Solid Bible Promises for Times of Suffering

Creation groans, and we echo that same mournful tune.

We feel the Curse deep inside. We are broken people in a broken world, and no one avoids some measure of suffering. In my article on Lamentations 4, we saw the author arrive at the end of his lament with nothing but a promise of God. We too, at times, may feel like everything is stripped away. Our anguish seems like the most tangible element of life.

But we also have the promises of God! These are good gifts meant to sustain us and stoke our hope for the future.

Which Promises?

The Bible is stuffed with promises. However, we can’t claim every promise we find.

For example, some Bible promises are conditional. Consider Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” We cannot claim that God will meet our every desire unless we are delighting in the Lord.

Further, God made some promises to specific people at specific times (see Joshua 6:2). He made other promises to Israel, and we need to think carefully about whether they carry over to the church and/or individual Christians.

Where does this leave us? We still have many Bible promises that are meant for us. This article focuses on those which are helpful in the midst of suffering.

Promises for Sufferers

I’ve divided these promises into five categories. Learning, digesting, and even memorizing these verses will not eliminate pain or make suffering somehow desirable. But they will help us to trust in the Lord in dark times and to fix our eyes on Jesus.

God is with you

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

Suffering is often extremely personal and therefore isolating. In those times, we can treasure God’s presence with us. He is near to those in anguish, and he has promised never to leave or forsake his children. Nothing at all—not even this present suffering—will be able to separate us from God’s love for us in Christ.

God will comfort and rescue you

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Because God will not abandon us, and because he loves us, he will comfort us in the midst of turmoil and eventually pull us out. Though pain and suffering seem unending, for the children of God, they are not. God will restore and strengthen us, whether on this side of glory or the other.

God will use your suffering for your good

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, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

God is in the business of turning bad things to good. Affliction prepares us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, and our sufferings produce endurance, character, and hope. Our sufferings in themselves are not good, but God brings good out of them.

Everything will be made new

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–53)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)

Our groaning bodies will put on immortality. Our new dwelling will be with God himself on a new earth. The mourning and crying and pain we experience now will then only be known as “former things.”

We will be forever with the Lord

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

The promises of a glorified body and a curse-free earth would be nothing without God’s eternal presence. The suffering we experience will be a distant, faint memory because we will live face-to-face forever with our Creator and Redeemer.

(Yes, I have listed Rev 21:3 twice. But it’s jaw-dropping, and we all probably need it twice.)

All By Grace

These promises are ours. But they are ours by grace. Our works deserve God’s wrath, not his blessing. These promises are given to us because we are the children of God, united to Jesus, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31–32)

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When the Promises of God Are All You Have

There are signature moments in our lives, markers between before and after. A big move, the death of a loved one, a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child, a terrible fire. Occasionally we realize, in the middle, that our world will be different on the other end. Sometimes this is wonderful, and sometimes it is tragic.

What Has Been Lost

In Lamentations 4, we are reading the after of one such moment. A large part of lament is noting how much now is different than it was or should be. In this chapter-long prayer, the author calls out many unremarkable facets of life which are upside-down as a result of Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of Babylon.

Gold is tarnished and holy stones are scattered (Lam 4:1). The remaining men, though “precious sons,” are regarded as no more than “earthen pots” (Lam 4:2). Infants and children are starving, with nursing mothers treating their children no better than wild jackals (Lam 4:3-4). Even those who were rich are living in refuse and dying (Lam 4:5).

Signs of Judgment

There is a clear reason everything has been overturned. Behind Babylon’s tactics is the wrath of God; it was his hot anger that kindled a fire in the city and consumed it (Lam 4:11).

Jerusalem is receiving a punishment worse than Sodom—shocking, since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was the most notable destruction of cities in the Old Testament to that point. (This story is in Genesis 18–19.) The punishment is worse because it is drawn out; Sodom was destroyed in a moment, while the residents of Jerusalem are slowly dying of hunger (Lam 4:6, 9). Jerusalem deserved a harsher punishment, in part, because they were God’s people with his word and his temple; the residents of Sodom had not known the Lord.

These verses reveal specific aspects of divine judgment, horrible as they are. The women of Jerusalem boiled and ate their young children—this was both an act of compassion on the babies and a desperate search for food. This was a curse foretold in Deut 28:53. We also read one reason for this judgment: the prophets and priests have sinned horribly in the city (Lam 4:13). The people cried “Unclean!” at them as they wandered through the streets (Lam 4:14-15). These religious leaders were banished from the city by God himself, scattered among the nations (Lam 4:15-16).

False Hopes

As the Lord brought judgment to Jerusalem, some of their false idols came to light.

Historically, the siege of Jerusalem was paused for a time when it was thought that Egypt would intervene. Judah had been hoping for rescue, but this hope never came; Egypt turned out to be “a nation which could not save” (Lam 4:17).

Judah had also been hoping in Zedekiah, their king when the city was attacked by Babylon. This is mentioned in Lam 4:20, where the king is referred to as “the Lord’s anointed.” The people thought he would protect them, that they could live “under his shadow,” but he, like so many others, was captured.

Waiting on the Judge

At the end of Lam 4:20, the writer is in a miserable state. With the fall of Jerusalem, so very much has been lost. God himself has been judging his people through the Babylonian army. The people are without prophets, without priests, without temple, and without food. And their hopes (in Egypt and in King Zedekiah) have come up empty. What is left?

Much remains! The writer falls back on the promises of God.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.
The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
he will uncover your sins. (Lam 4:21–22)

The author of Lamentations knows who God is and what he has promised. Even though they are part of his plan, those who brutalize God’s people will themselves be punished. The cup of judgment will pass from Israel to Edom (another nation in the area).

More hopefully, God’s wrath against his people is finite, and he will keep them “in exile no longer.” This is not some idle wish—this is a rock-solid promise of God. (See Jeremiah 31, among other places.) This fits squarely with God’s character and his love for his people (Lam 3:31–33).

God’s promises are a life raft, and with this particular promise, the call is to trust in the Lord and wait. This is not new! We have seen previously that waiting for the Lord is a large component of seeking him (Lam 3:25–26).

We May Have Sorrow, but We Always Have the Lord

Though a request is a common component of lament, there is no bold request in Lamentations 4. The author’s distress is severe and obvious; he is calling the Lord’s attention to his troubles and reminding himself (in the presence of the Lord) that God’s promises are true. God is trustworthy and we can—we must!—rely on what he says.

Of course, this is true for us too! In our distress or suffering, we must not rely on our health, our optimism, our bank account, our reputation, our friends, our safety, or any sort of harmony in our life. We can, however, look to the Lord and his promises!

In an upcoming article, I plan to write about a few of God’s promises that we can call to mind in times of anguish, pain, and discouragement. It may be a good exercise, until then, to search the Scriptures yourself and search out the promises of God which are yours in Jesus. These are precious.

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Resisting Revenge is a Whole-Church Effort

Most of the Bible is addressed to groups of people, not individuals. And while collective commands have clear implications for individuals, the corporate nature matters.

Many modern Christians have been breathing individualistic air for years, with far-reaching consequences. But we must remember the communal nature of the Bible if we are to live faithfully as God’s people.

A Community Standard

There’s a verse in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church that highlights this point.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

The context, as always, is important—this verse falls in the middle of several commands Paul gives to this church. That a group is addressed is obvious, both in verse 15 itself as well as in the presence of “brothers” in verses 12 and 14 and “yourselves” in verse 13.

Note that the command here is not simply “don’t repay evil for evil.” Rather, “See that no one repays evil for evil.” Paul prohibits revenge for each person, but he also makes every individual responsible for the obedience of others. Each person is charged with maintaining the no-retaliation standard in the community.

It’s natural to balk here. I have enough trouble obeying God myself. How can I be responsible for others?

We turn back to the passage for the answer. We are to respect our church leaders and “esteem them very highly in love” (verses 12–13). Giving proper love and encouragement to our elders is essential for the health of the church.

Additionally, we are to “be at peace” among ourselves (verse 13). And there is a summary of sorts at the end of verse 15: “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” If we are all seeking to do good for everyone, no one will be repaying evil for evil.

Becoming Like God

A church’s reputation and testimony can be damaged by one flagrant or unrepentant sinner. But the church acting together in love can say glorious things about God.

As a local church body obeys this no-revenge command, they become more and more like their patient, saving God. Quite simply, God does not repay evil for evil! Rather he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). God’s patience and forbearance are such that we were reconciled to God while we were his enemies (Romans 5:10).

God is just, but his is a patient justice. He will repay, but he offers mercy. In fact, our forbearance with others must be based upon the certainty of God’s justice (see Romans 12:19).

In some ways, it’s in our (fallen) nature to seek revenge. When we are injured, we want to nurture the internal wound until just the right moment to visit an equal or greater injury in return.

But as we practice forgiveness and reconciliation, fueled by the forgiveness we’ve received in Christ, the church can offer (and point to) a balm the world desperately needs. That balm is the very presence of God.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10)

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Banking on God’s Justice

What characteristic of God do you turn to for hope? Many people (with good reason) would mention his steadfast love. Others might point to his faithfulness or his sovereignty.

The author of Lamentations heads in a different direction. He banks on God’s justice.

God’s Justice and Control

We’ve already looked at the first half of Lamentations 3, so this article will focus on the second half of that chapter (Lamentations 3:34–66).

In verses 34–36 we read a list of things of which “the Lord does not approve.” Crushing prisoners, subverting lawsuits, and denying justice to people—God is utterly opposed to all of it.

One reason he can oppose these violations is that he is in control. No one can issue commands unless the Lord is behind it (verse 37). He brings both good and bad to those on earth (verse 38). Because he is just and sovereign, no one can claim ill treatment when they suffer punishment for their sins (verse 39).

Let Us Return to the Lord

We read something shocking in Lam 3:42: “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven.” We cannot bear to think of God not forgiving!

The order in this passage is crucial. The poet sees the surrounding destruction and devastation as evidence that God has not forgiven. This is the reason the people must return to the Lord! The author is NOT saying, we have returned and God has not forgiven. No—the abundant evidence of God’s anger is the reason the people must turn back to their Sovereign Lord. Because God has not forgiven, we must return!

God uses dramatic tactics to get through to his people. He pursues and kills them (verse 43). They cannot pray (verse 44). Their enemies taunt and destroy them (Lam 3:46–47). The people are panicking (verse 47). The author weeps uncontrollably because of the pitiful state of God’s people in Jerusalem (verses 48, 49, 51). The only relief from this sorrow will come when the Lord sees and takes notice of those who are broken-hearted (verse 50).

I’ve seen this truth in my life and I’ll bet you have too. We long for pleasant, peaceful times, but it is far too easy in those calm waters to forget God altogether. When the skies darken and the waves are high—then we realize we are not in charge, we are not self-sufficient. That shock brings us to our senses so that we soberly seek the Lord. In fact, that image of sobriety and inebriation is a little too accurate: prosperity and comfort often bring about a hedonistic stupor and a cloud of self-deception. This is why there are so many warnings about wealth in the Bible and why God uses suffering and sorrow to bring his people back to himself.

What does such a return to the Lord look like? It must include self-examination (verse 40) and confession of sin (verse 42). Genuine repentance occurs on the level of both affections and actions (“hearts and hands,” verse 41).

God Has Taken Up My Cause

The author of Lamentations writes more personally in verses 52–66. It seems he suffered much in his physical body (verses 52–54).

A wonderful story unfolds in this brief discourse! The author called on the name of the Lord (verse 55) and the Lord heard this cry (verse 56). God not only heard, but he came near and calmed the poet’s fears (verse 57). Let’s not rush past the kindness and mercy of God in this response—meeting this man in “the depths of the pit” and with just the reassurance he needed.

The author now uses God’s past response as fuel for future prayer. He knows God has taken up his cause (verse 58) and has seen all the violence of his enemies against him (verses 59–60). God has heard their taunts and their plots (verse 61). Because God is just, because he is in control, and because he has already come near, the author of Lamentations can ask the Lord to judge his cause (verse 59).

The poet has confidence that God will do exactly this, that he will repay his enemies (verse 64), curse them (verse 65), pursue them and destroy them (verse 66). God had been pursuing the Israelites (verse 43) in an effort to turn them back to himself. Now, according to his promise, God will pursue the enemies of Israel. The author hopes in the Lord because the Lord is, among other things, perfectly just.

Our Hope Also Lies in God’s Justice

Like the Israelites stuck in Jerusalem after the siege, our hope is tied to God’s justice. (It does not depend on his justice alone, but without God’s justice our hope crumbles.)

Christians believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he really took our sins upon himself. And because God is just, even though Jesus was perfect, those sins of ours demanded punishment. Our hope that we will not suffer judgment for our sins lies in the fact that God dealt with them—perfectly, finally—in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.

Additionally, when we grieve injustices in this world, we can still have hope. We can (and should) work for temporal justice for our neighbors near and far. And we can trust that God will deal with all sins according to his eternal justice.

God is kind. He is holy. He is patient and good and unchanging. He is also just, and his justice means that everything will be set right in the end. You can bank on that!

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How to Find Hope When Hope Has Perished

The book of Lamentations is not dripping with hope. I suspect many avoid the book because it seems so dreary and somber.

But there is hope for God’s people in Lamentations.

My Hope is Gone

Chapter 3 in Lamentations takes a different turn than chapter 1 or chapter 2. God’s judgment earlier was corporate, focused on Israel as a people. In chapter 3, things get personal.

Instead of mourning the destruction of the city or the loss of the temple, now the writer cries out at God’s attacks on his person. God has broken his bones (verse 4), made him dwell in darkness (verse 6), given him heavy chains (verse 7), and even shut out his prayer (verse 8). God is like a lion or a bear hiding in wait for him (verse 10); the writer is a target for God’s arrows (verses 12, 13).

In the start of this chapter, we have an inversion of the way we usually think about God on the side of his people. This writer sees God’s hand against him (verse 3), and instead of protection and joy God has brought him bitterness and tribulation (verse 5). This sorrowful cry escalates until his soul is bereft of peace and he has forgotten what happiness is (verse 17). At the peak of the lament, the writer confesses that both his endurance and his hope have perished (verse 18). Bleak, indeed!

This may seem like an off-limits prayer. Earlier chapters were filled with complaints about the state of the people and city after God brought judgment. Here the writer trims away all of the decorations and strips it down to this crushing truth: God has done terrible things to me.

I Will Yet Hope

The wonderful, memorable verses from Lamentations 3 must be read against this harsh background. What does a person of God do when hope has perished?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21–24)

The key to our understanding and application of verses 22–24 is found in verse 21. How do we harvest hope from a hopeless situation? We don’t. We remind ourselves (“call to mind”) of what is true that we cannot see.

Lamentations shows us that hope does not come from a change of circumstances. Rather, it comes from what you know to be true despite the situation in front of you. In other words, you live through suffering by what you believe, not by what you see or feel. (Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, page 110)

We look around and witness devastation, we feel God’s arrows pointing at our necks, but we know he is full of mercy. We know—from our own experiences walking with him and from countless episodes in the Bible—that God’s steadfast love never ceases. He is so, so faithful—great is his faithfulness!

How wonderful: God’s mercies are new every morning! This doesn’t mean that his mercies are different from one day to the next. Rather, his mercies are fresh every time the sun rises.

Right now is a good time to plan how you will call to mind what is needed. We store and practice and prepare now for the desperate times later. Reading and memorizing the Bible are more than appropriate disciplines here, but so is something like gathering stories of God’s faithfulness from your own life and the lives of others. Ask your friends to remind you how faithful and loving God is. Christian biographies can also be a good source of stories about God’s faithfulness.

Seeking the Lord in Hope

The first half of Lamentations 3 ends with instruction on how to seek the Lord in hope. The punch line here may not be what you’d like to see, but it is anchored in God’s character.

The author tells us, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). Among other things, this means that seeking the Lord may involve more than waiting, but it does not involve less. As much as it grates against our human impulses, we must wait on the Lord. This is a good practice for God’s people to learn even from their youth (verse 27).

Why can we wait? Why can we rebuke our flesh when it insists that things must happen right now? Soak in the beautiful answer found in Lam 3:31-33. God may cause grief to his people, but that is not what makes his heart beat (verse 33). He “will not cast off forever” (verse 31); “he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (verse 32).

With the author of Lamentations, we must return to the theme of God’s steadfast love. His steadfast love is the grounds for our hope; his Son Jesus has secured our hope.

While the author of Lamentations felt the judgment of God personally for his transgressions, Jesus felt the judgment of God personally for our transgressions. Jesus suffered, cried out, and waited on the Lord—all for us. He hoped that God would raise him from the dead to new life. And that same new life awaits those who follow this same suffering, steadfast, risen king. This is the real hope everyone needs.

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Prayerlessness Springs From Pride

Pride is a sneaky, pervasive, elemental sin.

Pride gives birth to many sins and obstructs many godly pursuits. In this article, we’ll consider the ways our pride disrupts our prayer life.

ACTS of Prayer

When we are proud, we feel we are enough. And when we feel we are enough, we don’t think we need God. I read the phrase “prayerlessness springs from pride” earlier this year in a fine Michael Reeves book, and it struck me as profoundly true.

In my early days as a Christian I learned the ACTS acronym to help me pray: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Pride interrupts each of these aspects of prayer.

Adoration

When we think too highly of ourselves, we tend not to think highly of others. With inflated perspectives on our abilities and importance, we don’t notice the skills or positions of others. And this includes the way we think of God.

When we are filled with pride, God’s perfections, his power, his goodness, and his immortality are far from our minds. Our self-exaltation crowds out the acknowledgment of God’s rightful place on the throne.

Confession

If we focus on our goodness and rightness, we are not as aware of God’s laws or our transgressions. As pride increases, conviction decreases, and we slide further down the road that sin paves.

We may mention—either in private prayer or during corporate worship—familiar, long-standing sins. But this is usually done out of habit, half-heartedly, not out of a sense of offending a holy God.

Thanksgiving

When we are consumed with our achievements and convinced of our worth and talent, we don’t think much about what we receive from the Lord.

If we see everything good in our lives as something earned—instead of as a gift—we won’t return much thanks to God.

Supplication

A proud person is not in touch with their poverty and powerlessness, so they are not aware of just how much they need from the Lord. Jesus commends prayer for daily bread, even for those with a full pantry.

We need the Lord’s sustaining grace in both the physical and spiritual realms. We need God’s loving, fatherly discipline; we need his wisdom; we need his protection. And yet, pride blinds us from these needs and blocks us from asking.

Fighting Through Pride to Pray

I’ve often attributed my prayerlessness to busyness. But saints through the years have seen that for the lie it is. Martin Luther famously said that he was so busy the following day he’d need to devote even more time (three hours!) to prayer.

I think Michael Reeves is right—our lack of prayer burbles up from the spring of a proud heart. This means that one of the ways we protect and cultivate a rich prayer life is to battle against our pride.

This article doesn’t have the space for a full strategy to war against pride, but here’s one tactic that has helped me: Read and memorize God-exalting parts of the Bible.

When we fall into pride we start to believe we are independent, that we can function just fine without God or anyone else. This is, of course, a flagrant and laughable lie. But it is a lie our flesh loves, so we need to read and absorb the truth. God is the only independent being in the universe, and we (along with all creation) are completely dependent on him. There are many good places in Scripture to turn for this help, but I find myself returning to Job 38–41.

Prayer as a Weather-vane

If your prayer life is evaporating, pride may be the reason. The specific ways we drift from God can serve as weather-vanes, pointing to the ill winds blowing through our hearts.

This may sound like an article full of bad news. Identifying sin is painful and embarrassing, and repenting of sin is terribly difficult. But if you are in Christ, there is always, always good news.

The fact that you are aware of this pride in your life is not a sign of God’s anger toward you. Just the opposite! It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). If God shows you pride in your heart, it is a sign of his love for and commitment to you.

So don’t stay away from your Heavenly Father. Embrace your dependence on him, turn away from your pride, and pray.

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The Lord Has Become Like an Enemy

Most Christians don’t have a problem seeing God’s hand in the blessings of life. Give us a new job, a narrowly-avoided accident, or an energizing time with a friend and we’re eager to point to God as the giver.

It’s harder for us to see God bringing difficulty our way. How can we attribute bad circumstances to a good God?

The author of Lamentations did not have this modern problem. As he sits in the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem, he knows for a fact that God has done every bit of it.

So Much Devastation

The poet of Lamentations 2 looks around and sees his city destroyed. And though Babylon is directly responsible for the fires and the rubble, he knows this is God’s work.

God has “broken down” the defenses of the city (Lam 2:2) and “cut down” its might (Lam 2:3). He has “swallowed up all its palaces” and “laid in ruin its strongholds” (Lam 2:5).

Even the destruction of the temple can be traced back to the Lord. God “laid in ruin his meeting place” (Lam 2:6). He has “scorned his altar” and “disowned his sanctuary.” He delivered this holy building “into the hand of the enemy” and they “raised a clamor in the house of the Lord” (Lam 2:7).

Through this work, God was not removed. He was angry. In the first ten verses of this chapter alone, notice the words that describe God’s posture toward his people: anger, fury, burned, killed, without mercy.

At one point it must have seemed unthinkable for God to stand against his people like this. But now, “the Lord has become like an enemy” (Lam 2:5). The author does not take the easy road, writing that God allowed this or that tragedy. No, God “did not restrain his hand from destroying” (Lam 2:8).

This chapter contains some of the most vivid, forceful, specific language in the Bible about God’s judgment on Israel. If the prayer of Lamentations 1 could be summarized as Look at what has happened to us, then chapter 2 takes a harsh turn: Look what you have done to us!

Reasons for Judgment

We don’t have a detailed list of the sins of Israel in this short book. But chapter 2 offers a few details.

The prophets have failed the people. They have seen “false and deceptive visions.” They “have not exposed” the people’s iniquity, but have instead spoken “oracles that are false and misleading” (Lam 2:14).

In his response, God has not acted out of character or against his promise. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word which he commanded long ago” (Lam 2:17).

The Response to Judgment

This chapter is filled with weeping and lament. Here we have a profound example: We can mourn our circumstances to the Lord even when God is the one who brought about our mournful circumstances.

It is not wrong—in fact, it is deeply right—to cry out to the Lord in the midst of pain and tragedy that are the result of God’s judgment.

The repeated prayer in Lamentations 1 is a request for the Lord to see the poet. That is also the author’s main request in this chapter: “Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus?” (Lam 2:20)

But now the request to be noticed acknowledges God’s hand in the devastation. The end of this verse captures the layers of grief, surprise, and horror: “Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?” (Lam 2:20)

While few of our hardships can be traced with certainty to our guilt, all suffering exists because of the fall of humanity into sin. This chapter helps us understand that crying out to God is good, even in the midst of judgment. How much more, therefore, is it good for us to lament when we are not necessarily directly to blame?

The Laments of Jesus

Because God is just, sin must be judged. And for every Christian, this is what Jesus accomplished. His sufferings were greater than those of the residents of fallen Jerusalem. His agony was deeper than we could imagine. In the unthinkable way that God became like an enemy to his people, God confronted Jesus as he was “made sin” in his final hours (2 Cor 5:21).

On the cross, our Lord lamented being forsaken by God (Matt 27:46). He could just as easily have cried, “With whom have you dealt thus?” (Lam 2:20)

Called to be Lamenting People

The white, western church is deeply uncomfortable with lament. Our calls to worship, our songs, our congregational prayers bear little resemblance to Lamentations. Though we often suffer, we have swallowed the lie that our lives and our words to God should be nothing but celebration.

But it is good to grieve over sin and its consequences. In this way we agree with God—our broken world needs redemption.

As we turn to God, let’s acknowledge him as the good, sovereign king who justly brings consequences for sin. When we feel that sorrow, and when our neighbors bend under that same weight, we can bring this anguish to God.

He will hear. He will see.

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Tending a Fruitful Life

As spring makes its entrance, many of our minds turn toward gardens and flower beds. I am a terrible gardener, but I keep trying. Last year, I planted eight tomato plants. They grew tall and lush. They were beautifully green and suffered none of the yellowing and spots that have plagued other plants in my care. I was so excited! I could imagine the amazing flavor of my homegrown, heirloom tomatoes. I would slice them and layer them with mayo on sandwiches, or maybe I would sprinkle a little salt and eat them on my front porch like I did with my dad when I was little. They would be red, juicy, and sweet.

Alas, I harvested one, mediocre tomato. I don’t know with certainty what went wrong. I would be lying if I even began listing the reasons for my failure, but I know one thing that my tomato-keeping lacked. As a gardener, I lacked consistency. I watered my tomatoes, sometimes. I weeded my raised bed, sometimes. I hoped it rained enough. I hoped my netting would hold up to the deer. I did not always take the actions required to have a thriving, bounteous crop of tomatoes (or anything else for that matter).

Spiritual Fruit

Do you ever feel that way in your devotional life? If you are anything like me, you go through seasons when you read God’s word occasionally. You seek out spiritual instruction from godly teachers sporadically. You consult valuable commentaries on scripture inconsistently. You are not alone, friends. Many of us seem to be hoping that God’s word will be imparted to us through osmosis as our Bibles sit on our nightstands, unopened and collecting dust. We hope that being in a church while someone is preaching will give us a big enough dose of truth to get us through the week. Maybe if we sit there enough times, we will be nourished and quenched. Maybe we will thrive, and hopefully, the weeds of sin will wither.

Sorry, fruit doesn’t grow like that—neither tomatoes nor spiritual fruit. My tomato plants looked healthy. They had enough nutrients and water to get along okay. However, they only had enough of what plants need to put their energy toward growing green leaves. They did not have adequate resources to put energy toward growing fruit. As a follower of Christ, you can probably appear okay on a bare minimum. You might glean enough inconsistent nourishment to trudge through a tough season. After all, God is holding you tightly and seeking after you with persistence when you stray (not unlike a parent hanging on to a toddler at the zoo). His love can sustain you through all kinds of trials. 

Consistency is Key

Most of us do not want to simply appear alive. We want to live. We want to live in God’s presence, building toward a richer relationship and a more fruitful life for his glory. We don’t need perfection or greater intelligence or access to seminary-level courses every night of the week. We need consistency—consistent reading of the scriptures, consistent conversations with our brothers and sisters in Christ who push us to grow and to learn. We need to take hold of even short segments of our days and devote them to growing in the Lord instead of the 101 other possible uses of our time. 

I wouldn’t be the first wishful gardener who felt tempted by another fancy gadget or expensive plant food to solve my tomato problem. And I am well aware that the world is full of apps, cool journals, and Bible commentaries to try to solve the scripture-starved-Christian problem. These tools promise to make it easier to dig into God’s word and stay there. They may, indeed, be useful tools, but none of them will have the impact of simple consistency. For me, regular reminders to stop and sit for a time of devotions help establish a steady routine. I use alarms on my cell phone or Post It notes to signal a new habit. Sharing your plans with a spouse or friend can build useful accountability.

Beating ourselves up about shortcomings in our Bible study habits will not bring us any closer to the meaningful relationship with God that we desire, just as punishing myself for not tending my garden is not going to produce more crops. We tell ourselves that we need to work harder and push further in order to be good or valuable. Fortunately for us, God already knows our shortcomings, and a perfect record of daily devotions will not make us more worthy of his gift of salvation. Love is a greater motivator to create consistency than shame or other external reprimand will ever be. Desire God and then seek him in his word. He will meet you there.

Seeking a Harvest

If you are feeding yourself scripture on a consistent basis, fruit will grow. When you are filled up with the good nourishment of God-breathed truth, you will see the pesky weeds of sin and pluck those buggers right out. You and I will crave more of the Bible because time surrounded by God’s goodness whets our appetite for more of the same. Instead of the drive-by sprinkle of scripture at a short Sunday service, you will long to be doused in refreshing water from the source and linger in the flow. 

My poor tomato plants got some watering because rain happened to fall. They had some food because the soil harbored some nutrients on its own. However, with consistency and intention, I probably could have helped them produce a respectable crop. I am challenging myself to consistency this summer in my gardening and in my devotional life. Will you? I’ll keep you posted.

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Look and See, O Lord!

In the midst of any prolonged suffering, we feel a natural desire for relief. We want the pain to go away, the grief to recede, the devastation to subside.

But there’s an earlier, more fundamental need we have as humans in mourning. We want to be seen.

Lamentations

The book of Lamentations in the Bible is filled with urgent cries of agony. Assumed by many to be written by Jeremiah (though never identified internally this way), Lamentations is a book of five laments about the destruction of Jerusalem. As an agent of God’s judgment on his people for their sin, the nation of Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. After destroying the temple and much of the city, the Babylonians led most of the residents away to captivity.

This was a heartbreaking, disastrous situation for all Israelites. The prayers recorded in the book of Lamentations were written by one of the people left behind, and they were used in Jewish worship services for decades afterward. These prayers are filled with loss and anguish, and they teach us as God’s people how to process grief in his presence.

Requests in Lamentations 1

lament is a genre of prayer found in the Bible which usually contains complaints, requests, and expressions of trust in the Lord. Not all of these ingredients are found in all laments, but most laments include at least two of these elements.

It’s not hard to find the complaints in the first chapter of Lamentations—they’re everywhere. This is easy to understand, as the city and temple have been leveled. All that the Jewish people knew and held dear was reduced to rubble.

The requests in this chapter are more scarce. In fact, before the last two verses, there is only one petition I see, and it appears three times.

“O Lord, behold my affliction”

In verse 9, the author writes, “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!”

The Israelites have “sinned grievously” (verse 8) and Jerusalem has fallen in a public and embarrassing way (verses 8–9). There is no one to comfort her (verse 9). The Lord “has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (verse 5).

“Look, O Lord, and see”

In Lamentations 1:11, we read, “Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.”

The nations have entered unlawfully into the Lord’s sanctuary and have taken “precious things” (verse 10). The people are starving, groaning as they search for bread (verse 11).

“Look, O Lord, for I am in distress”

In verse 20, we read, “Look, O Lord, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious.”

The Lord has “inflicted” sorrow in his “fierce anger” (verse 12). The author writes in detail of the painful physical judgment God has brought on his people (verses 13–15). There has been no one to give comfort (verses 16, 17).

A Desire to be Noticed

As painful as suffering can be, loneliness amplifies this hardship. Agony is more acute when it is held in private and not seen or acknowledged by others.

Here is the root of these requests. Before asking for relief or deliverance or restoration, the author of Lamentations wants to be seen by the Lord.

This is something we should be praying for ourselves and our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ: “Look, O Lord, and see!”

Jesus, Our Lamenter

The book of Lamentations is bleak territory. With some minor exceptions, it doesn’t feel hopeful. I’d wager no verses from Lamentations 1 appear on a Hallmark card.

And yet, when we understand how all of the Scriptures point to Jesus, there is much we can learn from this rich book.

The author of Lamentations understands the connections. God is holy and the people have rebelled. So God has brought the judgment for sin he promised. The people are lamenting because they are suffering the consequences of their sin.

This probably doesn’t sound like Jesus yet, but remember what he screamed on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)

Jesus knew the pain of judgment for sin. He knew loneliness. He knew what it was like to look in vain for comfort. Piped through the right speakers, Jesus’s cry on the cross sounds a lot like “Look, O Lord, and see!”

If you are a child of God, Jesus has suffered and lamented for you. Jesus is evidence that God has looked and seen!

Do Unto Others

We can now lament—even more fully than the author of Lamentations—because we have a lamenting Savior. Christians have the comfort of the Holy Spirit because, for a time, Jesus was without comfort.

We know how vital it is to be seen and noticed, to have our pain recognized and named. Entering into the full suffering of humanity, Jesus knew the same, so we have a sympathetic advocate in heaven when we pray.

The application for us toward our friends and neighbors here is obvious. We must learn to notice and acknowledge the suffering of others. We can lament on their behalf, asking God to look and see and comfort.

When we encounter our neighbors’ grief, it may be raw and wild. We don’t need to offer advice or platitudes; often our presence is enough.

And a lament to God for our neighbors—with our neighbors—may point more persuasively to Jesus than a sermon could.

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The Good News of the Ascension of Jesus

“Do not cling to me.”

This can’t be the reception Mary Magdalene was expecting when she encountered the resurrected Jesus.

Mary had been weeping outside Jesus’ tomb. You can imagine her distress, having just watched her dear friend suffer a humiliating, grisly death. Now his body was missing.

Jesus walked up to her while she investigated the empty tomb. Mary initially thought he was the gardener, but when Jesus spoke her name, she recognized him! She called out, in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16).

But instead of an embrace or some other warm gesture, Jesus was much more direct:

“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

Read in the wrong light, this sounds cold, almost cruel. But in this statement, Jesus reveals his focus on his Father and also provides hope for Mary and the other disciples.

Jesus Longed for His Ascension

As you read through the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, you’ll find that Jesus focused much more on his ascension than we do. By “ascension,” I’m referring to Jesus’ bodily return to heaven after his resurrection (see Luke 24:50–51 and Acts 1:9–11).

In John 20, Jesus didn’t want Mary to think he’d be on earth forever. He didn’t want her to get attached to his resurrected form. There was still work to do.

We think of Jesus’ work for us in three distinct categories: his life, death, and resurrection. But Jesus would have us add his ascension as a fourth category. And there’s no doubt this was his most anticipated work.

The Ascension Is Relational

Jesus loved his Father and longed for a reunion.

  • Jesus says to his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
  • “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28).
  • Jesus prays to his Father, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).

Before his incarnation, Jesus enjoyed perfect fellowship in the immediate presence of God the Father. This is what he longed to reclaim, and it’s one reason the ascension was so important to him.

In his ascension, he would experience the unbroken presence of his Father.

Don’t miss the fact that Jesus’ ascension was a bodily ascension. This matters! It means that in the incarnation Jesus took on and identified with the human body for all time. It also means that, as the head of the new humanity, Jesus shows us the destination of the redeemed: to be with God, bodily, forever (see Revelation 21:3).

This destination should shape our longings. When our aspirations or goals are dashed, when we experience pain in body or soul, we can lift our eyes to our final home. The new heavens and the new earth await, and we will dwell with God!

The Ascension Is Functional

Though Jesus wanted the heavenly reunion that his ascension would accomplish, he also had work to do. In his ascension, Jesus accomplished and began several vital tasks for our salvation.

Jesus is coronated as King.

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). The Old Testament background for the title “Son of God” (see Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7) makes it clear that this title has a royal meaning. By his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the king!

If the resurrection declared Jesus to be King, then the ascension functions as his coronation ceremony. It was important that his disciples saw him depart, ascending to his throne, knowing he would return in the same fashion.

For more support of this function of the ascension, note the following:

  • Jesus has conquered and sat down with his Father on his throne (Revelation 3:21), where he is praised (Revelation 5:6–14).
  • Peter says that God made Jesus Lord, sitting at his right hand until his enemies are his footstool (Acts 2:34–36). This is the language of a king.
  • Paul writes that Jesus must reign (like a king!) until he has put all enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit.

We begin to learn what the ascension means when we consider what we would lose if it never happened. Here’s a huge implication: If Jesus never ascended, his followers would never have received the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Let’s not underestimate the sending of the Spirit! Because of the Spirit, we have the conversions at Pentecost, the growth and expansion of the early church, and the Bible. If the Spirit were not sent, you and I would not be Christians!

Jesus is our heavenly high priest.

Jesus’ ascension also takes him to a place of great importance. He is now at the Father’s right hand, and his ongoing work there is vital.

  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true high priest for his people. He “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus brings his people to God for true deliverance and salvation.
  • Jesus is also our heavenly advocate. He reminds his Father of his sacrifice for sin and holds our status as sons and daughters before God. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
  • Jesus transcended physical limitations in his ascension. Though he keeps his human body forever, Jesus is now able to listen, rule, and heal without the familiar time and space restrictions we know.

What the Ascension Means for Us

The ascension of Jesus is a glorious fact that has scores of implications for his people. Here are a few:

Assurance

As our high priest, Jesus sat down at God’s right hand, indicating that his work of sacrifice is done (Hebrews 10:11–12). Our standing with God doesn’t depend on our actions or our emotions, but on the finished work of Christ.

Confidence

The enthroned king has been given all power to rule, and this power is his to dispense to his church (see Ephesians 1:15–23). Nothing can stand in the way of God’s purposes, and he will accomplish them with power, often through us.

Hope

When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from earth, the note was joyous, not mournful. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). In this one verse, Jesus gives at least three reasons for hope.

He is preparing a place for us. He will come again. He will take us to be with him.

This is the destiny for those who, by God’s grace, call on Jesus in faith.

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