How do you encounter adversity? What has been your reaction to disappointment or struggle? Experience is a great teacher. It drives home the lessons that the Holy Spirit brings into our lives from God’s word, the Bible. Scripture and experience are two tools used by God to equip us for life. Heaven forbid that we should go through something and it be a wasted experience, producing no faith or reliance upon God.
A young woman named Anne Steele had encountered one trial and disappointment after another. Her mother died when she was three, and when she was nineteen she suffered a severe hip injury that left her an invalid. Eventually she fell in love and was engaged to be married, but the day before the wedding her fiancé drowned.
Later Anne Steele penned the following song:
“Father, whate’er of earthly bliss Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace, let this petition rise:
Give me a calm, a thankful heart, from every murmur free!
The blessings of Thy grace impart, and make me live to Thee.”
Suffering, when it comes to the humble and godly heart, teaches great lessons. We see the power of suffering in the Bible. For our lesson today, we turn to the book of Lamentations.
Lamentations is a poetic interpretation of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The term “lamentations” comes from the verb: “to cry aloud.” The overall gist of the book is that it is a series of cries, or “five melancholy poems of mourning over the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians,” according to Charles Ryrie.
But the third chapter shifts in its person, from third and second person usage to strictly first. J. Andrew Dearman states: “The emphasis of the previous two chapters on the tragic fate of Jerusalem is on the background of chapter three.; front and center is the travail of an individual.”
Look at these verses and discover some marvelous things about the God of the Bible. One thing is…
YOUR TRIALS MUST SERVE TO HUMBLE YOU.
Lamentations 3:19: “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.”
Dr. Ryrie also points out that the bulk of the book is written in what is known as a “limping meter, a cadence used in funeral dirges (which) is most appropriate for this lament over the destruction of Jerusalem.”
Incidentally, Jerusalem was destroyed twice in its history. In 586 BC by the Babylonians and again in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Therefore, the Jews read this book publicly once a year to commemorate both events. Our passage likely contains the most well-known verses from this book.
The book itself does not name its author but it is thought throughout church history that Jeremiah wrote it. The style is similar to the book of Jeremiah and 2 Chronicles 35:25 seems to indicate a Jeremiah connection. “Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments.”
Your trials are meant to bring pause to your life. They serve to remind you that you are limited in knowledge and ability. And that you are completely dependent upon God!
“For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” the Psalmist wrote.
Or as James 4:14 puts it: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In other words, you are not invincible. You need God!
ALTHOUGH YOU EXPERIENCE ADVERSITY, NEVER FORGET THAT YOUR GOD IS MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL.
Lamentations 3:21: “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.”
These verses tell us that the Lord is faithful. The Hebrew term of “compassion,” or “steadfast love” is the term “hesed.” It is translated: “abundant lovingkindness in other places such as Exodus 34.
God’s love is unlimited. And He presents them on a daily basis. It says His mercies are new every morning. The statement is not made from an emotional mountaintop experience but rather from the deepest valley. If you start in chapter 3, you’ll see the Jeremiah knows full well that God is judging Jerusalem and the people of Judah for their sins. He’s turned his ear away from their prayers. He has also turned his hand toward them, ready to smite them.
Contemporary thought renders God either unable or uncaring. There are those who hold on to an idea of an all-loving God that would never do anything but give you positive things. The other popular idea is of a God unable to judge, unable to speak, and unable to act. This God cannot act in the affairs of men and women.
But the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture is One who “…has mercy on whom He has mercy and hardens whom He hardens.” (Romans 9:18)
Remember that Jesus, reminded us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
But Jeremiah the third chapter teaches us that he disciplines those he loves. He is slow to anger and abundant and loving kindness. But there comes a time when he must act and he must judge. God performs discipline in our lives on a regular basis. The hardship that comes your way is meant to teach you. It is also designed to make your paths straight.
Every child who grows into adulthood and is successful, can recall a home life where he did not getting everything he wants, but rather all his needs were provided for and he is taught about God from the Scriptures.
John Chrysostom, the fourth century Church Father, stated:
“Afflictions are with us, whether young or old, rich or poor. One need only look at the lives of leaders or the wealthy to see that not even they are exempt from trials, but they only benefit from them if they learn from these trials.”
You listen to your betterment. Your adversity is not meant to be experienced for selfish reasons.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR TRIALS, BUT USE THEM FOR MINISTRY, SERVING GOD AND OTHERS.
The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3:
“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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
What’s also important to understand is everything that we might encounter comes from God‘s hand. Such things are meant to equip you to help others. You are blessed in all your afflictions because He is a God of mercy. He gives us the ability to comfort others in their afflictions, when we are afflicted first.
Some might argue that what is described in Lamentations 3 is what Jesus endured during his passion. Jesus experienced suffering. Paul did too. In fact, most of the apostles died a martyr’s death. Such a view is presented in in the hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane,” penned by the 18th century Moravian minister James Montgomery:
“Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of Him to bear the cross.”
Remember that trials serve to humble you; that God is faithful orchestrating your life in His mercy; and that your experiences are not to be selfish in nature, but are meant to be utilized in your own personal ministry.
It has been said that diamonds are formed under great pressure and heat. If these conditions do not exist, they are simply not formed. It is not that they will be low quality, or smaller in size, but they will not form. God brings His refining fire into our lives to create in us what He sees fit. When He sees our lack of character, He will bring into our lives what we need. So next time a fiery trial comes, thank God. He is producing exactly what He knows you need in your life. The only difference between a diamond and a piece of coal is pressure.