This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” (Lamentations 3:21–24)
There is something in a sunrise that stirs the promise of newness an life. It’s odd, really, because sunrise and sunset are simply the same thing ‘in reverse’ – they both etch the sky with the creator’s palette, whispering of His glory and infinite beauty and touching our hearts with the certainty of His existence. Yet sunset brings the peace of rest and evening ease, while sunrise heralds a new day and brings the peace of knowing that yesterday is done, and today is ours. In times of trial and hardship, we seldom find time to simply sit and enjoy the sunrise. We may even resent the fact that it means we once again have to face the day with all the struggle it’s sure to bring. It’s at these times that we have to fight to hold on to our hope in God.
There is a subtle difference between our faith in God and our hope in God.
Both faith and hope in God work together and, in fact, cannot be separated, even though they are distinguishable from each other. Both the difference and the interconnectedness of faith and hope in God have great relevance for us as Christians, and especially in those ‘back against the wall’ moments. Today’s verses provided a wonderful spiritual truth that is well worth reading, meditating on, and even memorising for those times when we’d rather the sun set than rise.
Jeremiah was a man of extreme sorrows – so much so, that he is often referred to as ‘the weeping prophet.’ This young man was called to ministry in a time when idolatory in Israel was deeply entrenched and reached appalling proportions, with parents even sacrificing their children to the Baals – the false gods they had raised up and which they worshiped despite the previous king’s attempts to eradicate them. Jeremiah’s task was to warn the nation of God’s coming judgement. From this, we have the book of Jeremiah. But he also witnessed the ‘failure’ of his ministry when he watched the destruction and of Israel and his people carried off to slavery in Babylon. This brought us the book of lamentations. Yet this is the same man who, in the midst of desolation, reminds of the absolute reality of our hope in God.
We may well wonder how he managed this. He could also be called ‘the reluctant prophet’ because he protested his calling on the basis of his youth and inexperience. Of course, we can glibly offer statements like ‘God does the work’ and ‘He will equip us’ and all the other platitudes that come so readily. But we need to remember that the life of the biblical prophet was a far cry from the superstar status assumed by so many self-appointed prophets today. Jeremiah’s reluctance was real. It was based on a certain knowledge that his calling would bring unpopularity, resentment, persecution, and perhaps even martyrdom. For a prophet, hope in God was a critical component of his faith.
How many of us, like Jeremiah, have a stood in a place where we felt we’d failed. We poured ourselves into what we were called to do, yet seem to find only dust and ashes as a reward. We expected blessings and rewards for our labours, yet found only hardship and suffering. We may even have simply tried to live righteously and obey God in our daily walk, yet there we are, stuck in a place of trial and tribulation. Where, we may ask, is God? What use is it to have faith in God and hope in God when it comes to nothing?
This is where the example of the weeping prophet is so encouraging. Firstly, Jeremiah wept. He mourned the destruction of Israel. He grieved for the people swept into slavery by their cruel conquerors. He saw his effort come to nothing, and he carried a weight of sorrow for those who had not turned back to God. His grief is real. Jeremiah was truly broken-hearted, yet he remained a man of God. How did he manage to hold onto hope in God through all this?
The answer lies in that vital relationship between faith and hope. As Christians, we all too often get distracted and muddled by worldly attitudes. Hope, says the world, is something close to optimism or positive thinking – if we think something hard enough, it’ll happen. Worldly hope has no real basis, no foundation. It’s simply a positive feeling that things will work out. It’s essentially governed by the mind and the emotions, and when things get difficult, it’s rather like the proverbial cake of soap in the bath – hard to hold onto. Hope in God, however, is a powerful spiritual reality.
The difference – the thing that sets hope in God apart from the hope of the world – is the fact that it is based on and rooted in faith. We cannot have real hope in God if we don’t first have real faith in God. At the same time, we cannot have real faith in God if it doesn’t manifest in hope in God. The two are inseparable, and each supports the other. To avoid misunderstanding this, we should look first at faith.
Romans 10:17 says this: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. This is the very critical ‘first step’ as exemplified in the life of Jeremiah. The prophet found no delight in being proved right. There was no satisfaction in witnessing all of the judgement and punishment he had prophesied happening literally before his eyes. Lamentations is absolute proof that this man of God grieved completely, with his whole being, for the tragedy that befell God’s people through their own foolishness and obstinate refusal to forsake their idolatory. So how, then, did he manage to hold on to his hope in God? It was because he never lost his faith in God.
We may then ask how, in the face of such tragedy, he managed to hold on to his faith in God. If we read the book of Jeremiah, it contains wonderful promises of restoration and reconciliation. This is the grace inherent in God’s dealings with His people – He always provides a choice. There is always an ‘either-or,’ the opportunity to make changes and avoid His wrath, or to ignore Him and perish. Despite the extreme depravity to which Israel had fallen, He still offered a better alternative, and glorious promises for the future. Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry included both the desolation and the restoration. His hope in God came out of his faith in God through the word he had heard and prophesied.
This is a wonderful example, something we should take hold of and practise in our daily lives so that, when tragedy or trial comes, we are already secure on an established foundation. Jeremiah’s faith came by hearing. It also, ironically, came from witnessing those things that God had spoken actually come to pass, even if they were ‘negative.’ This is a reality we so often miss. When hard times come, we tend to see only the ‘bad’ and lose sight of the truth that, if God keeps His Word to bring judgement and punishment to His people, He will surely also bring the wonderful promises He has promised. God’s word exists in entirety. Hope in God comes out of faith in God in that entirety – He will do what He has promised, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
In the midst of Jeremiah’s grief and lamentation, he still saw the complete Word of God. He looked beyond the tragedy to the single truth that God is eternally faithful. What He has spoken will come to pass. Even in all of this, he was able to find and hold onto the ‘joyful expectation’ that defines hope in God – not the joy of the world, but rather a deep, abiding spiritual joy that is anchored in a faith that cannot be shaken, a faith that is built on the sure foundation of all the promises of God.
Our difficulty today comes largely from the fact that we lead such easy lives, at least in the practical sense, and this defines hope in God. Most of us don’t have to walk miles and carry water into our homes. We don’t have to rely on candles for light, and have microwaves and fridges, cars and aeroplanes, coffee-makers and Google. Everything we could possibly desire is virtually at our fingertips – even the last 100 years has utterly transformed our lives. In this context of comfort and instant gratification, we are conditioned to look past anything that demands effort or which carries personal cost.
Yet a plethora of social issues is emerging, and suffering remains an integral part of this world. In all our ‘civilization,’ wars still happen, greed proliferates, injustice is ripe, and people spend a fortune seeking counseling for emerging modern hangups. Some diseases are still incurable. And human nature’s only change is that it seems to have got worse. In all of this, we somehow absorb the assumption that we deserve only the best from God. Our hope in God is based on a skewed perception of who and what He is. It isn’t based on His entire Word. It’s based on faith in those parts of it that ‘fit’ with comfortable Christianity.
Jeremiah is a reminder that we cannot exclude judgement from God’s mercy. He is a reminder that when God speaks, He will always fulfill His Word. We cannot subscribe to the current view that preaches ‘unconditional love’ because this implies that God will only bless us, not discipline or chastise us. True faith is the faith that accepts every single word that proceeds out of the mouth of God as absolute, immutable truth. The great irony – and tragedy – is that mankind has never needed hope in God as much as we need it today. In a world rapidly spiraling into eternal darkness, hope in God is the only thing, sometimes, that keeps us going.
Today’s verse is a reminder that each new day brings God’s eternal faithfulness to our lives. Sunrise is the time to focus on Him, to look forward rather than back. What happened yesterday – be it success or failure – is not relevant today. We can look back to learn from our mistakes or to remind ourselves of His blessings, but the only important thing is that today, God is faithful. He is merciful. He is compassionate. Through His grace, today is our ‘new beginning.’ We may have fallen, we may have sinned, we may have let him and ourselves or others down, but that was yesterday. His compassion and mercy today enables us to look to our faith and to our hope in God.
The real, abiding truth is that, if we immerse ourselves in the Word of God – entirely, the good with the bad, those things we don’t like along with those we do – He becomes our portion, our inheritance. Our faith is rooted on the Rock. It is unshakeable, immovable, and as eternal as He is. We all need hope. It is the thing that lifts us out of tragedy, trial, and tribulations and enables us to rejoice in all things. Hope in God is the ‘spiritual powerhouse’ that keeps our eyes on Him. Faith is what anchors us, hope is what keeps us moving. Paul told us that, at the end, only three things will remain: faith, hope and love. If we love God, and love His Word in its entirety, faith and hope will become a part of who we are.
Lord, we thank You this beautiful morning, for the daily reminder of Your grace, mercy, compassion and faithfulness. We thank You for the certainty that, despite our trials and tragedies, the sun will always rise because You have spoken. Help us to love You and Your Word completely. Strengthen our faith in it so that we may have the only solid foundation in You, and grant us the grace to be joyfully expectant, to live in the glorious hope that is only found in You.