Today on Summit Life with J.D.
Greer. God put this book in your Bible even though it is depressing and even though most of you will never memorize it because he wants those of you who suffer to know that he knows how you feel. I want you to see that it is okay for you to be honest, deeply and soul-wrenchingly honest with God. Welcome to Summit Life, the Bible teaching ministry of J.D.
Greer. I'm your host, Molly Vitovich. For some reason, most of us tend to think of good Christians as those who are always smiling and encouraging others. So whenever we struggle with depression, despair or doubts about God, we think there's something wrong with us or maybe we just don't have enough faith and it can be difficult to ask for help. Well today, Pastor J.D. addresses this very real struggle from a biblical perspective in our new teaching series called Smoke from a Fire. How our emotions reveal what's really going on and make sure that you stick around until the end when we introduce a matching resource. It's a 10-day devotional and scripture guide that goes with the series.
But for now, let's jump on in. Lamentations chapter 3. If you got your Bible this weekend, I hope that you do.
I hope that you brought it. Lamentations chapter 3. I'm going to begin a series called Smoke from a Fire. How our emotions reveal what's really going on down in our hearts. The title comes from a metaphor from Saint Augustine in the 5th century A.D. Saint Augustine said our deepest and our strongest emotions function like smoke from a fire that you can can tell you what's actually going on down in the deep recesses of your heart. You know, whenever you see or smell smoke from a fire in your house, it's never wise just to whiff the smoke away. The previous house that I lived in, the fire alarm near the kitchen was crazy sensitive and crazy loud. So if you burn the bacon by even a little bit, it would sound like air raid sirens were going off. You'd immediately jump up and first thing you do is you try to open the door and kind of use the door to fan it out. And you grab towels and you'd start waving in front of the smoke detector.
But of course, none of that is really going to take care of the problem if you don't stop the bacon that is burning on the top of the stove. We'll see in the same way our emotions are going to reveal something that is going on in our heart. And the wise approach to them is not to simply try to whiff them away or manage them or suppress them or medicate them. The first thing we've got to do is figure out what those emotions reveal about the state of our heart.
That's what the Bible is going to teach you to do. Yes, there are good strategies for managing them and yes, there are lots of different factors we're going to get into. But the main thing we got to do is learn to read them as indicators. Your emotions have the most dominant impact in determining your quality of life.
It determines how much you enjoy life, how happy you feel, determines how you see the world, how you treat people. All that goes back to your emotions. The first emotion that we're going to look at in this series is depression. Now, let me just say here to you right out of the gate that depression, I understand, is a very complex emotion. First, depression we know operates along a continuum. At one end of the continuum, you're going to have discouragement, which we all go through when things don't go like we want them to go. That can begin to move toward despair.
Despair is when you think that not only are things bad now, but things are going to be bad tomorrow and things are going to be bad for as long as I can see into the future. And for many people, that can spiral down into depression, which has a number of factors that are at play in depression. There are spiritual factors, there are physiological factors that go into it, psychological factors, even social factors. In this sermon series, I'm going to focus primarily on the spiritual factors, but I want you to hear this. That doesn't mean that I think that spiritual factors are the only contributor or even always the primary contributor in every time of depression.
God made us, some would say, God made us as a psychosomatic unity, which is just a fancy word for saying that our body and soul are integrated, which means that what happens in one will invariably affect the other. For example, and this just is a very simple example, you ever realize how unspiritual you get when you are either hungry or you haven't had enough sleep? I told you just a couple weeks ago that when I get hangry, I'm not a good counselor. I get rude and I'm impatient with people. Now, rudeness with people is a spiritual problem, right? Nothing should ever justify me being rude to somebody else, but my rudeness, which is a soul problem or a sin problem, is being triggered and exacerbated by my physical condition.
That does not mean that I shouldn't pray for more patience, just that I should also take a nap and eat a Snickers bar. Now, just to be clear, I'm not saying that what I experience when I'm hangry is the same thing that you've experienced if you've walked through depression. I'm simply saying that there's a lot going on in any emotion factors that are both spiritual and physical and psychological and social.
Like I said, in this series, I'm going to focus mainly on the spiritual dimensions, okay? All right, depression. Like I said, depression begins with discouragement. You get discouraged with something that is happening that really starts to change your outlook on life.
For example, your marriage is just not getting any better and you see little glimmers of hope, but it always kind of spirals back down into just the life that you never really wanted to live. Or maybe something's happened that really shattered your sense of who you are. You got cut from the team. You got denied entry into the school.
You got passed over for the promotion. Or maybe somebody broke up with you recently and their insults throughout that breakup has really gotten into your head and changed how you see yourself. Maybe a loved one passed away and you're lonely.
The pain of their loss, that void that is left by or created by their absence, it's just not going away. Or you're still single at this point in your life and you never thought you would be and you're wondering what the future is like. Or maybe you're single again. Maybe it's a chronic illness that you're dealing with, that just the pain of this, this dull ache, it just doesn't go away. And you're like, I just don't know how to look into the future if I gotta deal with this for the rest of my life. Or maybe, maybe you've messed up again. Or you've messed up for the thousandth time and you've blown another opportunity or lost another job or destroyed another relationship. Or maybe there's some struggle that you just can't seem to get over and you feel like no matter how long I live, I'm going to be plagued by this and I can't get victory.
Whatever it is, when you look into the future, all you feel is this suffocating kind of darkness that is closing in on you that keeps you from wanting to even get out of bed in the morning. You think things are bad now and they're probably going to be bad forever, which brings us to Lamentations 3. Now I realized when I told you to turn in your Bible to Lamentations 3, some of you had no idea that book was in the Bible. In fact, you spent the last six or seven minutes trying to figure out where is Lamentations. It's right in the middle of your Old Testament, right after Psalms and Isaiah.
Just look around that direction. The book is going to surprise you when I tell you about it because you probably didn't know a book like this was in the Bible. Lamentations is essentially five poems that lament, that's where we get the word Lamentations, five poems that lament how bad everything is. Five that are written by the prophet Jeremiah.
The book, by the way, is itself a work of art. How many of you brought your Hebrew Bibles with you this morning? Anybody bring their Hebrew Bible?
That's an easy little thing to carry around like this. If your Hebrew Bible is open, you will notice that all five of these poems have 22 verses in them with one exception. The 22 verses of each of the chapters correspond to one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet like an acrostic.
Except for the third chapter, which we're going to look at, which is a triple acrostic. It has 66 verses, three verses for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is like Jeremiah is trying to show us that he is describing suffering from A to Z.
My whole life feels like suffering. The other exception is the last chapter, chapter five, which you have noticed, has 22 verses but they don't correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. And it's like Jeremiah is trying to show us that at this point in his life, suffering has lost all rhyme or reason and it's descended into total chaos and everything has come off the rails. So the very book itself, just the structure of the book, is designed to show you a life that is characterized by suffering from A to Z that is finally descended into chaos where there is no more rhyme or reason.
Some of you might already feel like you can relate because you're like, if there was a work of art that somehow pictured my life, it'd probably look something like that. Jeremiah lived during a time when Israel was being delivered over to exile for their sin. Israel had hardened their hearts to God so many times that God was finally doing to them what he had promised he would do to them and that is exiling them from the land that he'd given to them. During Jeremiah's life, Jeremiah witnessed multiple violent deportations of friends and family from his beloved hometown of Jerusalem to Babylon. Jeremiah watched as Solomon's temple, the symbol of Israel's faith and the pinnacle over culture life, he watched as that was torn down. Jeremiah was one of the few remaining survivors left in Jerusalem and everybody that was left kept telling themselves that the worst was over. But God told Jeremiah that the worst was in fact yet to come and Jeremiah was given the unenviable task of telling everybody that remained that the armies of Babylon were going to keep coming until nobody was left.
Imagine that being your job. You've got to tell everybody around you that you love that has gone through unspeakable suffering already, that the worst is yet to come and it's not going to stop until everything has been destroyed. To make matters worse, nobody believed Jeremiah. They called him a traitor and they put him in a dungeon where Jeremiah 38 6, the other book Jeremiah wrote, the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 38 6, that he sunk up to his armpits in mud. It was from this hellhole that Jeremiah composed these five poems.
Is there any wonder they are so dark? All that to say, if you're in a bad situation, trust me, Jeremiah gets it. Your friends may not understand, your parents may not understand, I may not understand, but Jeremiah would have understood. So let's dive down into the middle of this mud pit with Jeremiah, Lamentations 3. Let's begin in verse 1. Jeremiah says, I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath. He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light.
That word driven there is a word that would mean driven with a whip like a slave is driven. Jeremiah is probably thinking about how he's seen friends and family driven from Jerusalem with whips and chains to be taken as slaves in Babylon into a place of darkness without any light, darkness with no dawn, darkness with no hope. A few years ago, I read a book called The Endurance about the failed mission of Ernest Shackeltone or Ford where they were trying to be the first group to cross Antarctica, the South Pole. So they had this journey laid out, but things went wrong and there was an early freeze, unexpected freeze that came. And so the ice crushed their ship and they had to walk several hundred more miles than they were planning. Bottom line is they got stranded at the South Pole for over a year. They said the worst part, the survivors that made it out, said the worst part was not the sub-zero temperatures. It was not the fierce storms. It wasn't even the starvation.
The worst part, they said, was that the sun, the sun at Antarctica goes down in mid-May and doesn't come back up again until mid-August. They said it's hard to describe just the utter feeling of devastation and desolation to dwell in total darkness day after day with no hope of seeing any kind of light. That is what Jeremiah is describing in his life. Day after day with darkness, no light, no hope, nothing on the horizon that I see that can bring joy into this.
Maybe you can relate to this. Verse 3, surely against me, he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. Question, who is the he in this verse?
Who's the he? God. Surely against me, God turns his hand again and again the whole day. He, God, has made my flesh and my skin waste away. God has broken my bones. God has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation. God has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. God has walled me about so that I cannot escape. God has made my chains heavy. Though I call and cry for help, God shuts out my prayer.
You ever felt like that? You ever feel like God's not listening? Even more, you start wondering, God, maybe you're behind this. And at the very least, God, you're not doing anything to fix the situation or stop this.
Y'all, here's the thing. Jeremiah knows that this feeling is not true. He's going to show you that in a minute. But regardless, this is how he feels in the moment. Some of you have gone through dark chapters and you've thought these same things, but you have suppressed those emotions, telling yourself, real Christians don't ever feel this way. The prophet Jeremiah was a real Christian, and he felt that way. Charles Spurgeon was a real Christian, and he told his 15,000 member congregation at the end of the 19th century, he told them, I know that I've spent more days shut up in depression than anybody else here. He was said by many to be the greatest preacher ever to live, and he frequently considered quitting the ministry. He was so depressed and so often depressed. Martin Luther was a real Christian, and Luther went through times that were so dark that his wife would remove every knife from the house for fear that he would kill himself. For more than a week, he wrote in one of his journals, for more than a week, I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled constantly. I could find no thoughts about Christ. Only thoughts I could come up with were desperation and constant blasphemy of God.
One of our church planters, Trevor Atwood, tells a story of when he first felt the call of God to go into ministry, he resigned his job in Tennessee, a good paying job, moved his young family down here and got to be a part of this church and started to go to seminary. He said almost immediately, things started to fall apart. He said, my marriage, and I remember him walking with him through this. He said, my marriage got within inches of divorce.
He said, we went into total bankruptcy. He said, the worst moment, and again, I remember this, is when my wife gave birth to our newborn son and he lived for just a few days and he died in my arms. He said, in that moment, as I held my dying newborn baby, he said, I had no words. All I could ask God during that season was God, why? I didn't want to talk about God. I didn't want to preach the words of God.
I didn't want to go train to learn more about God and teach other people about him. I only wanted to rage against God. God, all I've done is try to follow you.
All I've done is try to obey you and this is how you treat me. Can you see at least that you're not alone? You're not alone in some of these thoughts. God has blocked my way with blocks of stones. God has made my paths crooked. Every time I see a way out of this, it's like God crushes it. God is a bearer lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding. What's your favorite image of God?
Is it that one? He's a bear waiting to maul you, a lion waiting to devour you? God turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces. I prayed for deliverance. I prayed for direction and it's like he just destroyed me. God has made me desolate. God bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. It's like God was hunting me.
God drove into my kidneys or my heart, the arrows of his quiver. I've become the laughing stock of all peoples, the objects of their taunts all day long. This has all driven me to despair and self-doubt.
Maybe there really is something wrong with me. God has filled me with bitterness. He has sated me with wormwood.
Wormwood, by the way, was a bitter herb that the Jews believed represented the judgment and the wrath of God. God has made my teeth grind ungrateful. God has made me cower in ashes. My soul is bereft of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is.
I can't even remember what the emotion of joy and happiness is like. And so I say, my endurance has perished and so has my hope from the Lord. My soul remembers all of this and is depressed within me. This is Jeremiah, ladies and gentlemen, the prophet of God. Let's close in prayer. No, I'm kidding.
I wouldn't do that to you. No, seriously, this is going to be the next passage you commit to memory, right? Is it?
Is it? You're like, man, I'm encouraged. Some of you, as we were reading this, you were picking up your Bible. You were looking at your Bible. You were going, is this the Bible? How did an editor not catch this? Some editors should have been like, yeah, Jeremiah, this is not really you at your best.
Why don't you go home, take a nap, get a shower, eat some breakfast, come back and try it again tomorrow. But see, let's just stop right there and make sure we get our minds around that. God chose to include this in your Bible. To include this in your Bible. He could have edited this out.
He could have been like, you know, Jeremiah, what we, what we need are more positive and encouraging Psalms like David's, you know, the whole Lord is my shepherd thing and still waters and overflowing cups and lions laying down with lambs and that kind of stuff. That stuff sells. That's what the people want. You know, Solomon's wisdom is really hot right now. We, you know, we can't keep his sex manual song. We can't even keep that thing on the shelves.
Why don't you go write one of those things? That's what the people want. Jeremiah, nobody wants a book where a prophet rages against God and says things like my hope has perished and God is shooting his arrows at me and God shut up my prayers and doesn't listen to him. And God's like a bear waiting to maul me. Nobody's going to buy that Jeremiah, but God put this book in your Bible, even though it is depressing. And even though most of you will never memorize it because he wants those of you who suffer to know that he knows how you feel. And it is okay for you to express those emotions to God.
You see this lament is honest, even if it's not accurate. It's an honest reflection of how Jeremiah feels, even if it does not fully and accurately account for everything that God was doing or who God was. And see, I point that out because I want you to see that it is okay for you to be honest, deeply and soul wrenchingly honest with God.
In fact, sometimes I think we can be entirely too quick with our quick little one line answers in church. Oh, are you feeling sad? Oh, that can't be from God. You need to pop on some K-love and listen to something positive and encouraging because that's what the Christian life should be all the time. Listen, no disrespect for K-love.
I mean, that's a great station to listen to. It's just that sometimes you need a God who walks through pain with you. And that's what you're going to find in chapters like these. The greatest Christians in history were not those that God delivered from all pain and misery, but those he delivered through pain and misery. And faith starts with honesty before God.
And thank God it doesn't stop there. Verse 21, but this I call to mind. This might be one of the most profound transitions in the entire Bible.
Now, I want you to visualize Jeremiah in this dungeon, sunk up to his armpits in mud, thinking maybe about a child that he's lost, maybe about a wife that he's lost, thinking about people that he loves driven away, convinced he's never going to see them again. And I want you to see him in this mud pit defiantly saying, but this I call to mind. And therefore I choose, I choose to have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
It is good. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord, for the Lord will not cast off forever. But though he caused grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. I want you to keep in mind that these are the middle verses in the middle chapter of a book that is otherwise completely filled with despair. This is right smack in the middle and everything else in the book of Lamentations is nothing but despair and misery.
This is like the center point, the anchor point for the whole book. This is Jeremiah's answer to the spiritual dimensions of depression. He shows us what we are to do in the midst of despair. Number one, Jeremiah says, I will call to mind the goodness of God. I will call to mind the goodness of God. Look at verse 33 there. What is he calling to mind? That he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
What that means is that like any good father, God will allow his children sometimes to go through pain, but he does not enjoy their pain and he only allows it because he knows that pain will ultimately produce a greater joy later. One of the most traumatic experiences of my life was when I took my first daughter at one year old in for that round of shots that she gets when she turns one. I took her into the pediatrician office and I was told that my role was to hold her on my lap. I know it's bad for the kid.
I know it's got to be bad for the kid, but somebody should give a class to the parents. I thought it was going to be like one little prick, little ant bite and it was all going to be done. That doctor stuck that needle in my little girl's arm for that first shot and she let out a scream that could have woken the dead. The worst part was after stuck in the needle the second time, my daughter's eyes start frantically looking around the room for what monster is doing this to her and she locks onto that doctor.
That's not the worst part. The worst part is then she turns to me because she's like, you, you could stop this. But not only did I not stop, it actually held her more tightly so that doctor could do it, not just one more time, but two more times for a total of four shots and that look in her eyes of just betrayal.
I don't know what goes on in the psychology of a one-year-old. I'm not sure what they can remember, but I hope my daughter has reconciled with that moment in her life because ultimately, yes, I'm allowing her even assisting in the causing of pain, but I'm doing it because I know this is going to lead her to ultimate health and joy later. Jeremiah said, in the midst of this pain, I cling to the goodness of God. I cling to the goodness of my father and how is it that I know that God is good, he says, because I call in my mind the steadfast love of the Lord and the way that he has acted in Israel's history and the things he's revealed about his character. I remind myself that he delivered our people from slavery when he did not have to because he saw our suffering and he was moved by it. I call to mind that Jesus came to earth to die on a cross for my sins when he did not have to. I call to mind the life of Jesus where we saw his heart break again and again for every broken sinner. We saw him weep tears with people that were in pain. We saw how he never turned away someone who was sick or someone who was suffering, that his heart broke with compassion for all of them and I know from those things that he's good, that he is a good, good father, and I choose to believe that even when I can't see it or feel it right now in my circumstances. What a powerful reminder. I have to call to mind the goodness of God and preach the gospel to myself every single day. You're listening to Summit Life with J.D.
Greer. When you join our mission and donate at the suggested level of $25 or more, we'll say thanks by sending you a 10-day devotional and a scripture guide as a companion to our series also titled Smoke from a Fire. As Pastor J.D. just said, it's okay to express emotions to God.
Faith starts with honesty before God. This resource is designed to help you pray desperately and honestly, sharing your deepest feelings with the one who made you. Ask for your copy of the devotional and scripture guide when you give today by calling 866-335-5220. That's 866-335-5220.
Or it might be easier to give and request the resources on our website. The address again is at jdgreer.com. And if you don't receive our e-newsletter yet, be sure to stop by the website to sign up. You'll get ministry updates, sneak peeks of new resources, and Pastor J.D. 's latest blog post delivered straight to your email.
Sign up at jdgreer.com. I'm Molly Vidovitch, and I'm so glad that you joined us today. And be sure to tune in tomorrow when Pastor J.D. Greer continues our new teaching series on difficult emotions here on Summit Life. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
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