love.”

And v.22 says that it’s because of that steadfast love that we are not consumed.  Or another way of translating it would make the consumed about the love meaning “the steadfast love of the LORD never is consumed, never ceases.”

And that fits with the next phrase... “for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

His compassions, His mercies, never fail.

God isn’t moody.

God doesn’t get up some days on the wrong side of the bed.

Aren’t you glad that you and I aren’t God?

Somedays we just get up and there’d be hell to pay.

“I don’t feel like being compassionate to those people of mine.  They are sinners, they fail, they’re lazy, they don’t meet up with expectations.  They are slackers!

And today I just don’t feel like lovin’ on them.”

That’s not the LORD.  His compassions for His people never fail.

I love the picture of verse 23. Everyone does.

“His compassions [His tender mercies] are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Every morning.

Every single morning!

With the dawn comes a new wave of God’s mercy.

Every morning.

Every single day.

Look for them.

One of the things that my wise wife often says is that we need to look each morning for new mercies.

Yesterdays mercies are yesterday.  And God has promised new mercies every morning.  So we have to go looking for them. Hunting for them.

We know they are there.  We can count on them.

Let’s look for them.

I have some friends that have a plaque on their wall that says something like this, “Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”

“His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.”  Look for them.

Not just one day a year in late November.

But every single day.

“Great is your faithfulness.”

What does it mean for God to be faithful?  It means that He always keeps His promises.

Whatever He has said, He will do.

It may not be on our time-table.  It may not even look like what we expected.

But none of His promises fall to the ground.  None of His promises ever fail.

He is perfectly faithful with a steadfast love for His people.

Great is His faithfulness.

Amen?

Okay, so what should we do about that?

How do we live differently because we’ve read these few verses?

It doesn’t necessarily change how we feel.  Jeremiah has two and half more chapters of lamentation to go!

You and I might have a lot more sad feelings to feel and to express.

So what difference does it make that God is faithful?  What should we do?

Three points of application to take with us into this week of Thanksgiving.

#1.  SAY THIS TO HIM.

Say, “Great is Your faithfulness.”

Notice that this is a prayer.

He doesn’t just say, “God is faithful.  God’s faithfulness is great.”

In the middle of his pain, in the middle of his suffering, in the middle of his lament, he calls out to God, “Great is your faithfulness.”

He says it to the LORD Himself.

It makes it seem a lot more real when you talk to Him.

“Lord, it hurts. This is the worst thing that has every happened to me.”

“But great is your faithfulness.  I trust you.”

“Lord, I don’t understand. I don’t like it. My soul is downcast within me.  But great is your faithfulness!”

Say that to Him when you are suffering.

And you will find that God’s compassions are right there with you.

Declare to the Lord that you believe that His mercies are new every morning and that you’re going to look for them.

And you will find them.

“Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Even when it doesn’t feel like it.
And every single day.

But don’t just tell him.  Tell yourself that.

#2. SAY THIS TO YOURSELF.

Did you catch how Jeremiah is preaching to his own heart, to his own soul?

Look back up at verse 21, “Yet this I call to mind...”

He tells himself to remember something.  “Hey, self, don’t forget.  God is faithful!”

And look down at verse 24, “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” King James–“I will hope in Him.”

Jeremiah doesn’t just pray these words, he reminds himself of the truth of God’s faithfulness.  He tells himself that the LORD is his “portion” – his lot, his treasure, his only comfort in life and death, his satisfaction, his portion.

He reminds himself that God has great steadfast love and great faithfulness and that it is worth it to endure the suffering (which will last for a moment) because joy will last forever.  Hope in him.

All too often we listen to ourselves instead of speaking to ourselves.

All too often we listen to our feelings, and we don’t talk back to them.

But our feelings can be deceived.

We need to speak to our hearts and remind them of what is true.

“Hey, Matt, c’mon, don’t forget it’s only because of the LORD’s great love that we are not consumed.  For his compassions never fail.  Matt!  Don’t forget that they are new every single morning.  Great is HIS faithfulness!  Hope in Him, Matt.”

Say this to yourself every day.  “God’s faithfulness is great.”

Not just once a year at the end of November, but ever day.

And that’s the last one.  Last application.

#3.  SAY THIS TO OTHERS.

Jeremiah wrote this to be read by others.  To be (in some cases) sung by others.

It’s not a fun song.  It’s not a popcorn and candy song that’s a blast to sing.

But we need songs like this.  We need lament-songs.  Because life hurts!

But most of the time, we need our sad songs to have this embedded in their middle.

Hope in the Lord!  Because His faithful.

We know this now even more than Jeremiah did.

Jeremiah didn’t know about the Suffering Servant.

Jeremiah didn’t know what we know about the Messiah.

Jeremiah didn’t know Jesus.

Jesus was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.

If anyone knew about being sad, it was Jesus.

He felt lamentation in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross of Calvary.

He is the One who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It’s because He was the very embodiment of the steadfast love of the Lord.

His death and resurrection was God keeping His promises.

And they keep us from being consumed by our sin.

It’s only because of what He did on the Cross that we are not consumed and that we can say today, “His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness.”

And we need to tell other people just how great He really is.

Just how faithful.

He’s too good to keep to ourselves.

Say this to others.  “Great is God’s faithfulness.”

What’s the worst thing has ever happened to you?

Do you know how to respond to it?

When our daughter died, I had just been reading Romans 8:32 which became the foundation for our grieving in hope and mourning with faith.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Heather and I decided to believe that. That God, even in our darkest day so far, was committed graciously giving us all things.

So we learned to say during that dark time and every day since.

“God has been so faithful to us. Great is His faithfulness.”

[For those who like to follow this sort of thing, this is a Thanksgiving-ized version of a message originally given three years ago at Lanse Free Church.]

4 comments:

Two days ago, the youth pastor of my church shared a message from Lamentations 3:22-23 during our annual youth cookout. This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture so I was challenged to read other commentaries. Your message resonates with my life experiences. Several "worst things" have happened to me since April 2013, and each time "I could call to mind...and have hope" because "the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases..." Great is the Lord's faithfulness towards me!! Thank you for your exaltation of God's Word, encouragement to my heart, and application for daily living. God's grace to you and your work in the ministry of our coming Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Sylvia, for leaving this encouragement. You have made my day!

I was just reading my daily devotional psalms 25-28 and came across Lamentations 3 to help me when I feel like God isn't listening. Since I just got saved I wanted to learn more about jeremiah and these poems. Thank you so much for all the information! This really has been a inspirational read! I am going to make a sign for my children and I "Great is your faithfulness" so we can see it everyday before we leave the house 😊

Thanks, Unknown, for your comment. I'm glad to hear how this message helped you and inspired your sign for you and your children! He is a faithful God!