Getting From Lament to Content

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As we continue to consider our prayers, I thought that it would be good for us to consider how we deal with times when we are grieving, or sad, or even depressed. How should we pray then?
I’m going to read some quotes about depression. And after I read them, I will tell you who said them, and that may surprise you.
“I find myself frequently depressed - perhaps more so than any other person here. And I find no better cure for that depression than to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and seek to realize afresh the power of the peace-speaking blood of Jesus, and His infinite love in dying upon the cross to put away all my transgressions.”
“I know, perhaps as well as anyone, what depression means, and what it is to feel myself sinking lower and lower. Yet at the worst, when I reach the lowest depths, I have an inward peace which no pain or depression can in the least disturb. Trusting in Jesus Christ my Savior, there is still a blessed quietness in the deep caverns of my soul.”
“No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression."
“Poor human nature cannot bear such strains as heavenly triumphs bring to it; there must come a reaction. Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions. While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself.”
All of these quotes are from a man who was called in his time “the Prince of Preachers”. A man who is still quoted today in pulpits across the world, and who in his own time, never had problems drawing a crowd, because his sermons were so well liked. A man influential in the pulpit, as well as starting a seminary for preachers. A man who had such great faith but who suffered from great depression.
The man responsible for these quotes is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. If you have been in a church where love for the Word of God is present, chances are that you have heard a number of Spurgeon quotes. But you may not have been aware that the man suffered from long bouts of depression. Even while his sermons were impacting many lives, bringing confidence in God, repentance of sin, growth and maturity in Christ, Spurgeon was often melancholy. Of course, in his day, the term major depression had not been coined, but psychologists who have studied Spurgeon believe that today he would have been diagnosed with Major Depression or something like that.
And yet, as Spurgeon said,
“The worst forms of depression are cured when Holy Scripture is believed.”
You shouldn’t complain to God - Or should you?
Or maybe another question we should ask ourselves in times of sorrow is where is our faith in the midst of it? What do we do with our prayer life when we are overwhelmed with feelings of sadness? Does sadness by itself mean a lack of faith, or some unconfessed sin, as some preachers have claimed? Or can we have the heart of God, compassionate and to the point of grieving over things we see?
As we continue to look at prayer, I’m going to highlight 3 men of God this morning who had sadness, or depression. And hopefully, from these men, we can learn some ways to deal with our own sadness, our own times of feeling down.
We looked briefly at Spurgeon, lets now consider the prophet Jeremiah: He is often referred to as the Weeping Prophet. What was it that made Jeremiah suffer from a very pessimistic outlook? Can you believe it was his faith that brought him to tears?
He believed God, and so he wept. He pleaded with the people to repent, he believed God would keep his word in judgement as well as blessing.
We are going to look at Lamentations 3. This chapter of scripture loses part of its beauty in the translation. The reason is, that in the original language, Lamentations 3 is an acrostic. In the Hebrew language, it has verses of poetry that correspond to the letter of the Hebrew alphabet. A comparison for us may be if someone wrote a poem, and used the ABCs as a start to each verse. Like if I was to write a poem about my wife, it may begin,
Apple of my eye, she is my first love
Beauty in the sunlight, she is radiant
Caring for others, she loves deeply
You see, a poem of the ABCs.
Now, Jeremiah was not writing about his wife in Lamentations 3, but rather this acrostic would more aptly be considered as: Suffering from A-Z
22 letters
66 verses
Acrostic could have been to help people memorize this. Lamentations was something part of the culture, recited at solemn events such as funerals. A recounting that life is full of suffering, but God is graciously extending his mercy to all those who follow him.
Lamentations 3:1–6 ESV
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.
Jeremiah is in the struggle.
Lamentations 3:7–8 ESV
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;
CS Lewis, as he was grieving over his lost wife, said:
“But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” -C. S. Lewis
What a shocking statement from the man who inspired the hope of thousands with his Narnia books and other works!
“You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears… Is it the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead?”
But he also admitted that his view of God was imperfect:
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconicast. Could we not almost say this shattering was one of the marks of His presence?”
Lamentations 3:9–24 ESV
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he 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. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 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. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Great is thy faithfulness: the hymn is based on this: that although we suffer, question God, and even feel oppressed by Him (our impression), he is faithful. He will keep his word. The blessings and curses of scripture, he will keep. For those who scorn him, the curses. For those who ignore him, the curses. But for those who trust in him, who love Him, and seek to do his will, and abandon their life of sin and embrace a life of the Spirit, He will bless and see us through those difficult times.
The end result of our faith is not in this life, but in eternity, and He will keep his promise to those who put faith in him.
Lamentations 3:25–27 ESV
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
Good, how can it be good? How could it possibly be good to go through difficult trials, those times when relationships cause you pain, when all you feel is beat up and hurt? How can this be good? It doesn’t make sense to us on the surface level. But consider what James wrote about trials:
James 1:2–4 ESV
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
There is an entire sermon in those two verses alone. And it goes along with what Paul wrote to the Romans, that God works all things out for the good of those who love Him. So our trials bring us closer, our faith is tested, the testing produces steadfastness. That is, you make it through this time, and the next time the challenge is different, and you recall how God got you through, and you remember that, and you are strengthened by his word and how he already proved his faithfulness. You are even able to strengthen others because of your experience, and tell them God will help you through this time, I know it! So you become steadfast, and when that steadfastness has its full effect, you will be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. This is the ultimate and final state of the believer, who, throughout life, goes through various trials. But in the end, they are made perfect, and they will look back and see that God perfected them through those trials.
We often do not see it in real time. We don’t understand or even like what we are going through. That prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon. Would his sermons have had the depth of feeling and conviction of the truth of God’s Word had he not suffered? Could CS Lewis have written such wonderful fiction had he not felt the pains of this life?
And what of Joseph, and Paul, and so many other biblical heroes? Did not God use their suffering in order that their ministries would be complete? How could James write about trials, if he had not experienced the growth that accompanies them first hand?
“Before God can use a man greatly, he must wound him deeply” - Oswald Chambers
Why? Because suffering aligns us with Christ. The disciples knew this and rejoiced to have suffered for the Name. Do we know it? DO we trust that through our pain, God is teaching us, perfecting us, producing steadfastness in us?
I will read the rest of lamentations 3:
Lamentations 3:28–66 ESV
Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth, to deny a man justice in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his lawsuit, the Lord does not approve. Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven. “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us scum and garbage among the peoples. “All our enemies open their mouths against us; panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction; my eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people. “My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees; my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city. “I have been hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without cause; they flung me alive into the pit and cast stones on me; water closed over my head; I said, ‘I am lost.’ “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their vengeance, all their plots against me. “You have heard their taunts, O Lord, all their plots against me. The lips and thoughts of my assailants are against me all the day long. Behold their sitting and their rising; I am the object of their taunts. “You will repay them, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. You will give them dullness of heart; your curse will be on them. You will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under your heavens, O Lord.”
Jeremiah’s sadness stemmed from his trust in what God promised. God had told Jeremiah the people would be exiled, and Jeremiah knew that it would happen. His sadness was based on his belief. Yet, his ultimate trust was that God was righteous and just, and that those who were against Jeremiah would stand trial and be properly judged.
We looked a moment ago at James. Was James alone in telling folks to find joy in their trials? By no means!
1 Peter 1:6–7 ESV
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Well, maybe James and Peter were kind of weird, and thought trials were good. But what about Paul?
Romans 5:1–5 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
James said count it all joy; Peter said rejoice; Paul said rejoice in suffering; and Jesus gave hope to those who seem in this world to be the weakest:
Matthew 5:2–12 ESV
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
But someone might say, then, if we are supposed to appreciate our trials, because the Word of God tells us to, because our trials are doing this work on us, then isn’t it sinful to feel grief? Shouldn’t we confess our sin of being grieved instead of rejoicing at our trials? No, grief is not sin. Let’s look again to Spurgeon's take
“This valley, dark and gloomy as it is, is not an unhallowed pathway. No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.’ There was no sin in Him, and consequently none in His deep depression.
We have never known a joy or a sorrow altogether untainted with evil; but grief itself is not necessarily sin. A man may be as happy as all the birds in the air, and there may be no sin in his happiness; and a man may be exceeding heavy, and yet there may be no sin in the heaviness. I do not say that there is not sin in all our feelings, but still the feelings in themselves need not be sinful.
I would, therefore, try to cheer any brother who is sad, for his sadness is not necessarily blameworthy. If his downcast spirit arises from unbelief, let him cry to God to be delivered from it; but if the soul is sighing, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,’ it is not a fault.
If the man cries, ‘My God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee,’ his soul’s being cast down within him is no sin. Heaviness of spirit is not, therefore, on every occasion a matter for which we need condemn ourselves.
The way of sorrow is not the way of sin, but a hallowed road sanctified by the prayers of myriads of pilgrims now with God—pilgrims who, passing through the valley of Baca, made it a well.”
This is an encouragement to us when we feel like we are bad Christians because we are feeling down, or sadness. And you could add to this the feelings of loneliness, and even the unhealed scars of abuse we may feel. There are preachers who would tell you, just let go and let God, or just declare your freedom from this, or do some self talk and you can come out of it. It is all up to you to speak positive words and your life will change.
And many people have tried that, and found that after saying those positive words, they still feel bad. In fact, when I was a kid, I tried this because I didn’t like wearing glasses. So I would confidently pray, when I wake up in the morning, I will never need glasses again, or I would be swimming and pray, when I come out of the water, I will see fine without my glasses. And I believed it could happen. But it never worked. Some of the TV preachers said it would work, if I had faith, and I had the faith of a child, but I still had to wear my glasses. And those preachers say, well, if it doesn’t happen for you, the problem was that your faith wasn’t strong enough!
In the same way, many people, suffering from sadness, have been told, just read your bible more, or pray more, or trust God more! And they try all of those things, and still feel the pain of what they are going through in life. And what would have been better for those people is not for someone to try and talk them out of their sadness, but to sit down with them, and mourn alongside them. What would have been better for them was to read how Jesus suffered, and how his sufferings were real and brought him real pain, which he expressed. What would have been better for them is if we shared with them that in our sufferings we are aligned with Christ. What would have been better for them would be to share with them the many encouragements in scripture that tell us not to ignore our pain, but to process through it in light of His Word, and realize that He is indeed loving us and strengthening us through it. He is perfecting our faith.
Do you know what the real problem with suffering is? The real problem with suffering is that we must suffer through it. The only way to get through suffering is to suffer through it, and the only way to suffer through it and make it through to the end of it is to trust in the Word of God.
Trials perfect our faith, endurance, character, and hope.
Think of the stories you like to read, or hear, or see in a movie. In all of the greatest stories, the hero or main characters have to endure some trial or suffering, or are faced with obstacles to the happiness they pursue. No one wants to read a story about someone with an uneventful life. Why is that? Because an author cannot develop a character worth reading about who has never faced a trial. That might work for a comic strip, but no one will read a novel about people with no troubles or trials.
The heroes of faith in Scripture, the great characters in literature, even the superheroes in the movies are those who go through great difficulties and trials. And so it is that our God who loves us is developing us as characters in His great story. He has chosen to allow us to go through trials and difficulties because someday we will become the characters he has in mind, and just as an author of a novel is the only one who knows where the character development arc is heading, so God knows how our lives will turn out.
But in a novel, in order for it to have some plausibility, some constants must apply. And so it is that God has given us the constants that apply to us. We find in scripture that He has given us that He has told us why there are trials, and how we can expect Him to act. And the promise for the believer is that he will complete our story in a very favorable way.
I have given you this morning three examples of men who had an impact on the faith: Jeremiah, Charles Spurgeon, and CS Lewis. All of them went through some very dark times, where they questioned their own salvation, their faith, and their eternal destiny. All of them are considered great men. There is no shame in doubt, no shame in despair, unless that doubt and despair is not remedied by a lasting trust that God’s Word is true.
Getting through those seasons of difficulty requires us to use all the tools God has given us: Reading His Word, being encouraged by the church, and crying out to Him for help.
So what are we to do with this message? Well, in light of our overall topic of prayer, let us consider what we have looked at. Clearly, the Word of God addresses the fact that people, Christians, go through sufferings, trials, times of grief and sadness, times when we just cannot seem to get centered. How do we pray then? Well, here are some things I hope you will remember from this message.
First, the fact that you feel sad or depressed does not automatically mean there is sin in it. As Spurgeon pointed out, Jesus himself said: Matt26.38
Matthew 26:38 ESV
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
So sorrow cannot be sinful. If Jesus had sorrow, and he did not sin, then our sorrow is not necessarily sin either.
Second, when we face those times, we may be tempted to bow out of our prayer life, or bow out of fellowship with the saints, because we feel something is wrong with us. That would be a mistake. God has given us His Word, His People, and His Son our Great High Priest. His Word directs us, comforts us, challenges us, convicts us of sin, convinces us of truth. His people, imperfect as they are, are for our benefit. The church is God’s creation. He is the one who gave it to us, and no one should attempt to live alone without the church. We need this fellowship. At church, we receive teaching, encouragement, and opportunities to serve others. He gave us His son Jesus, who suffered as we did and was tempted yet was without sin. Because Jesus suffered the pains of this life, he can sympathize with our sufferings, and he can heal us.
Emotional healing rarely or really never, takes place in an instant. Emotional healing takes a lot of time. If you lose a loved one, it may take time to bond with someone because you fear being hurt by loss again. If you were mistreated, then you may be uneasy coming into new relationship because you are afraid of being attacked unfairly again. But the greatest danger is allowing the hurts of life to cause you to question God’s Word and His care for His own people. Remember that it isn’t true that your trials mean God is angry at you. It may be that He is giving you those because He loves enough to cause the growth that the trial is bringing to you. He is making you steadfast, he is shaping you to be more like Christ.
I can testify to this. Almost daily, I am able to better understand someone, help them, or care for them, and I can do that better because of the trials I have been through. Believe me, you wouldn’t want a pastor who could not understand the pains of life. Your pastor has been hurt, and has suffered grief, and has questioned the sovereignty of God. However, my trials are not exactly like yours. We all have our difficulties.
But more important than a pastor who knows what it is to suffer from grief, you have a Savior who understands. We have hope that our sufferings will be turned to joy in the end.
1 Peter 4:13 ESV
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
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