Week 40: A time to lament

Readings for the week: Psalm 116-117, Jeremiah 40-52LamentationsPsalm 118, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, thank you for this day, for the possibilities it contains, for the hope I have in you.  There’s a lot of bumps these days and things I wish I knew how to fix, but my hope isn’t in my own wisdom or my ability to have everything under control.  My hope is in you.  May you fill me this day and remind me throughout this week that you are seeking my best, that you love me. May I have discernment to know when I’m being disciplined, so need to change something, and when I’m being attacked, so need to keep pressing on.  Either way, you’re my hope and my light, so I turn to you in prayer for all that I’m struggling with. I pray for those I know who are struggling, may you be with them in their concerns and may you give me wisdom to know how I can best come alongside them. May I see you ever more clearly this week and be attentive to the whispers of the Spirit at each moment. Thank you for all you have done and for all you are doing!  Amen.

1. Psalm 116-117

2. Reading through Jeremiah 40-52

When life is rough, it’s natural to look for answers anywhere we can find them.  Where do we look? We look to those who are doing well, who have it all together, who are successful in the ways we want to be successful. Or at least have some extra funds that they can make possible what seems impossible for us. Making things possible. That’s the dream, right?  Getting out under the thumb of our boss, our problems, our everyday frustrations that aren’t too bad in isolation but day after day, year after year, “will you turn that music down?!”

When life gets really bad, when everyone we know is stuck or broken or worse, we get to thinking there’s no hope at all.  Better to leave, start somewhere new, find whatever help we can get.  It’s about survival.

The challenge comes when it just seems like survival, when we’ve gotten so broken down by life that we start giving into panic.  Panic causes all sorts of problems.

In these chapters, we see the expression of panic.  People want a way out, a way to freedom, a new start on their terms. Some try to flee. Some times panic is expressed in violence, an attempt to put right what seems out of control.  These chapters in Jeremiah don’t exactly offer a lot of positive news, there’s a lot of judgment and God is not done disciplining.

Even still, the message is clear, “Don’t Panic.”

That may not stand out right away, especially in the stiff phrasing of prophecy.  It’s not an easy read, to be sure, like sitting in the room while someone is getting scolded (to say the least!).  But it isn’t just a message for a small group of people. This was written down for a reason. It tells of God’s work, it tells of God’s mission, it shows us what happens when we try to betray God.  These are important lessons even still.

Don’t panic. And even in judgment, don’t lose faith, because while the hope may seem dim, the only hope is still in God, not in those other directions, from those other people who look like they have it all together.

God is not just the God of Israel, after all. He’s not narrow in his concerns or limited in his reach. That’s often forgotten. We try to make some boundaries around ethics or expectations. God doesn’t do that. He’s inviting Israel into his mission, yes, but he’s also paying attention to the rest. He may even use them for his purposes, but that doesn’t excuse them.  The arrogance, the violence, the injustice, it’s all bringing a reckoning.

Don’t turn to them for help because they’re not as free and clear as they look.

That’s the funny thing about the Bible. Every time we get to saying, “Aha!” to someone or some group, the spot light turns.

Be patient. Trust in God. Be obedient. If life is full of troubles, don’t panic and seek help in ways that aren’t of God.

Life can be hard. The way of hope is continuing to walk with God. Walking any other way makes it even harder.  That’s not a hugely encouraging message, I know, but sometimes it’s the right message and the timely message when it’s very tempting to panic and act out in anger, despair, distractions.

It’s a good reminder to me these days when there seems to be a lot going wrong. Okay God, I won’t panic. I’ll trust.

3. Reading Through Lamentations

We all know that person–or maybe we are that person–who is uncomfortable when people share all that’s going wrong.  The well-meaning person might gently correct them and say, “Have faith,” or such religious sounding words. Or when someone is sick, or has died, saying something like “God is in charge and be thankful.”  They’re uncomfortable with mourning, uncomfortable with honesty about the hurt or frustrations, because they think that to talk about these things is defying God.  We takes messages of faith and use these to judge people or silence them.  Then the hurt remains and the frustrations fester.

While maybe well-meaning, this isn’t a Biblical approach. There’s freedom in Scripture to be honest.  Faith doesn’t mean we have to be idealistic or artificial.  It doesn’t mean putting on our smiley face and acting like all is fine. Faith is trust, trust that God is in control and that God can bring relief. That’s where honesty comes in and is a crucial partner to faith.  The biggest testimony of the Gospels, after all, is that Jesus died. That’s scandalous!  That’s foolishness!  How can we say that Jesus is who he said he is and also say that he died!  That’s what happened.  He died, he suffered well before that, because sin abounds, and evil had its way. That wasn’t the end of the story, however.

In Lamentations, the author gives us the story of suffering and death and isolation. We know–because we’ve read what comes before–that Israel had all kinds of opportunity and invitation to walk with God. They didn’t do it. God said that if they kept doing wrong, they would be disciplined. They kept doing it. God sent prophets to remind and exhort them to get back in tune with God. Instead, they picked different music altogether. So, God is faithful to himself, he does what he says he will do.  He was patient, and then stepped in.

Life became very, very bad.

Lamentations is written in the midst of this.

But it’s not a book about rejecting God, or dismissing God, or even a book about losing faith. That’s the brilliance of it, and what is shocking.

We are reading Lamentations now, with all its hurt, and pain, and mourning, because that wasn’t the end of the story.  Lamentations is the middle chapter of the big story God is writing. It’s the fall of the mighty, the brokenness, the act where what was possible now seems impossible. But the writer isn’t given up nor is the writer putting on an artificial front. Life is very bad.  Life has gotten more difficult than could possibly be imagined. That’s not complaint, that’s objective truth.

Where faith comes in is in not letting these disasters define the future.  In this case, Israel brought on the punishment. In other cases we read about, life becomes impossible because of the sins of others. Either way, the tendency is to give up, to curse God as Job’s wife told him to do. But like Job, we can be honest, we can be brutally and shockingly honest, about our circumstances while still having faith. Faith is hope that God isn’t done, and that God’s bigger promise–salvation–is still possible, because for God all things are possible.

As you read through Lamentations, take note of those glimmers of faith and hope that peek out every so often, like a ray of sunshine between storm clouds.  See how the writer lays out the circumstances and pleads for salvation–they need help even though they don’t deserve it.   This hope isn’t in earning or in performance, it’s a hope in God’s love.

What are you dealing with this week?  This month? Tell God about it. Pray for wisdom and counsel about how to keep pressing on. Most of all, in being honest also be honest about who God is and what God is capable of doing. Don’t suppress the mourning or repress the anger or disguise the distress. Let it out.  Invite the Spirit into your concerns and hear the words of hope that God is sending your way.  It’s in the honesty that God really speaks. In giving testimony along the way, even when things are the darkest, we make a marker of the journey that we can look back on in celebrating God’s faithfulness.

Or to sum this up in quick way: Be honest. Have hope.

4. Psalm 114-115


5. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.

I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

Since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage.

It helps to share as we learn from each other.

Our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.