Verse of Encouragement: Hope

The sermon I heard today was about pouring our hearts out to God. Several years ago, when I was reading David’s story, I remember thinking, “I can’t believe he just said that to God.” But God called David “a man after his own heart.” “His” being “God’s.” David had an intimate relationship with God, in part because David knew he could be honest in his feelings toward God. Why do we think God is going to be offended by how we feel? Why do we think God is going to strike us down with a bolt of lightning if we admit to him, “God, I am angry at you!”

Our God is a big God, and, as my pastor made clear this morning, “God already knows your heart.” Why hide out of a sense of reverence, respect, or fear? He already knows, and he can handle us at our rawest, ugliest, sobbiest moments, because those moments are often when we are the most honest and unguarded.

He came to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1), so why do we try to hide our hearts from him? The author of Lamentations hurt so bad that there was no holding back how he felt:

He [God] pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

Lamentations 3:13-18, NIV

Wow, says I, that is a lot of blaming God for one’s circumstances. Is the author exaggerating? Is he being literal? Or is he finding the strongest metaphors possible to express his pain in the most raw, honest way he can? There is so little hope to be found in these verses, how could I possibly post them under the heading “Verse of Encouragement”?

Because the suffering is not the whole story, nor the end of the story. The author pours out his heart, then as my pastor phrased it, “pushed through the pain to find the praise.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering, (“suffering and homelessness,” NLT),
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, NIV

Who was it who pointed out to me that the verse doesn’t say, “Nothing bad will happen to you”? It says “we are not consumed.” Life throws some dirty punches, no mistake. We might not be spared the loss, the betrayal, the illness. No matter what happens, God has got our back. Without the tragedies, the set-backs, the horrible mistakes, who would I be today? Have I let bitterness dictate who I am, or hope? Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell. Would my character be on the road to refinement? Would I ever learn compassion for others? Would I grow in my faith? Would I learn to listen to that still, small voice and be able to tell the difference between God speaking and my own imagination or desires?

I hate pain. I hate having to be patient one more day and one more day. I hate it when I screw up again and hurt someone I love. I hate it when loved ones die. But because God loves me, I am not consumed. If I let him, he sustains, he strengthens, he shapes. He has endless compassion for me, even when I mess up big time. He wants this independent loner to need him, to seek him, to include him, to grow confident in him, and I’m pretty sure he finds it utterly precious when I finally break and cry out to him.

When I have unburdened myself to him, only then I can remember what he has done for me and those I love, what he promises still to do on our behalf. Then hope pours in to replace the pain.

What is burdening you? Tell him. He doesn’t need fancy language, formal reserve, or grand gestures of reverence. He wants to hear your heart poured out, honest and true and raw. He can handle it. He’s that big. He loves you that much.

Theme Song: “You Make Me Brave”

All my life I’ve dealt with fear. I doubt I’m alone in that. Sometimes the fear is a whisper I can ignore. Sometimes it’s a little more loud and insistent. Those are the times I might make excuses to not do something that I should, or I can pray through the feeling and take the step I need to. Other times, the fear becomes paralyzing. To the point that it has shaped certain parts of my life, sad as it is to admit it.

Example:  Deep down, I crave exploration and adventure, but I’m terrified of driving unknown roads. I frequently have nightmares of becoming lost in traffic, on strange twisting overpasses as night. I’m always the one driving, and I have no idea how to get to my destination. There are probably all kinds of psychoanalyses that can be gleaned from that, but it translates into a real terror in the waking world. It has prevented me from embarking on so many explorations of writing groups, art gatherings, and other things that might enrich my life. But more importantly, how am I to broaden my mission-field from behind a closed door?

This fearfulness has come up many times during my adult life, mainly because it doesn’t just affect me. And last week it reared its head again. Not in any dramatic fashion, but in a way that caused me to feel inadequate, even in the most basic, practical things of living life. That’s when I realized how silent and pervasive and evil this spirit of fear is. At the heart of it, this spirit of fear shows me where my faith is weakest.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7

So, while I hate the fear living inside me, it also drives me to rely on God. Sometimes the fear is so near the surface that I cannot leave my house without first giving that fear to him and fiercely claiming this promise for myself. Then I climb into my car, turn on the radio, and hear songs like “You Make Me Brave” by Bethel Music: