How do we hold hope when tears of sadness or despair stream down our cheeks? The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah was called by God to deliver a challenging message. The call was to God’s disobedient, defiant people to repent, turn back to God. Leave their rebellion, immorality, and unfaithfulness behind and return by their hearts to God who loved them and desired to share life with them. Yet they did not listen and instead ridiculed Jeremiah for his message. It is no wonder he is called the weeping prophet.
How do we hold onto hope when the tears roll? Here is an eclectic group of individuals: Winston Churchill, Patty Duke, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Vincent van Gogh, Ludwig von Beethoven, Jane Pauley, Terry Bradshaw. A weird group, wouldn’t you say? What do they have in common? At different periods in their life, all of them had periods of the soul, deep despair, times of discouragement. Yet, they were able to continue to offer their abilities back to the world in a way that made an impact in their respective fields.
How do we hold hope? How do we rise above despair to be faithful to what God asks us to do, like Jeremiah?
Discouragement is a part of life. We might work hard but see no progress toward our goals. An athlete might practice diligently every day yet not win the starting position or their team win many games. We, as parents, might love our child and do our best to raise them, but they might rebel. It can consume our spirit and make us want to give up.
That’s how Jeremiah felt. God called him to the difficult task of bearing a message to His rebellious people. Jeremiah obeyed, but it was not easy. One time Jeremiah’s prophecy angered Pashhur, an assistant to the high priest and chief security officer for the temple. Pashhur had Jeremiah arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail. He then locked him into stocks so his hands, legs, and neck – his whole body – was contorted and writhing in pain. This action represented the religious leaders of Jerusalem’s Temple publicly rejecting Jeremiah as Yahweh’s prophet.
Jeremiah preached his heart out for forty years begging the people to see the error of their ways and come back into a faith relationship with God, but no one listened. He experienced deep distress. No friends, no wife, no family, no positive response to the message. He endured physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish. He walked in deep despair, all for being obedient to God’s will.
So what is it that causes your despair? When do you become blue? It is a chronic condition of life, the circumstances of which are not changing? Are you struggling with faith? Are you in great physical pain? Are you wrestling with financial pressure that might turn your life upside down? Have you lost a loved one, and the loss has left you so lonely that you can taste the emptiness? Perhaps your marriage ended in divorce. Maybe you have a child or grandchild who is trapped in an addiction. Maybe you have experienced some great personal failures, which has thrown your life into chaos. When we experience difficulty and tears roll down our cheeks, how do we hold on to hope?
Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure a sick body but who can endure a crushed spirit?” We can learn from Jeremiah’s faith journey that which will empower and inform our journey of faith today.
First of all, confess your frustrations and all your feelings toward the Lord God. Be honest with God about the matters of your heart. Jeremiah was honest. He told God he felt deceived. God prevailed in His call to make Jeremiah His messenger, and now Jeremiah was the laughingstock of his people, ridiculed, humiliated, offended. His voice was not making a difference. Jeremiah even cursed the day he was born.
Throughout my ministry, many people have asked, Is it okay to be angry with God, to be disappointed? If so, should I tell Him? My answer to them is, Yes! God knows how you feel whether you tell Him or not. You might as well tell Him and get it out there. God’s love for you is deep enough and big enough to handle your feelings.
Most important, if in our discouraged anger we become silent toward God, the enemy of our soul can strip us of faith. Then we may be pulled down even deeper into the darkness of despair. It is better to be honest with God. He wants to hear your heart sing. He wants to know how you feel.
Second, like Jeremiah, we need to ask God for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. We need to ask God to restore our joy, give us strength to persevere despite our emotional despair, light up our lives with hope, and replenish our courage and our resolve. Ask God to fill you again with a fresh anointing of His Holy Spirit.
Third, trust God in your time of darkness. Like Jeremiah, remember that the Lord is always with you and fights for you. Often, in our discouragement, we look inward at our capacity, at our own problems and frustrations. Instead, we need to look upward to the Lord. He has not abandoned us. He is with us.
Corrie ten Boom who the book, The Hiding Place, worked with her sister Betsy and her father to assist Jewish people in escaping the pursuit of Nazis during World War II. They were later arrested and taken to a Nazi concentration camp where Betsy and their father died. It was a place where hope was lost for many people. However, Corrie survived to tell her story of unfaltering faith and tightfisted hope in God. She had seen the face of evil up close and personal. She witnessed the most atrocious and inhumane acts a human being can perpetrate on another.
Here is what Corrie said, “If you look at the world, you will be distressed. If you look within you, you will be depressed. But if you look to Jesus Christ, you will be at rest.”
Jeremiah realized in faith that the Lord was with him. The Lord was a dread champion, a violent warrior who was victorious! Jeremiah would not be on the losing side. He was going to win because the Lord was his mighty warrior.
This is true for us, too. We eventually win because God wins. He has sent our champion, Jesus Christ, to fight for us. He has already won the battle. He went to the cross and was raised from the dead. “We are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who loves us,” (Romans 8:37).
A. W. Tozer wrote, “Living in the glow of God’s presence will enable you to fight on despite discouragement.” Trust God in the darkness remembering He is with you and fights for you because He loves you.
Fourth, recommit to doing what God has called you to do in your life. Jeremiah said that God’s message was like a fire in his bones and he couldn’t hold it in. He had to speak for the Lord. So when he came out of that stockade punishment, he immediately said to Pashhur, “The Lord’s judgment will come upon you for your lies and your deceit. With your own eyes you will see the defeat of God’s people by Babylon’s hand. All of them will be hauled off into exile, and you will die there.” Jeremiah was a man of integrity. He was faithful, though it was hard. He recommitted to doing what God called him to do, even as he honestly told God his discouragement.
Fifth (and this is counterintuitive), praise God with your whole heart even when you’re in the midst of adversity. Worship God as the fruit of your lips. Praise God as a way to take the focus off of yourself, off of your problems, and onto the Lord Jesus’ capacity to help you and to love you. In the midst of his expression of honesty, Jeremiah says, “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord!” Praise is the one weapon in a Christian’s arsenal against which Satan our enemy has no defense. Praise expresses our faith that God is for us.
Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, let us offer a sacrifice of praise . . .” A sacrifice of praise means I’m going to praise God even when I don’t feel like it. A sacrifice of praise puts to death my human pride. A sacrifice of praise puts to death my desire to control the circumstances of my life and reminds me that I’ve surrendered to the Lord by faith. My life is in God’s control, whatever the outcome. A sacrifice of praise puts to death my fear and rekindles faith in God’s ability to be my deliverer.
Isaiah 61 says that we should put on a garment of praise. It reads, “Console those who mourn. Exchange beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for your spirit of heaviness.” Are you feeling wounded or hurt or despairing today? Is your heart blue? God says to you, Try on this garment of praise. I will fill your soul with joy. I will cover your wounds. I will lift you up. Jeremiah’s praise of God turned his despair into joy. His praise, I believe, was the key that unlocked the door to hope. Sing praise to the Lord. Praise the Lord.
Finally, remember that by faith your life is inseparably yoked to Jesus Christ Himself. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Your life is linked inseparably to the power and love of Jesus Christ. He became God incarnate. He descended into the brokenness of this world and faithfully went all the way to the cross. He was then raised from the dead, above all that is broken in this world. He raises our burdens off us and holds us in His strong arms of love.
Often, a little child will come up to mommy or daddy and say, Pick me up. Perhaps the child is weary of walking, fatigued. Perhaps the child wants to feel the strength of the father’s arms lift him up, or maybe the child wants to feel daddy’s arms hold him intimately against his chest, against his heart, so he can feel his father’s loving presence.
Never forget that when Jesus offers His arms to you, He says, Wherever you are and whatever is going in your own life, you can come to me. My arms will wrap around you. I will link your life to mine. I will pour my love into you. I will yoke you to me. “Come to me,” Jesus says.
So our prayer of faith today in the midst of difficult times can be, I will hold on to hope because I ask my Daddy to pick me up. Amen.
Pastor Lee Laaveg