Hope in Troubling Times

Image result for moody bible institute day one

Kelli, my wife, and I had the honour to speak in Day One chapel at Moody Bible Institute today.  If you weren’t there, or you just want to go over it again, this is what we said:

Kelli: “Hope in the Midst of Difficulty”

Peter and I met at Moody.

In the fall of 1998, I started my teaching career here. And that same semester, Peter came from the mission field in Pakistan to study at the Moody Graduate School. We were introduced to one another by Moody Graduate School Professor, Dr. Green, over lunch one day in the cafeteria. We spent much of our dating life frequenting the coffee shops in this neighborhood. I would plan lessons and grade papers. Peter would sit across from me, reading thick textbooks and writing essays.

Fifteen months later, in December of 1999, we were married in a 13th century church in Plympton, England. We started our married life, full of so many hopes and dreams.

However, just a few short years into our marriage, the wheels began wobble. And we entered a very difficult, extended, painful season.

Some of the particulars are as follows…

Peter’s dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died just months later.

We wanted to start a family, but suffered multiple miscarriages and the grief of infertility.

Our church at the time did not seem to know how to help us in our hurt, and when I descended into depression, their response was to discuss church discipline, adding to our pain rather than helping us through it.

Then, not long after, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my dad suffered a life-altering injury.

The expense of my dad’s care put a serious financial strain on our family.

While Peter tried to put on a brave front, I spiraled deeper into the fog of anxiety and depression.

And for quite some time, I very much struggled with the concept hope.

I know the details are very different, but perhaps your journey is in some ways similar to ours.

Most of you, I imagine, came here to Moody with certain hopes and dreams.

And whether you have been here for just one semester or for several years, during this season—this 2017-18 school year—you might feel as if the wheels are wobbling.

It has been and will continue to be a season of loss.

A season of life-altering injuries. Some which we have incurred ourselves, some which we have watched happen to people we love. The fact that you are here—in this place, at this time—will undoubtedly shape your life and your ministry in some significant ways.

This has been a season during which certain cancers have been allowed to grow in our midst.

A season where we are sometimes wounding one another—brothers and sisters in Christ—adding to each other’s pain, rather than helping each other through.

We are well aware, too, that for many of you—the current crisis of our community is layered on top of other personal trials that you are experiencing, making it that much more difficult to process the pain.

We’ve talked to a number of you who are finding it hard to know how to hope.

It’s an often misunderstood concept, I believe. This concept of HOPE.

During our darkest time, Peter would sometimes play a computer game. One of the characters in the game was called the Librarian. And the Librarian used to pop up on the screen sometimes and speak oh-so wisely, saying: “Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.” At the time, this sounded just about right to me.  Maybe it sounds right to you too.

Hope sometimes sounds like a dangerous or foolish thing to do.

This is because we sometimes speak of hope in a rather flippant fashion. We hope in the same way that we wish upon a shooting star, or toss a coin into a well, or blow out our birthday candles.

“I hope I get what I want.”

Or “I hope this situation turn out all right.”

Or “I hope this pain comes to an end.”

Or “I hope God answers my prayer.”

We too often hope FOR an elusive end goal, rather than hoping IN.

Or if we do hope IN, we hope IN fallible things.

We place our hope in other people, or in our own strength, or in a scheme of our own design.

And then we flail and we flounder. We are easily overwhelmed by the waves.

When we hope FOR a certain outcome, or we hope IN a mortal mooring, rather than hoping IN our sure and certain God.

In the summer of 2006, when our little family was still in the thick of that very difficult personal season, Peter and I took a much-needed vacation to the Island of Great Chebeague, off the coast of Maine. We desperately needed some time and space to heal and to rediscover true and eternal and Biblical hope.

We spent a week on that island, and during our time on Great Chebeague, God began to restore my understanding of what it means to find a certain hope in the midst of difficulty. Through much prayer and journaling and Bible study. Through long conversations with Peter and quiet walks on the beach and providential encounters with strangers, He repeatedly and persistently revealed Himself as the source of all hope and made His mercies known.

At the end of our island week, Peter and I had to take the ferry back to the mainland. We stood on the ferry’s deck for most of the one-hour ride, wanting to soak in every last bit of the Casco Bay. It was another foggy day, however, and it was difficult to see very far ahead. Eventually, though, our captain instructed us to focus our eyes toward the southwest—over the bow of the boat and beyond—out into the fog. The Portland Head Lighthouse, he promised us, was just a mile down the coast. So we strained our eyes to see. And sure enough, even before we could see the lighthouse herself, her beam was visible through the mist—rotating, pulsating, warning ships of the rocky coast, and guiding them home.

For the rest of the ride, I kept staring into the cloudy air.

Nothing but fog.

Nothing but fog.

Nothing but fog.

Then, suddenly, FLASH.

That simple image has stuck with me in the many years since as an image of hope. A sure and steady source of light when it is hard to see for the fog.

Sometimes our life situation feels so much like that fog. Other times it even feels like the black of night. But God—in His sure and steady faithfulness—breaks through the darkness and the mist in so many ways—through a Bible passage or a prayer or a conversation or a providential encounter—to lead us on and give us hope.

We pray that this morning, our worship together, and the truths from the Scripture passage that Peter is about to share, will be one more flash of light for you. One more reminder of our certain hope.


Lamentations 3:1-3, 16-40

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
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.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain
when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.

I first turned to Lamentations 3 when I was 18. The biggest trauma I had experienced was getting dumped by a girlfriend, one I particularly liked. And in my hurt, I punched a wardrobe for the first (and last) time. After realizing that was a bad idea, I searched Scripture and found Lamentations 3.

After finding the passage for the first time, I kept coming back to it—any time I felt lost or in a dark place—because of its beauty and consolation.  During the events in our life, which Kelli described earlier, I was pushed back again to this sanctuary in Scripture.

The teaching I received as a student in Moody Graduate School explained the passage even more.  Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing shared with my class that the whole book of Lamentations is structured like a ziggurat. Unlike modern, western writing which builds to a crescendo at the end, this book builds to a climax in its middle.  The whole structure ascending like the steps of an ancient temple to the beacon of hope surrounded by the overwhelming circumstances of Jerusalem’s destruction.

Like a lighthouse surrounded by the fog, so this is a passage of light—Lamentations chapter 3—is surrounded by the darkness of the rest of the book.

Also important to our understanding of this passage and the book of Lamentations as a whole, is the fact that the experience of the author personally is parallel to the experience of the community and the city as a whole. There is both an individual and a corporate experience of desolation and isolation.  There is nowhere for either Jerusalem or the author to escape.  God’s hand holds the writer firmly in place—just as He holds His people—to the point that he rubs their face in the gravel.  This tragic situation is inescapable.

However, just when all hope is lost there is a ray of new hope like the beam of a lighthouse in a dark sky. 

What does Lamentations 3 teach us about this hope?

  1. First of all, we see that the basis of our PRESENT AND FUTURE hope is God’s love and faithfulness remembered from the PAST.  In verse 19, the writer remembers his affliction and his wandering. He remembers, and he is downcast. 

But in verse 21, he turns his attention to , “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.” 

Encouraging ourselves and our community to memory is key to healthy lament.  When we have a full picture of reality, we sometimes are traumatized, remembering the bitter times, but also we remember the redemption.

And in looking beyond our circumstances, we catch a glimpse of the glory. The reality of our present situation is contrasted through faith with the reality of God’s steadfast love, His unfailing compassion, and His ability to sustain.  “We are not consumed!”

God is love, and his love is loyal and kind.  In his commentary on Lamentations, F. B. Huey writes:

The basis for renewed our hope is God’s “great love.” The Hebrew word hesed, sometimes translated as “covenant love,” is a word that has the basic meaning of loyalty or faithfulness, especially as related to the covenant initiated by God; the word involves obligations to family, friends, and the community. Another basis of hope is God’s unfailing “compassions”, which are experienced in a fresh and new way every day.

God’s love never ceases.

His mercies are new every morning. They are continuing.

Great IS HIS FAITHFULNESS, the writer proclaims!

God is faithful in ways that are fearsome and awe-inspiring.  He can tear down a great city like Jerusalem, but he can also create beauty from the ashes.  God has faithfulness to destroy and faithfulness to build up.  God is faithful to the people of Israel by reminding them of his constant attention to them.  He reminds them of his faithfulness to their broken covenant by bringing them low.  Now the people have no option but to remember their God.

  1. Secondly, we see that holding onto hope REQUIRES PATIENCE, TRUST, and PERSEVERENCE.

In verses 24-26 God brings His people all the way back to the beginning AND ASKS HIS PEOPLE TO WAIT. 

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.
The repetition of the word ‘good’ harkens back to the pronouncement of God on his good creation in the book of Genesis. The writer reminds himself and God’s people of the time when God created order out of chaos.  God’s mighty Word has created goodness once before. And He will do it again—in His time.

But we must wait for Him. Quietly. Patiently.

And when we do, when we seek God with perseverance and trust Him to act, we will see him form a new creation where now there is despair. 

We will see His SALVATION!

  1. But thirdly, we see that holding onto hope also NECESSITATES OUR HUMILITY AND SURRENDER! 

Verses 27 – 40 describe the humbling condition of the people. They are weighed down under a heavy yoke. They sit alone in silence. Their face is buried in the dust. They must offer their cheek to the one who would strike them. 

The people have been forced into a complete surrender to the conquering Babylon, but this is just a small picture of their need to completely surrender to the God who has allowed his people to be brought low. As they look from a prostrate position in the dust, they may have hope.

They do not have to sit passively, waiting for a change in their fortunes. While Hope may require waiting, it is not passive. We do not just wallow. We seek HIM!

God does not purpose for his people to be left in the dust – rather, knowledge of the whole story of God leads to hope.  God does not willingly crush people.  Quite literally, his heart is not in allowing his people to be crushed.  His heart is in the restoration of his people – a restoration that can only be achieved once people have been laid low and have surrendered to the potter’s forming hand.  He allows the bad and the good. And when God lays a hold of His people, He re-forms and remakes them, which is when His heart is glad.

Finally, in verse 40, we are called to authentic self-examination, confession, and repentance. 

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.

Our times of greatest pain are our opportunities for greatest growth. It is God’s call to restoration!

The Word of God calls us to stop, to feel what we feel and process those emotions: To be authentic, and communicate our heart, raw and rubbed in salt, to the God who heals.

The Word of God calls us to remember God’s faithfulness from times past.

The Word of God calls us to cease our activity, sit silently, and wait.

The Word of God assures us that when we are crushed and our face is ground in the gravel, true greatness is found. True greatness originates, though, outside of ourselves.

The Word of God points us to a sure and steady HOPE—a hope that is only found in the steadfast LOVE OF THE LORD.

I first found Lamentations 3 to be a source of great hope when I was 18.

I clung to Lamentations 3 when Kelli and I were going through those dark years that she described earlier.

And we return to Lamentations 3 in these difficult days. It is a beacon of light in the fog.

It reminds us to remember.

We remember His faithfulness.

We remember that He used my dad’s cancer to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

We remember that He gave us two beautiful children through adoption to love and to raise.

We remember that He used our pain to drive us to a deeper dependence on Him and to grow our understanding of His love.

We wait with you—to see His salvation.

And we surrender.

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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