Refresh & Restore — December 31, 2020

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” [1]

Lamentations 3:19-24

Greetings, Sojourner!

This is the thirty-seventh Refresh & Restore devotion! I have enjoyed writing these and hope that they have been some help to you as well. So, today, we will look once again to Jesus for hope now and in the future, seeking to be refreshed by His presence while we await the restoration of things as He has promised (Acts 3:19-21).

Today, we will spend time in God’s Word as usual, but I ask that you check out the update regarding the future of Refresh & Restore in 2021.

As we are no doubt ready to leave this dreadful year, I think it is important that we have an appropriate outlook on the future and what will and will not provide the hope and relief that we so desperately seek. I think that word – desperate – describes many of us. For that reason, the book of Lamentations is quite appropriate.

The book of Lamentations is believed to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem around 586BC and written by the prophet Jeremiah. What is clear about this book is that it is a book of mourning – grieving things lost and crying out over desperate times. There has been plenty of both this year. We seem to be preoccupied by these things, talking about them more and more with each passing day. This, fueled by 24/7 news coverage and social media overload, causes us to be focused on it more intensely than ever before in human history.

Jeremiah shows that he can identify with this. Throughout Lamentations 3, he talks about how he has “seen affliction under the rod of [God’s] wrath” (v. 1), dwelled in “darkness without any light” (v. 2), suffered physical and emotional pain (vv. 4-5), felt isolated from others (vv. 7, 9), been mocked and ridiculed (v. 14), descended into bitterness and depression due to it all (vv. 15-17), and forgotten what it feels like to hope and trust in God (v. 18).

2020 has not been like this for everyone, but I have talked to numerous people who are and have been struggling this year. These issues hit home. They are real. They are raw. God has a word for us in such times and experiences and feelings.

That is where our passage begins today. He remembers his “affliction” and “wanderings” (v. 19) and talks about it with terms like “wormwood” and “gall”, showing how bitter he is about it all. This has affected him greatly and caused his soul to be “bowed down” within him, obsessively focusing on it (v. 20). But there is hope! He says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).

In the times when hope seems lost, we need something to “call to mind” – like a post-it note or book mark in our brains – to help us unstick our minds from tragedy, grief, or despair. I have written in the past about my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and general mental-stuck-on-negativity-ness (this, of course is the clinical term). Isolation and a near-constant barrage of negative information does this to people. And you would think in the middle of a book of the Bible that is basically called “lamenting” would do the same thing; however, we need to realize that the focus of this chapter is verse 21. It is the thing that is called to mind that brings hope. And it shows itself in four parts.

The first part is that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (v. 22a). This is especially important for us because Jeremiah shows that what he calls to mind is what he knows about God’s character. He reminds himself of God’s “steadfast love” (sometimes translated “loving-kindness”). This is a special word that shows up around 250 times in the Old Testament. It illustrates the forever-love that God has for His people and is always associated with His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Jeremiah’s words here remind me of two great passages about God’s love:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”

Romans 8:38-39

and

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes, all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

How good it is to “call to mind” the love of God.

The second part of Jeremiah’s reminder is that the Lord’s “mercies never come to an end” (v. 22b). I was asked earlier today if God ever stops loving us or gets tired of fooling with us because of our sin. Jeremiah gives us a good answer and a necessary reminder. God’s mercy – His compassion – will never stop. He said as much in Malachi 3:6: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed”. The proof of God’s love for His people is His continued patience. That does not mean He is always pleased with us. It certainly does not mean that He sits in approval of the sin that grieves Him. It means He loves us anyway.

If you have not noticed, all four parts of Jeremiah’s reminder build on one another. We have seen how his never-ending love flows into His mercy; now, we can see in the third part of his reminder how often we need His mercy. It is “new every morning” (v. 23a). I like the way that Job talks about this. When he speaks of this, he is shocked by God’s response to His people: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment” (Job 7:17-18). What he wonders Jeremiah sets his mind on: God has abundant mercy that is given out regularly. It is out of God being “rich in mercy” and “the great love with which He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) that we find salvation in the first place.

All the love and mercy that God can pour out to His people comes solely from Him and is not based on us. This is the final part of Jeremiah’s reminder: “great is [His] faithfulness” (v. 23b). The psalmist says that “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5); that gives new meaning to “I love you this much”!

In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah is primarily dealing out prophecies of punishment to Judah. But, as bad as their outlook and situation appeared to be, God would and did continue to love them. Their sin did not change who He was or what He had promised them. His faithfulness – despite their faithlessness – would win out in the end. They as a people would survive His punishment. And, in the same way, those who trust in God through Christ today can bank on the fact that “great is [His] faithfulness” because He truly is all that He has promised.

So, all Jeremiah had to say to himself was “The Lord is my portion…therefore I will hope in Him” (v. 24). He could remember that the Lord had “dealt bountifully” with him (Psalm 116:7). And, in the midst of depression and suffering, remember and returning to the Lord brought hope. It can do the same for us today.

I do not know what tomorrow holds. I have no promises or predictions for 2021. But I know this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and, if we will put our trust in Him, our hope will 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” (Romans 5:5).

I love you and continue to pray for you. If you need a listening ear, feel free to reach out. But know that you can always go directly to God to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).[2]


***Update on future Refresh & Restore devotions***

I would like to try something new for this upcoming year. I would like to walk through a whole book of the Bible.

I plan on starting small with 1 John to try it out, and I intend to walk through the whole thing before I make up my mind whether this is the direction we should lean toward in the future. Whether we continue in this past that or mix it up with short series like we have in the past remains to be seen, but, either way, I look forward to continuing to spend time in the Word with you as long as God allows us to continue!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), La 3:19–24.

[2] For more help on this subject, feel free to check out the message from Christ Community Church from December 27, 2020.

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