When It Gets Raw

Jeff Endurance, Perserverance, Prayer

A few years back, I shared a message of comfort from the book of Lamentations with the people of Meadow Baptist Church.  I called that message “A Strange Place For Praise” because it features some of the most beautiful statements on the character of God that you will find anywhere in your Old Testament – that’s the praise part.  The strange-place part is found in the context of what was going on when Jeremiah spoke those recorded words.  He was speaking at at the bottoming-out point of his life.  He wasn’t imagining things, as it could not have been any worse for him, and his words don’t try to cover up the raw reality of what was happening to him at that moment in his life.  Israel was suffering as a nation because they had forsaken God. Jeremiah had not forsaken God, mind you, but his fellow Israelites by-and-large certainly had.  God had warned Israel that punishment was coming, and it finally found them in the form of a surrounding Babylonian army who had cut them off from food, water and any chance of escape.  Jeremiah and Israel were trapped behind city walls and the clock was ticking – it was only a matter of time before the bitter end came to Jerusalem.  Jeremiah, in those words I shared that night, removes from us the false notion that believers in the will of God never suffer.  He truly suffered, and he did not pretend it was anything less than anguish to his soul.  He was a godly believer, faithful to his Lord, pressing in to Yahweh while most around him were living in rebellion. Jeremiah was a believer battling fear, depression and hopelessness. Here’s a sample of how he described things at that time from Lamentations 3:1-20:

Verses 1-3: Jeremiah was severely afflicted, believing he was under the rod of God’s anger, experiencing emotional darkness without any light; feeling that the hand of God against him
Verses 4-6: Enduring physical malnourishment coupled with physical pain; trapped in bitter & troubling circumstances; existing in darkness like one of the living dead
Verses 7-9: trapped with no escape; incarcerated with heavy chains; receiving no response to his continuous prayers; God seemingly resisting Jeremiah’s pleas for deliverance
Verses 10-13: God seemed to be a predator to Jeremiah; it felt like God was opposing him like some bear lying in wait or a lion in hiding; Jeremiah felt targeted by his own God as he said that God had “turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; He has made me desolate; He bent his bow and set me as a target for His arrow.”
Verses 14-16: Jeremiah, God’s faithful prophet, endured public humiliation, resulting in his further bitterness of soul
Verses 17-20: He completely lost his sense of peace; he forgot what happiness was; he could not go on any further, he lost all sense of direction and he has given up in his soul.

 

Now that is a pretty raw expression of Jeremiah’s awful plight and resulting depression. This level of darkness may not be the everyday norm for God’s children, but it can certainly be our experience at times. The truth is, to be a true overcomer we must first be under-goers. Jeremiah had to undergo the pit before he knew the mountain. He knew much about the injustice of persecution and the soul-wrenching experience of feeling abandoned by God. Yet sandwiched in the middle of all these raw verses from Lamentations 3 shines the following gems:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come 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. 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.” – Lamentations 3:22-26 {ESV}

I love the fact that here is biblical precedent and permission for the children of God to be open and raw about their pain, and to validate that true praise can follow our seasons of deep doubt and confusion about what God is doing in our lives.  Even if we are not accurate in our own assessment of what is happening to us, we are permitted to let our cries loose and to welcome God to hear them.  For true believers there will be indescribably powerful grace that will actually draw us more intimately into our experience and understanding of the Lord… even if we fear and feel that it is He Himself who has come against us.  The grace offered to Jeremiah resulted in His agony turning into doxology.  There are days when you must wait for this same thing to occur in your life.  I extend to you no magic pill, passed out like communion wafers, with a prescription of how to make it all better.  I offer you instead the example of godly Jeremiah who was transparent enough to declare how helpless, forgotten and abandoned he felt while still holding onto the foundational confidence that his God was great, glorious and good.  He would overcome.

If you could ask Jeremiah today he would tell you that he did not end up disappointed.  Neither will you.