Context is key.
Many times we can read something and think a person means one thing, but when we read it in context, it can mean something entirely different. So, whether you are reading the news, a book, or the Bible, it is best to read in context. Here are some classic examples.
- “Great minds think alike” This phrase is actually part of a longer quote, “Great minds think alike and fools seldom differ.” Instead of complementing others who agree with you, the full quote is actually criticizing those who come to the same conclusions are actually small minded and cannot think for themselves.
- “Blood is thicker than water.” We use this phrase to imply family bonds are stronger than other relationships. However, this phrase is actually not fully quotes and means the exact opposite. The original phrase is, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The full quote implies relationships by choice are stronger than biological ties. The quote is also connected to Proverbs 27:10 which says, “better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.”
- “money is a root of all evil” is a quote out of context, which actually is, “the love of money is a root of all evil.” We do not need to unnecessarily refuse money or reject earning income. But we do have to be careful of becoming mastered by our money and not understanding how money is a tool not our highest treasure.
The same is true in understanding the meaning of many of our favorite Bible verses. There is a temptation to take verses from Lamentations 3 (3:22-23 “great is thy faithfulness”) and place them on picture-perfect landscapes or pastel colors without understanding its painful context. The reality is these verses were written during a dark and dreadful setting. The city of Jerusalem was smoldering in ruins from invasion by Babylon. Bright skies are replaced with looming dark clouds. Quaint gardens are exchanged for streets filled with suffering famine. Instead of picturing these verses in a cabin in the Smokies, we should instead think Indonesia after a tsunami or Maryland during a pandemic.
EXAMINE Lamentations 3
Lamentations 3 is the climax of the book. As shared last week, Jeremiah writes this book with designed order and meticulous structure to show there is divine order amid earthly chaos. Chapters 1, 2, 4 are acrostics using successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet for each verse of the chapter. Chapter 3 is unique as the acrostic is applied to a series of verses with tripled intensity – instead of A, B, C, it’s now AAA, BBB, CCC. The pace and passion are at its highest in the middle of the mess and mayhem.
Have you ever felt the groans and grief of Lamentations? Have you ever told God…
- I’m struggling to believe.
- My faith is running on fumes.
- My circumstances are hopeless.
- I’m uncertain if I can go forward.
3 ways biblical lament helps our hurt and anchors our hope:
#1 Biblical lament helps us to be honest.
Jeremiah’s lament gives us comfort that we are not alone. He writes not as a spectator but fellow sufferer. The tragedy of Jerusalem’s destruction gives him overwhelming grief.
- 3:1a seeing affliction
- 3:1b under the rod of His wrath (experiencing God’s discipline)
- 3:2 brought me into darkness without light
- 3:4-7 experiencing physical suffering and emotional weight of the tragedy
- 3:8-9 experiencing spiritual separation – calling and crying to God but he shuts out my prayer, paths blocked.
- 3:10-13 feels like God is the enemy and antagonizing him.
- 3:14 suffering causes you to feel paranoia around others whether reality or imagined.
- 3:15 filled me with bitterness – worry is believing God doesn’t understand what to do and bitterness is believing God performed the wrong actions.
- 3:17-20 feels complete frustration, fury, and unrest. “teeth grind on gravel… cower in ashes… soul bereft of peace… forgotten happiness… my endurance has perished and hope vanquished”
Jeremiah is wrestling with uncertainty and the tension between despair and determination. Should he give up or go deeper? You see, Christianity is not just abstractly theoretical but deeply personal. The good news is that there is no dark cloud or deep pit where Christ is not present. We do not have to hide our problems or pains. Instead, God invites us to be honest and pour out our heart to Him. Biblical lament helps us to find faith with cries to call upon the God of all hope (Rom 15:13) and the Father of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3).
- What are you afraid to be honest about with God and others in your faith community? Eugene Peterson says, “It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts… and in the dark emotions of our hate. So we commonly suppress our negative emotions (unless, neurotically, we advertise them)…”
- Psalm 32:3 “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”
- Spend moments with God and perhaps a group of Christian friends this week to honestly share a struggle, or even a sin. In confession to God we find forgiving grace and renewable strength to face whatever we are dealing.
- Let Psalms help you pray with honesty. The Psalms are script for the telling of sincere feelings and secret thoughts.  Most of us think we have to get rid of our raw and rough feelings before God will be interested in hearing from us. However, the Psalms provide us a means to pursue God and pray with vulnerability. They articulate honest confessions voiced with speech and song amid a faith community. If we want to grow spiritually and flourish in our humanity, then we must abandon efforts to hide our secrets and be unafraid to be honest to God.
- Sin separates but honest confession provides a pathway for reconciliation. One of the reasons I believe Jeremiah writes is not just because God told him to write so we can read his journal thousands of years later. Jeremiah writes for his personal benefit. He writes Lamentations so He can draw closer to the Lord. The application for us is that when we are struggling, or even sinning, we can be tempted to withdraw from God. However, the character of God’s grace and the provision of God’s gospel are reminders to step forward in honesty rather than stepping backwards into the shadows.
#2 Biblical lament helps us to be hopeful.
Jeremiah’s lament is not just reflecting what he sees with his eyes, but he’s rehearsing what he knows in his convictions. He describes his inner faith that superseded his feelings.
(ESV) 3:21 “But this I call [rehearse] to mind, and therefore I have hope”
(NLT) 3:21 “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this”
At the moment that he’s down, he looks up. Sometimes what we see is not all there is to know.
1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.”
2 Corinthians 4:18 “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Hebrews 11:1 “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Faith is the power to have hope beyond what we can see. Just as Jeremiah viewed the devastation around the city of Jerusalem, he also called to mind the goodness and grace of God.
Biblical lament is pouring out your heart and planting your hope in truth. It’s rehearsing in your mind over and over, even though we cannot see it, even though we do not feel it, God is working and we can have hope. Our outlook is determined by our up-look.
Today, our times are tense and our season is stressful. As Christians, we need to guard the intake of media and messages that we are receiving. It is becoming far too easy for the enemy to deceive us with falsehood and discourage us with the ferocity of worldly wickedness. As Christians, we cannot remove ourselves from the world or isolate from every negative circumstance. However, we can insulate our heart with the certainty of truth and foundation of our faith. I am afraid that some are allowing media to monopolize their attention and affections more than they give reflection upon God’s word and relationship to Jesus in prayer.
“We shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
“I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against God.” (Psalm 119:11)
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7)
- Spend time with God’s word each day: S.O.A.P.S. Great Commandment & Great Commission each day.
- Spend time talking with 5 other Christians each week.
#3 Biblical lament helps us to be trusting.
Jeremiah is able to have hope because he transitions his focus from his challenges to God’s character. His hope becomes transformative by rehearsing spiritual truth about God.
There are three characteristics about God that prove we can be trustful in our circumstances.
Trusting that God’s mercy is eternal (3:22-24).
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies/compassion never comes 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.”
Jeremiah focused on the LORD’s khesed (steadfast love, mercy, grace, goodness). This rich word implies surpassing loyalty and love that is not conditioned on the actions of another, but the distinctive integrity and strength of character of a person. Whenever someone wants to accurately describe God (a daunting and difficult task), they do so with the word khesed.
Our hope is in God’s ability to keep being God because He is unchanging. His mercy is new every morning, meaning not that grace grows exhausted, but that there is an endless supply of mercy and grace. When circumstances cause us to reach rock bottom, we find Christ is the rock at the bottom.
Psalm 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”
- When we realize this truth, it prioritizes every decision. We will not want to stray or sin against God, because we understand when all we have is God, we have enough. He is sufficient, the LORD is my portion.
Trusting that God’s ways are effective (3:25-27).
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.
The language of the verses actually emphasizes the goodness of God.
- v)25 Good is the LORD to those who wait.
v)26 Good it is that one waits for the salvation of the LORD
v)27 Good it is for young to bear the yoke.
Jeremiah is telling us that the character of God is good and wise. God’s ways are best for us, even when it doesn’t look like it or feel like it. And one of the primary ways of God is “waiting.” To us, waiting often feels like wasted time, but to God waiting is worshipful, trusting God is at work. When we do not wait on God, we try to control our circumstances and force decisions, perhaps even make demands against others. But, God calls us to put on His yoke. When all around us looks dark and bleak – we abide in Jesus.
- Yoke waiting means finding strength and guidance with God not apart from Him. We do not need to unnecessarily worry. Time is not wasted IF we are seeking God as our help and hope. Waiting is not passive but actively listening and learning from God and following His commands – doing the last thing you know He told you to do.
– Ps 33:20 “Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.”
- Faith has not only a belief in God’s ability but an expectation for God to act with salvation.
Ps 62:1-2 “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
Trusting that God’s faithfulness will endure (3:31-33)
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.
Jeremiah trusted that God’s discipline was purposeful and His wrath was temporary. As shared in last week’s message, Babylon was responsible for Jerusalem’s devastation. Yet, ultimately, God was sovereignly responsible to raise up Babylon as His means of judgment. God caused their grief but not without grace. There were hints of hope and promises to bless. It is not God’s character to judge without merit; it was deserving. But God would not abandon His people – He will not cast off forever.
When persons suffer today, there is fear that it will never end. But the Bible is clear that our earthly struggles and human suffering has an expiration date. Sin and suffering will not have the final word.
Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
1 Peter 1:6 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
James 1:12 “Blessed is the person who remains steadfast under trial, for when they have stood the test they will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
God’s affliction has purpose and precision to bring glory to God and conform us to His image. Biblical lament longs for redemption and fulfillment in God’s grand plan. There is coming a day when God will right all the wrongs, correct all the injustice, silence all the mockers, conquer all sin and defeat death with every knee bowed and tongue confessing that Christ is the Lord.
God does not delight in our tears. There is a loving and wise purpose in our pain, which God is writing a story we will one day appreciate. Until then, we lament and long for that day.
Only through suffering is our faith is transformed from abstract to actual.
- Marriage struggling… what holds you together?
- Financial pressures… will you trust God to provide?
- Frustrating parenting… what is God teaching you about being His child?
- Faith challenges… the Lord sees, hears, and comes near…
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.
- Perhaps you are hearing this message to reveal the missing foundation of your life during a tense and turbulent time.
 Eugene Peterson, Answering God, p.100.
 W. David O. Taylor, Open And Unafraid: The Psalms As A Guide To Life, pp.1-9.