#4 (The “Remember” Series)
“REMEMBER THE LESSONS OF SUFFERING!”
TEXT: Lamentations 3:19-40
INTRO: Don’t you just hate it when God doesn’t answer your prayers correctly? (This means of course that God didn’t act and do things our way!) Don’t you just get mad when you have prayed and told God how something should be done and He only does part of what you prayed for? Worse yet, don’t you just get frustrated with the Lord when He totally ignores your prayer and does something completely different from what you asked?
Of course if God answered prayer exactly as we have always wanted we would never suffer, and in our minds at least the world would be a perfect place! And of course we would be deeply spiritual and never doubt the Lord... etc., etc., etc.
HOWEVER; the reality of living for the Lord is that we do suffer and our prayers aren’t always answered the way we want them to be. In fact, as Christians we often suffer just as much as any other person in this world! So then, what is the difference between our suffering and unbelievers in this world?
The difference is that our suffering is understood in the context of eternity and God’s purposes which are at times above our understanding. Suffering for Christians is not without meaning, but in the world the same cannot always be true! Suffering is just another tool God uses to produce in us the fruit of His Spirit, He doesn’t delight in letting us suffer but He will use it to make us more like His son Jesus!
The lessons of suffering are patience, humility, grace, trusting in God’s goodness even when we don’t see it, dependency on the Lord, compassion for others, perspective, thankfulness, love, sensitivity, etc.
Prop. Sent: Suffering is not a bad thing in the hands of a good God; it sometimes is the instrument of growth, deliverance, and salvation!
ILLUS: YEARS AGO THE FARMERS IN SOUTHERN ALABAMA WERE HIT HARD BY SUFFERING. EACH YEAR THEY PLANTED THEIR ONLY CASH CROP – COTTON. THEY HAD TO PLOW EVERY SPOT OF LAND TO MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO LIVE OFF COTTON. THIS ONE YEAR HOWEVER THEIR CROPS WERE HIT HARD BY THE BOLL WEEVIL, DESTROYING ALL THEIR CROPS. THE NEXT YEAR THEY PRAYED AND MORTGAGED THEIR HOMES TO HAVE THE MONEY TO PLANT COTTON AGAIN, AGAIN THE BOLL WEEVIL DESTROYED THEIR CROPS! MANY OF THEM LOST THEIR LAND AND FARMS; SOME LOST THEIR FAITH IN A GOOD GOD. A FEW HOWEVER DECIDED TO TRY AN EXPERIMENT, THEY PLANTED PEANUTS THE NEXT YEAR. THE PEANUTS GREW LIKE WEEDS AND SOON THE MARKETPLACE RESPOUNDED WITH A RAVENOUS APPETITE FOR PEANUTS. THE FARMERS WHO PLANTED PEANUTS BECAME RICH MEN WITHIN JUST A FEW YEARS, SO RICH IN FACT THAT THEY ERECTED A SPECIAL MONUMENT IN TOWN – A LARGE BOLL WEEVIL! THIS MONUMENT WAS TO SOME A REMINDER OF THE EVIL THAT BROUGHT LOSS, BUT TO THESE FARMERS IT WAS A GIFT THAT BROUGHT THEM GREATER WEALTH THOUGH AT FIRST IT BROUGHT SUFFERING. THEY WOULD NEVER HAVE TRIED SOMETHING LIKE PEANUTS IF IT HADN’T BEEN FOR THE BOLL WEEVIL! THIS MONUMENT OF SUFFERING WOULD CAUSE THEM TO ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT SUFFERING SOMETIMES YIELDS SOMETHING GOOD IF WE RESPOND POSITIVELY TO IT. – SOURCE UNKNOWN
I. REMEMBERING THE REALITIES OF LIFE 3:19-20
A. Affliction & Suffering 3:19
1. ALL people experience suffering during their lifetime, it is endemic to all creation!
a. This means good and bad people suffer.
b. “It rains on the just and the unjust...”
2. The reality of life includes a variety of ways of suffering, and being a Christian doesn’t mean that God gives us a pardon from all suffering.
3. Then what is the difference in being a Christian if we are just as prone to suffer in life as unbelievers?
a. For an unbeliever suffering has little meaning or purpose to it, it is viewed as a meaningless painful experience.
b. For a believer however our perspective is not temporal it is eternal, thus suffering can be viewed as having significance not only for this present life, but also for eternity!
4. This difference also produces a very different approach to suffering. The world attempts to avoid all suffering at all costs or to interpret suffering by a very limited viewpoint, while a Christian can know that God will ultimately deliver us and that we can find meaning in the experience.
ILLUS: TAKE FOR INSTANCE THE FOLLOWING SITUATION AND HOW DIFFERENT THE WORLD DEALS WITH IT AND HOW WE MIGHT DEAL WITH IT AS A CHRISTIAN:
A MAN FALLS INTO A PIT AND CAN’T GET HIMSELF OUT:
THE SUBJECTIVE PERSON COMES ALONG AND SAYS, “I feel for you down there.” AND WALKS AWAY!
THE OBJECTIVE PERSON COMES ALONG AND SAYS, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST COMES ALONG AND SAYS, “You only think you are in a pit!”
THE PHARISEE COMES ALONG AND SAYS, “Only bad people fall into pits.”
THE MATHEMATICIAN CONES ALONG AND calculated HOW he fell into the pit.
THE ANTHROPOLOGIST COMES ALONG AND ASKS, “Are there any rare specimens in the pit.”
A NEWSPAPER REPORTER COMES ALONG AND ASKS, “Can I have the exclusive story on the pit?”
A FUNDAMENTALIST COMES ALONG AND SAYS, “You Deserve your pit.”
CONFUCIUS COMES BY AND SAYS, “If you would have listened to me, you would not be in that pit.”
BUDDHA COMES BY AND SAYS, “Your pit is only a state of mind.”
THE REALIST COMES BY AND SAYS, “Yes, boy that is a real pit alright.”
A GEOLOGIST COMES BY AND SAYS, “What’s the rock strata look like down there?”
AN EVOLUTIONIST COMES BY AND SAYS, “You are a rejected mutant destined to be removed from the evolutionary cycle, only the genes of people who don’t fall into pits will survive.”
AN I.R.S. MAN COMES BY AND SAYS, “How much is that pit worth, and did you pay taxes on it yet?”
A PROFESSOR COMES BY and lectures him on the elementary principles of pits!
AN EVASIVE PERSONS CONES BY AND AVOIDS THE WHOLE SUBJECT OF THE PIT WITH THE MAN
A SELF-PITYING MAN COMES BY AND SAYS, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the pit I’ve fallen in before.”
A CHARISMATIC COMES BY AND SAYS, “Just confess that you’re not really in a pit!”
AN OPTIMIST COMES BY AND SAYS, “Just remember, things could be worse.”
A PESSIMIST COMES BY AND SAYS, “Things WILL get worse.”
FINALLY ... JESUS COMES BY AND JUMPS DOWN IN THE PIT WITH THE MAN AND LIFTS HIM OUT OF IT! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
5. Jeremiah says he will remember his afflictions and suffering, it drove him to trust in God rather than this world!
a. The world could offer no real help, just fancy explanations, but God used suffering as the means of saving us!
b. This is ultimately realized through Jesus’ suffering for us, the very reason we celebrate communion is to remember Christ’s death and suffering for us, not to be morbid, but to celebrate salvation through His suffering!
B. Anger & Sadness 3:20
1. Jeremiah is very human here, suffering brought anger and sadness – it usually does even for believers!
a. The goal is not to pretend that you are not angry but to use that anger and focus it for something good!
b. Sadness is a natural reaction to tragedy, it is not sinful; it is natural!
c. It is only a problem if we get stuck in this stage and don’t move on!
2. Jeremiah moves on from anger and sadness by doing something productive ... REMEMBERING GOD’S FAITHFUL CHARACTER. (See 3:21-22)
a. Jeremiah didn’t give in to his sadness, he moves on from it to something positive.
b. This is not the same as “positive confession,” it is confessing the knowledge of God’s faithfulness and trusting God’s providence in life.
3. To be stuck in sadness one would become a very unbalanced person.
a. This is precisely what clinical depression is and other disorders of mood are!
b. While things might not always change right away certainly our perspective can!
ILLUS: LIKE THE MAN WHO WAS SHIPWRECKED ON AN ISLAND ALL BY HIMSELF. WEEKS WENT BY AND NO DELIVERANCE! HE BECAME ANGRY WITH A GOD THAT WOULD ALLOW THIS. HIS ANGER TURNED TO DESPAIR HOWEVER WHEN AFTER LEAVING THE MAKESHIFT HUT AND WHILE LOOKING FOR FOOD HE NOTICED TO HIS HORROR THAT THE SMALL FIRE HE HAD MADE IN THE ONLY SHELTER HE COULD BUILD SOMEHOW CAUGHT THE WHOLE PLACE ON FIRE AND HIS ONLY SHELTER NOW BURNED TO THE GROUND! NOW HE WAS REALLY IN DESPAIR AND ANGRY AT GOD! HOW MUCH MORE SUFFERING COULD HE TAKE? – UNTIL TO HIS AMAZEMENT A SHIP APPEARED AND RESCUED HIM. HE ASKED HOW THE SHIP HAD DISCOVERED HIS PLIGHT AND THEY OF COURSE SAID THEY SAW HIS SIGNAL FIRE! WHAT HE THOUGHT WAS A SECOND HORRIBLE TRAGEDY TURNED OUT TO BE THE VERY THING TO HAVE SAVED HIM! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
II. REMEMBERING THE REALITIES OF LOVE 3:21-40
A. Affirmation & Survival 3:21-24
1. So how does Jeremiah move from anger & sadness to victory?
a. By moving from the realities of life which include suffering to the realities of love, especially God’s love that includes mercy and grace!
b. This was a deliberate move on Jeremiah’s part, “YET THIS I CALL TO MIND AND THEREFORE I HAVE HOPE …”
2. Recovery is not accidental, it is planned and executed by REMEMBERING GOD’S LOVE!
a. This takes effort, thinking about God’s demonstrations of love right in the midst of suffering would offer balance!
b. Jeremiah’s sanity and faith were at stake in the midst of great suffering and loss, perspective had to be restored!
ILLUS: LIKE THE GREAT EVANGELIST JOHN HAGGAI. IN HIS BOOK, “HOW TO WIN OVER WORRY” HE MENTIONS HOW WHEN HE WAS A YOUNG PASTOR HE TOOK A CHURCH WHERE THERE WERE SOME SERIOUS TROUBLES. DURING THIS TROUBLED TIME HE AND HIS WIFE HAD A NEW BABY BORN TO THEM, BUT BECAUSE A DRUNKEN DOCTOR PLACED THEIR BABY IN AN OVERHEATED INCUBATOR IT SUFFERED PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE! WITH TROUBLES AT CHURCH AND A NEW BABY WITH PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE HE SAID HE NEARLY WENT OUT OF HIS MIND. HE INSTEAD DROVE HIS CAR OUT TO A COUNTRY ROAD AND GOT OUT AND WALKED UP AND DOWN THIS LONELY ROAD WITH HIS HANDS RAISED TO GOD AND PRAISING OUT LOUD ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING HE COULD THINK OF TO THANK GOD FOR. IN THIS WAY HE SAYS HE KEPT HIS SANITY! HE SAID HE CONCENTRATED ON THE VICTORIES GOD HAD GIVEN HIM INSTEAD OF THE AGONY HE WAS EXPERIENCING! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
3. Jeremiah had no answers except the nature of God which in the final analysis is good!
a. Jeremiah states that things are certainly bad but God had not allowed their total destruction, His love had preserved them!
b. Jeremiah also states that in reflecting on the past God’s compassions had never failed before!
c. This was how Jeremiah would survive, by affirming God’s love and goodness.
4. While he had no answers to the immediate problem of captivity he had the solution to despair and hopelessness, it was the Lord Himself!
5. The final way to deal with the suffering would be to simply WAIT ON GOD! 3:24
a. He won’t do crazy things or try and rush God!
b. This is trust!
B. Acceptance & Salvation 3:25-30
1. The point of these verses affirm the fact that God does indeed permit suffering and trials to come into our life but not in a meaningless way, therefore we are called upon to submit to the experience and wait patiently on God’s purposes to take hold during this time, remembering that God is a good God!
a. He also alludes to the fact that it is easier to handle these times when we are young and are more resilient to new pressures.
b. The “disgrace” point probably means that we may not always understand the “WHY” as we are going through the experience, but to be patient and trust God anyway!
2. During such times we are not to lose our sense of contentment in God and get restless and do something stupid that might make matters worse, God is always working everything toward good to those who love Him, even when we don’t feel or see it at the time – salvation is God’s goal for us all!
a. When we get restless we always look for the most pain-free way to escape, which is not always the best escape route!
b. Sometimes this only makes the situation last longer or get worse, staying steady is hard, but necessary!
ILLUS: A POOR BUT VERY GOOD STONECUTTER WAS SO UNHAPPY WITH HIS LOWLY POSITION AND JOB THAT ONE DAY WHEN THE KING CAME BY HE WISHED HE COULD BE THE KING, THEN HE COULD BE POWERFUL ... HIS CRY WAS HEARD IN HEAVEN AND SUDDENLY HE FOUND HIMSELF THE KING! “THIS IS POWER” HE THOUGHT, AS THE SUMMER WORE ON HOWEVER AND THE SUN MERCILESSLY BEAT DOWN ON HIS KINGDOM HE REALIZED THE SUN WAS MORE POWERFUL THAN THE KING, SO HE WISHED TO BE THE SUN, AGAIN HE BECAME THE SUN AND FELT A NEW SURGE OF POWER AND CONTROL ... UNTIL HE NOTICED THAT EVEN AS POWERFUL AS THE SUN HIS POWER WAS BEING BLOCKED BY SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS CLOUDS. NOW HE WISHED TO BE CLOUDS, AGAIN HE BECAME A CLOUD. HE NOW BLOCKED THE SUN AND HE FELT POWERFUL AND IMPORTANT AGAIN. AS HE BEGAN TO RAIN ON EARTH CREATING RIVERS HOWEVER HE NOTICED THAT THE ROCKS SEEMED TO BE UNAFFECTED BY HIS POWER AS RAIN CLOUDS, THESE HUGE STONES WERE MORE POWERFUL THAN HIS RAIN, SO NOW HE WISHED TO BE A HUGE STONE. AGAIN HE GOT HIS WISH AND BECAME A HUGE STONE. SUDDENLY A MAN CAME BY WITH A BAG OF TOOLS AND BEGAN TO CHISEL ON HIM, CHIPPING AWAY JUNKS OF ROCK FROM HIM AS THAT ROCK. HE NOW REALIZED THIS MAN WAS MORE POWERFUL THAN HE WAS A ROCK AND ONCE AGAIN HE FOUND HIMSELF WISHING TO BE THIS MAN SO HE COULD BE POWERFUL. AGAIN HIS WISH WAS GRANTED; HE BECAME A STONECUTTER, THE SAME THING HE STARTED OUT AS. IF ONLY HE HAD BEEN CONTENT IN THE FIRST PLACE! HOW MANY TIMES DO WE CHRISTIANS DO THIS SAME THING, WISHING TO BE SOMETHING ELSE WHEN WE FEEL WEAK, OR WISH TO HAVE SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE, ONLY TO FIND THAT THEY TOO STRUGGLE! – SOURCE UNKNOWN
3. This acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean passivity however, we should do what we can do and then trust the rest to God!
4. What Jeremiah is calling for here is ENDURANCE, a nearly lost quality among Americans today, we are after all the NOW generation – or the INSTANT generation; instant soup, instant win, instant credit, instant coffee, etc.
a. Think of some of the endurance records in Scripture; Abraham and Sarah waiting until their 90’s before the promised baby showed up!
b. How about Moses waiting until he
was 80 years old to finally lead
c. Noah spent about a year on the ark waiting for good weather to get off!
e. Joseph waited many many years before God raised him up from slavery to be the second most powerful man in Egypt, he spent a great deal of time in pits and prisons for things he never did!
C. Analysis & Steadfastness 3:31-40
1. The reason Jeremiah gives for holding on and enduring is found in this verse (31) “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever!”
a. God does not afflict us forever; He always will counterbalance the suffering or end it in some way!
b. His love is “unfailing.” vs. 32
2. Jeremiah also wants us to know that God does “not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” vs. 33
a. There is important theology here: the tragedies of life are brought about by the fallen nature of man, our fallen nature and others!
b. Therefore suffering is not from God but from sin and the interrelationships of fallen man with one another!
c. These are the natural consequences of sin on this planet, just as there are certain things that happen when we break physical laws (like falling off a cliff and gravity kicks in) – these physical laws work on believer and unbeliever alike in the same way, so do the spiritual laws which also have real consequences.
d. In heaven we will enjoy the lack of suffering because there will be no sin in us or those around us, but this is not true here on this planet now!
3. This is exactly Jeremiah’s point in vs. 38 “... is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” It is in the sense of God permitting calamities to strike us but always with His purposes in mind.
a. Therefore we must learn not to panic and run but to stay the course and remain steadfast in Christ!
b. Those that panic make unfortunate choices that often complicate their life even more, fear is a terrible friend that leads to the wrong choices!
ILLUS: A GENERAL IN THE PERSIAN ARMY ALWAYS HAD A STRANGE CUSTOM FOR MEN CONDEMNED TO DIE BY EXECUTION. HE WOULD OFFER THESE CONDEMNED MEN A CHOICE BETWEEN THE FIRING SQUAD AND A “BIG BLACK DOOR” WITH AN UNKNOWN FATE. AS THE MOMENT FOR EXECUTION ARRIVED THE GUARDS WOULD BRING THE CONDEMNED MAN BEFORE THE GENERAL AND SHOWN THE FIRING SQUAD AND THE BIG BLACK DOOR ... “WHAT WILL IT BE?” THE GENERAL WOULD ASK. THE SPY IN THIS CASE HESITATED FOR A MOMENT AND THEN SAID “I CHOOSE THE FIRING SQUAD” AND SO WAS EXECUTED. THE GENERAL TURNED TO HIS AIDE AND SAID, “THEY ALWAYS PREFER THE KNOW TO THE UNKNOWN, PEOPLE FEAR WHAT THEY DON’T KNOW, YET, WE GAVE HIM A CHOICE.” THE AIDE NOW CURIOUS ASKED THE GENERAL, “WHAT IS BEHIND THE BIG BLACK DOOR?” “FREEDOM” REPLIED THE GENERAL, “I‘VE ONLY SEE A FEW MEN BRAVE THE UNKNOWN AND ASK FOR THE DOOR THAT LEADS THEM TO FREEDOM HOWEVER.” LIVING FOR GOD IS AN UNKNOWN ... AND SO MANY CHOOSE TO LIVE ONLY WHAT THEY KNOW, THE HERE AND NOW AND THEREFORE MISS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR REAL FREEDOM, GOD OFFERS THE CHOICE ... WHICH ONE DO YOU CHOOSE – THE KNOWN WAYS OF THIS WORLD OR THE LIFE OF FAITH WITH ALL ITS UNCERTAIN DYNAMICS? – SOURCE UNKNOWN
4. The final call here was for each of us to “examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” vs. 40
a. How do you handle the trials that come to all people, saved and unsaved alike?
b. Do you become bitter, angry, sullen and withdrawn; do you panic and make poor choices that make matters only worse?
c. Or do you do your best to deal with the trial and trust God and continue doing good until the matter or trial ends!?
5. “REMEMBER GOD’S FAITHFULNESS WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF STRUGGLING WITH YOUR OWN FAITHFULNESS!”
a. And don’t forget the lessons of suffering so the next time you are already prepared to deal with the dynamics of suffering!
b. Each trial should make us stronger if we don’t fail to remember the lessons of suffering!
CONCLUSION: God’s people are not exempt from pain or disappointments in life, but we are different in how we embrace it! No matter how much we might suffer our perspective of eternity and God’s love always offers us a hope and meaning that the temporal and lost of this world cannot give! We never have to lose hope – for God’s love offers a real escape from despair. The lessons of suffering for us only lead to growth and salvation!!