Hope When We Hurt

One of the flaws of modern church, modern worship, and much modern writing is that we have no category for pain. We will acknowledge, from a distance, that sometimes people hurt. But, in the main, when we think of the Christian life, it is often presented as a happy, successful, progressively better experience. As the sappy old hymn declares, Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

But, is every day better than the last? Do we progress from happy to happy, from better to better, with seldom a bump in the road? This is not the real experience of many a Christian. So what do we do?

The book of Lamentations is one of those books we seldom see quoted. It is dark and tear-filled. Jeremiah the prophet has witnessed the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. He has wept over the brutality of the Babylonians as they came in and crushed Judah. And, in truth, there is little to offer comfort at present. The nation will be captive for 70 years, and nothing Jeremiah will do will change that.

Look at what Jeremiah writes, seeing both his sorrow and his hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 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.

Jeremiah’s soul is bowed down. He hurts. He is grieving deeply. His heart is pumping the bitterest poison into his soul. What does he do? Does he pretend it is not there? Nope. Does he pretend every little thing is going to be just fine? Nope. Does he pretend that harshness and evil have not overtaken the land? Nope.

But Jeremiah finds hope in one truth: 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.”

Life hurts. God is still good. Our world can crumble. God is faithful. Our lives may fall apart. God will never leave us or forsake us. We may fail. God has new mercies.

Great is thy faithfulness only works when we see it in the light of our own dark, hurtful, overwhelmed world. Life hurts us deeply. Life pumps poison into our hearts from time to time. God is faithful. God cares. God knows.

In truth, in the Son of God, we know that he has experienced this. Jesus lived perfectly, and suffered greatly. He was mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, beaten, betrayed, and condemned. Jesus truly received in justice. And he knew his Father was still faithful. Even as he breathed his last, the Savior could say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

You might take a moment to argue that this is not fair. Jesus knew that he would die and then rise again. And I would say to you, “Exactly!” If you are a believer, so will you. Your hope for comfort comes in two places. The mercies of the Lord and the sustaining power of his Spirit are with us now, renewed day by day. And we too will die and rise again in Christ. We too have eternal hope of eternal joy. Jeremiah says it is good for us to hope in and wait in the salvation of the Lord. It will come, in this life or the next. And that is our hope. We do not gain anything by pretending pain is not real. But we gain much by realizing that God is good, that God’s glory is eternal, that resurrection is our hope, and that we will see glory because of God’s great faithfulness.

Where Is Your Mind Stayed?

Anxiety, fear, even depression are common issues among modern people. One might think that with the rise of technology, the prevalence of medications, and the ubiquity of mental health language, we would be a people who are the happiest and healthiest ever. But, in truth, we as a society are as frightened and miserable as any generation before us.

The reasons for this are many. Modern psychologists have a faulty understanding of humanity. They miss the significance of what it means to be created by God or to sin against that God. They also miss the comforting concept of the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, or the promise of eternity. And so the psychological community continues to try to work people through exercises and medications to be able to limp into the future.

But the word of God is clear that there is something else that brings peace to the mind of a child of God. And it is not a modern, atheistic, psychological technique.

Isaiah 26:3

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.

Who is in peace? The one kept by God is at peace. Why is she at peace? Her mind is stayed on the Lord. Why is he stayed on the Lord? He trusts in the Lord.

Friends, when our souls are not at peace, our first test needs to be one of where our minds are stayed. Where do you let your mind go? Where do you let your thoughts rest? Is your mind centered on the truth of the Lord and his promise of eternity? Or is your mind centered on the things you fear might come, the things you are afraid could happen?

Many people have told us not to borrow trouble from the future. Jesus himself warned us at the end of Matthew 6 that to worry about the future is a gentile activity. But those who truly consider the Lord and truly believe, they find their minds comforted and their hearts at peace.

Have your minds stayed on the Lord. Make the truth of God the center of your thoughts, and do not let your thoughts move away from that truth. This is where the rubber hits the road in dealing with anxiety. Is the Lord we claim to serve real? Is he capable? Is he good? Are his promises true? Do we understand that any earthly outcome is tolerable in the light of eternity? Do we understand that God will do perfect justice in his time? Do we understand that our light and momentary affliction builds up for us an eternal weight of glory to come (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18)?

How do you keep your mind stayed on the Lord? There are lots of answers to that. But let’s simply suggest a few:

  1. Regularly spend time in the word of God so that your mind will be stayed on the Lord.
  2. Pray.
  3. Talk about the things of God with mature Christians who will direct your mind toward the Lord.
  4. Encourage younger believers to focus their lives on the glory of God, and this will focus you as well.
  5. Attend worship service and take part in the glorious opportunities we have to hear the word preached, to pray, to sing, to participate in Lord’s supper, and to encourage other believers.
  6. Cut out of your life worthless things that trap your mind in worldliness and fear.
  7. Intentionally force yourself to think eternal thoughts, thoughts of heaven and the return of Christ (cf. Col 3:1-4).