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Lam 3:24-26 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

At first glance Steve and Kathryn’s home might look like a dingy basement apartment. But then, as your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you notice that everything they own rests on crates. You see, Steve and Kathryn live in an underground flood tunnel in Las Vegas. And get this—around 700 other people live in these tunnels, too. Day in and day out, they choose to stay in the dark. Sure, there are more vermin down in the dark. Sure, they have to deal with black widow spiders. Sure, flash flooding has killed 20 underground dwellers over the last two decades. But they say it’s cooler than the streets, and nobody bothers them—and so they stay. [“Couple Lives in Flood Tunnels Under Las Vegas,” AOL News, quoting an article from Asylum.com (8-10-10)]

In a sense, that’s a picture of our world—living in the dark. And sometimes it’s a picture of our own lives—where at times we live in a dark tunnel. The world is often a dark place, filled with uncertainties—troubles, betrayals, pain, unanswered questions, setbacks and loss, frustration and confusion, trusted friends who let you down.

Unlike Steve and Kathryn, who like it there, we’d prefer to get out of the dark. But in life we don’t always get what we want. And so, sometimes, we feel stuck. Hopeless. Circumstances close in on us. We feel frustrated. Disappointed.

And yet, when you’re in a dark place, it’s still possible to find hope. Even in the dark, we can still believe! This is a season of hope! And because of God’s promise, we can anticipate better things to come. We can become unstuck. There is a way out of the dark. We can survive worry, fear, discouragement.

What the world needs now—indeed, what we all need now—is to glimpse light in the darkness. To see that the tunnel comes to an end. To discover the courage and strength found in God’s greatest promise.

Questions most often asked by skeptics and agnostics (adapted from Tim Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an age of skepticism, Greg Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic, and Paul Little’s Know Why You Believe):

●      How can there be just one way to God?

●      How could a good God allow suffering and evil? Why does he permit earthquakes, famines, and other “natural” disasters? Why did God create Satan?

●      Why does religion have to be so strict and confining?

●      Why has Christianity done so much harm? Why has the church been behind so much prejudice and injustice?

●      How could a loving God send people to hell forever?

●      Isn’t religious faith disproved by science?

●      How can you take at face value an ancient book like the Bible? How do you explain the inconsistencies and contradictions in it?

Even believers may be tripped up by questions. Phillip Yancey, Disappointment With God, p 37): “True atheists do not, I presume, feel disappointed in God. They expect nothing and receive nothing. But those who commit their lives to God, no matter what, instinctively expect something in return.” Yancey lists three questions believers ask in dark times (p 36):

●      Is God unfair? Yancey: “[He] tried to follow God, but his life fell apart anyway. He could not reconcile his miseries with the biblical promises of rewards and happiness. And what about the people who openly deny God yet prosper anyway?”

●      Is God silent? Yancey: “[He] begged God for clear direction. Each time he thought he had God’s will figured out, only to have that choice lead to failure. ‘What kind of Father is he?’ [he] asked. ‘Does he enjoy watching me fall on my face?’”

●      Is God hidden? Why doesn’t he regularly prove himself in unmistakable ways?

Even John the baptist—when he was locked up and languishing away in a dark, damp prison cell—found himself doubting (Matt 11:2-3). He sent his disciples to Jesus to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Many of our Bible heroes went through times of doubt, confusion, frustration. When you find yourself wondering, “How long, O God?” remember that you are echoing a phrase that was often on the lips of spiritual giants of old.

Psalm 6:3 My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?

Psalm 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 13:2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
and 11 more in the Psalms alone.

The OT prophet, Jeremiah, was known as “the weeping prophet.” He endured long nights of the soul as he watched his people drift away from their spiritual moorings. The more they neglected the Lord and chased after their own desires, Jeremiah tried to warn them of the spiritual danger they were in.

And what did he get for his troubles? More trouble! Men from his home town threatened to kill him (11:21); he was betrayed by his own brothers (12:6); a priest and false prophet had him beaten and put in stocks (20:1-2); people ridiculed, mocked, and insulted him (20:7-8); the king burned his book of prophecies (36:23) and then had him thrown into a dungeon (37:16); others later put him in a cistern where he sank into the mud (38:6); he repeatedly received death threats (26:8; 38:4).

Jeremiah did not become a “weeping prophet” because of his own troubles. He wept for the calamities coming upon his people because they strayed away from God. As he saw the nation disintegrate, he wished his head could be a “spring of waters” and his eyes “fountains of tears” (Jer 9:1). He wept because the enemy overcome his people (Lam 1:16).

In the Spirit, he foresaw people conquered and slaughtered by a foreign army. He foresaw survivors taken away as captives and slaves. But when circumstances got about as bad as they could be, Jeremiah still trusted in the Lord and believed for better days to come! In dark times, he still had a glimmer of hope.

In spite of the tragedy and suffering, in spite of the death and destruction, Jeremiah also knew that the dark times would not last forever. He prophesied 70 years of captivity in Babylon but said better days were coming!

Jer 29:11-14 – 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

But does this makes you wonder? “If God is going to help us anyway, why does he make us wait? Is there any good reason for him to delay the answer?”

The answer is: YES. There is a reason—a good reason—why God permits us to wait. God wants to do something far deeper and much more significant than merely get us out of a jam.

God wants to be more to us than a “genie” in a magic lamp—where we rub the lamp and get three wishes. God wants to be more to us than a “spare tire” in the trunk—where we open the lid and get him out whenever we run into trouble.

It’s in the waiting—it’s in the wondering and the struggling and the praying—that God accomplishes deeper, greater things within our spirits.

Why does God make us wait? Why is his answer delayed?

It’s when there are no ready answers that we begin to learn about the necessity and the power of hope. It’s in the dark and the unknown that we’re compelled to strain our eyes to peer through the cloak of darkness, squinting to see what God might be doing.

Phillip Yancey (Disappointment with God), quotes Anne Dillard: “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it nor demand it.”

God does not require us to seek him. He does not demand that we seek him. But if we want to discover him more fully—if we want to look at the stars, if we want to seek him—we will find that we must experience some dark times.

The darkness can be turmoil within the soul, a tug-o-war between heart and head. We know there is a loving God, a God who cares about us and loves us.

We’re convinced. This incredible, magnificent universe would be impossible unless there were an all-surpassing Power beyond our comprehension—an Intelligent Designer who put it all together. From the far-flung galaxies, stars, and super novas speeding across infinite space to the smallest detail, the complex codes, the blueprint for life locked inside a double helix strand of DNA, there is strong evidence for God.

We know all that, and yet despite the assurance, we experience great disappointments in life. Setbacks. Loss. Our plans don’t always work out. Things seem to unravel. So while our heads tell us what is true, our hearts begin to question: God, if you’re really there, how could you let this happen? Do you really have the whole world in your hands? Or did you just look away for a moment? Where are you?

In the dark times we wonder why bodies get sick. We wonder why accidents have to happen. We wonder why our prayers sometimes don’t seem to go high enough or be strong enough to get through to the heavens. Sometimes we wonder if God has forgotten us—abandoned us, like so many others do.

We know God is strong. We know he is able. And yet, in spite of what we know, the answer we expect and long for does not come. There is much that we don’t know.

And so we wait.

The word “wait” (or “waited”) is found 12 times in the Psalms (NIV) AND 13 times in the prophets—in the sense of waiting for God to show up, waiting for God to do something.

Psalm 5:3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.

Psalm 33:20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.

To me, “waiting” is a very good description of this inner turmoil of the soul—the tug-o-war between what you know in your head and what you feel in your heart.

Some of you might be able to identify with the prophet, Jeremiah. Despite his unwavering commitment to God, his life was a series of disappointments, one after the other. Jeremiah did not always get what he wanted. So what does he do? In the middle of the darkness, in his grief and lamentations, we read:

Lam 3:24-26 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

In the depths of his despair and frustration, Jeremiah saw several things clearly—truths that will help us as we look for God to show up and do something even in our dark times. These are lessons we can learn as we go through the tunnel…

Notice first that Jeremiah talked to himself (v 24).

Sometimes we need to talk less to God and talk more to ourselves. Our human nature tends to want to complain about our situation. We want to tell him what we need.We want to tell him what he should do. But maybe we need instead to have a good talk with ourselves.

We should tell ourselves things we already know, things we have heard often, but things we sometimes tend to forget. We need to remind ourselves. We need to reinforce God’s truth in our minds.

It’s like a well-worn path, where the ruts are clearly seen. You know the way because the path has been traveled so often. The more we repeat truths to ourselves, the deeper the impression it makes in our heart and soul. Jeremiah said to himself…

So what did Jeremiah tell himself? Five things:

1. The Lord is my portion (v 24).

Portion? What kind of a word is that? It sounds like God is a serving you put on your plate on Thanksgiving Day. “I’ll have a large portion of that!” And yet, perhaps that IS a pretty good picture of what it means. The word was originally used to describe a share of something—even a piece of land or a possession.

We have so many things on our plates—too many things on our plates. We get too busy. We have so many concerns and worries and obligations that we crowd our plates with all that stuff—until pretty soon there’s no room left for God. It’s like filling up your plate with all the sweet potatoes and artichokes and pickled beets (we had pickled fiddleheads) and cranberries until finally, when the turkey comes by, you have no room left on your plate for the main event!

Jeremiah figured he would start with what was most important. His portion would be the Lord! As one version (CEV) puts it: “Deep in my heart I say, “The Lord is all I need; I can depend on him!”

2. Therefore I will wait for him (v 24).

There are different kinds of waiting. If you sit in the waiting room at a dentist’s office—that’s one kind of waiting. If you’re standing in line at midnight waiting for the new Batman movie—that’s another kind of waiting. (If you’re not the type to wait for Batman, maybe you’d relate better to waiting for dinner on Thanksgiving Day…or waiting for your bride to walk down the aisle…)

There’s waiting that feels more like dread. But then there is waiting that is filled with hope and expectation. This is something we anticipate! In fact, the NASB (and others) translate the word as “hope”—hope in the Lord.

That’s the kind of waiting Jeremiah was talking about—hope-filled expectation. Something good was going to happen if he waited. He just knew it!

3. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him (v 25).

This is a different type of hope, but it also implies waiting. It’s a different word than the one in verse 24. It comes from a word meaning “to bind together, perhaps by twisting together.”

I like to think of it being when our lives become so wrapped up in God—with our interests so closely bound together with his interests, that all our hopes are identified with his hopes for us. It’s when we wait for his will and purpose, his good plans not our desires. (Compare Ps 37:4. God is good to us when our desires line up with him because we delight ourselves in him.)

4. The Lord is good…to the one who seeks him (v 25).

God loves seekers! God wants to bless those who are looking for answers. God looks for people who are looking for him. God helps those who strive to follow his ways.

5. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

It’s one thing to wait… It’s something else to wait quietly. Quiet waiting means no complaining. No whining. No griping. Quiet waiting is resting in the assurance that God is going to come through.

Quiet waiting is not like the little kid with his mother at Walmart, squawking and making all kinds of racket because she’s not getting him what he wants.

Quiet waiting allows God to make choices for us rather than telling him what we think is best.

I learned that lesson the hard way when I was three years old. We lived on a farm west of Cambridge while Dad was in college. We had a bunch of chickens, and when it was time to butcher some of them, Dad bought a squirt gun to fill with ink to mark the chosen ones. I asked for a squirt gun of my own to shoot the chickens. That was okay with him (as long as I had water instead of ink in mine). But before we got out of the store, I saw a breakfast cereal box with a very cool looking squirt gun on the cover—free inside. So I asked Dad to buy the cereal instead so I could get a cool squirt gun. He tried to talk me out of it. He said the picture was much bigger than the actual squirt gun. He said it wouldn’t be nearly as nice as the one he had already picked out for me. He said it wouldn’t work as well. But I was determined, and I whined and pleaded and begged until finally he gave in:“OK, but don’t complain to me when you find out it isn’t what you thought.” At home I got it out of the box and was disappointed, of course, to find a teeny, little, one-shot squirt gun. Fill it up, give it one pathetic little phhht (about six inches), and it was empty.

If we can wait quietly instead of complaining and whining and squawking, we’ll discover that our Father knows better than we do what we really need.

Jeremiah anticipated God’s salvation. Jer 31:31-34 was a foreshadow of the new covenant, which would replace the old covenant when the Messiah came. Jeremiah didn’t exactly know how or when, but he knew deep down that God was doing something good. He knew the present circumstances would not last. He knew darkness would give way to light when people would repent and turn to God for salvation.

A Heavy Wait