Theme: God-Given Grief
Lesson text: Lamentations 3:19-33, 39-42, 55-58
Supplemental texts: Psalm 25:1-22; Jeremiah 31:16-20; Luke 2:25-32; Hebrews 9:27-28.
Aim: Wait on the Lord to restore you when you are downcast.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the study by Mark Scott, the Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_May28_2023.
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By Mark Scott
In the 1940s, Samuel Beckett wrote a philosophical play entitled Waiting for Godot. It was a tragicomedy in two acts. Two men (Vladimir and Estragon) wait for Godot—but he never comes. Many people wait for someone to come who never shows up. Not so with Jeremiah’s God. When Israel’s tears were sufficient, God would show up—but not until waiting had worked its charm.
As mentioned in an earlier lesson, reading Lamentations is like climbing a small mountain. One climbs up through trials and judgments (chapters 1–2) and goes down the other side through the same (chapters 4–5). But at the top of the hill (chapter 3), the book’s perspective is clear. We see how God worked through the tears with his mercy and faithfulness. Memorial Day is about remembering, but Lamentations is about waiting.
What Weighs on Waiting
Many things cause the human soul to be downcast (humbled). Jeremiah thinks back to four of them. He remembered his affliction (poverty or misery) and wandering (restlessness). He also remembered his bitterness (wormwood) and gall (poison or venom). Such things as these can suck the life out of people. They marshal an attack against waiting on the Lord.
What Helps Waiting
Jeremiah mentioned at least five qualities that help waiting. His hope (mentioned three times in the lesson text; it means “to expect or trust”) drove him to wait on the Lord. God’s great love caused the people not to be consumed. Love was placed beside compassion (mentioned twice in the lesson text; it means “mercy”).
God’s faithfulness seemed to be at the heart of the book of Lamentations. The word means “steady” or “truthful.” Because God is so faithful, Jeremiah could lean into God being his portion (inheritance) forever. Learning to wait quietly on the Lord offers up the greatest help (i.e., salvation). Any trial can be endured when rescue and deliverance are in sight; we can even bear up under a challenging yoke or burden.
People adopt a posture of solitude while waiting, which is not only a good spiritual discipline, but also a great help in waiting. To sit alone in silence can be very redemptive. Burying one’s face in the dust can sometimes demonstrate a contrite spirit and repentance. In fact, if people let God fight the battles and if they don’t retaliate, their silence can overcome the enemy.
The text at this point takes a strange messianic turn. The phrase let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him perfectly described the Servant who would come and not return evil for evil (Isaiah 50:6; 1 Peter 2:23). Beyond that, this kind of behavior is expected of the Servant’s followers in the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:39).
The heart of God also helps waiting. He does not want to cast off people forever. Even though God brought grief, he continued to show compassion and unfailing love. In his heart, God does not want to bring affliction or grief to anyone. He wants to save the world, not condemn it (John 3:17).
What Waiting Helps Us Do
Lamentations 3:39-42, 55-58
Waiting does not automatically bring healing. But waiting creates the context for healing and allows time for healing. Jeremiah mentioned four ways in which people benefit from waiting. First is examination, for waiting allows for serious reflection. A person logically reasons that they should not complain when they are rightfully punished for sin (though such an intellectually honest response probably is not a suffering person’s first thought). Examination and testing make us want to run home to God.
Second, waiting helps us confess. Heart and hands are lifted up to God in a contrite spirit. We say, “We have sinned and rebelled.” He may not forgive instantly (though he might—1 John 1:9), but he will forgive in the end. God is bent in the direction of forgiveness.
Third, waiting helps us pray. God always welcomes prayer. He is put off by our distance and our preoccupation with other things. Jeremiah had literal experience with this. He cried to God out of the depths of the pit, and God sent Ebed-Melek to his rescue (Jeremiah 38:7-13). Jeremiah heard those words that divinity always says in the presence of humanity, “Do not fear.”
Finally, waiting helps us with confidence. This is a hard quality to find in the book of Lamentations. In fact, the other qualities help lead to this. Jeremiah confidently said, “You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life.” Waiting is hard for an impatient culture with instant everything. But waiting helps us see God’s sovereignty at work.