I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:19–23)
The chances are, if you know anything about the book of Lamentations, you will know some of these verses. They are significant because they are a few of the only positive verses in the book. The rest of Lamentations, as the name suggests, is difficult and downbeat, reflecting struggle and suffering.
That should not be surprising, since this book is forged in the pain and turmoil of invasion and attack. God’s people are overwhelmed by the forces of Babylon and taken into exile. Lamentations is written in amidst that confusion, isolation, devastation and abandonment. It gives voice to those feelings, and gives voice to our feelings as well.
Perhaps you can relate to that and can echo the sentiment of verse 19: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.” It is bitter to remember the circumstances we face; it brings that sour taste into our mouth when we recall how we have wandered or struggled.
I remember, says the writer, and my very soul sinks down within me. It may well be that God is very close, and your soul delights in him and you want to spend time with him. That’s terrific. But it may well be that your soul is downcast; you feel your life has slid out of alignment and something is not as it should be.
Lamentations gives us the remedy to this situation: it is to remember. We can remember and recall the sufferings and struggles we face. But in addition, we come and we deliberately remember the Lord’s goodness. “Yet this I call to mind…” More literally it says, ‘this is what I return to my heart’. My heart and soul seem barren and empty. But I will refill my heart with the truth.
What is it that the writer deliberately remembers? It is those famous verses of 22 and 23:
“Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
He calls to mind, and calls God’s people to call to mind, the character of God. His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.
That is what the writer of Lamentations is doing. He is bringing back to his memory that God is still King. That he is still good. That he is still faithful. He deliberately and proactively fills his heart and his mind and his memory with the truth about God. Not just knowing the truth, but allowing the truth to fill his heart with the truth. Samuel Johnson once said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” Today is a day to be reminded more than instructed. To fill your heart as well as your mind.
And as we remember the Lord and his great goodness, so we wait for Him. Verse 21 says “Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Or alternatively, “therefore I will wait.”
And that theme is picked up again and again:
Verse 24, “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
Verse 25, “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.”
Verse 26, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Verses 25 to 27 are surprising in this downbeat book. Inthe Hebrew, they all start with the same word: Good. Good, good, good. Good it is to wait quietly for the Lord’s salvation.
Waiting and hoping go together. They are more or less the same word in the original Hebrew. To wait for the Lord is to put your hope in him. For the writer and readers of Lamentations, all hope seemed to have gone. Jerusalem was in tatters; the temple was destroyed; the people taken off into a foreign land. If you were ever going to lose hope, this was it.
“But because of the Lord’s great love, we have hope,” they said. We will wait for him. We don’t know how God will come through, how he will save, how he will bring grace and glory out of suffering. But we will wait. He is our portion. Where else will we go? We will wait for him.
It is good to wait. And it is good to wait quietly. Verse 26 is the verse I really want to leave in your hearts and minds: “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Waiting quietly stops everything that is going on and focus on the one in whom we have our hope. Waiting quietly steps off the carousel of life for a short time, and remembers the grace and goodness of the Lord. Waiting quietly allows our hearts to be emptied of the trivial thoughts and mundane stuff of life. It throws out the twisted views of God we slip into accepting and the lies we easily believe. And it fills our hearts again with the truth about God. It fills our hearts again with God himself.
Our hope is wrapped up in the one who lived the experience of Lamentations fully. Of whom verse 30 was spoken: “Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.” The Lord Jesus Christ did that and more for us. So as we wait quietly, we wait for him. We wait confident in his salvation. We wait knowing with fully assurance the truth of verses 31 and 32:
For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.