April 4, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Lamentations 3:16-23 (NRSV)
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.”
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I 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.
Sometimes faith in God can be comforting and reassuring. Sometimes, however, it can be a wild ride. We see some of this wildness in Lamentations 3, which begins with some of the most painful expressions of pain, with credit given to God. But then, right in the middle of the chapter, there’s a sudden switch. All of a sudden we find hope. Faith is like this sometimes. When we’re on that wild ride, we can be confident that God is watching out for us. We don’t need to be afraid because God is sovereign and God is good.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
I made one of my worst decisions as a parent on December 21, 1996. It was my son’s fourth birthday. We celebrated by taking him to Disneyland in California. I wanted to do something special for Nathan, so I decided to take him on Space Mountain, a hi-tech roller coaster. He was just barely tall enough to go on the ride. So, ignoring my wife’s motherly protests, Nathan and I headed off for Space Mountain.
As the fast part of the ride began, I knew instantly that I had made a terrible mistake. The twists and turns of Space Mountain, which happened mostly in darkness, were thrilling for a 39-year-old father, but terrifying to a four-year-old son. Nathan didn’t scream or cry. But I could sense his fear. I felt terrible. When the ride ended, I didn’t say anything. Finally, in a soft, timid voice, Nathan said, “Dad, I don’t think I should go on this ride again until I’m eight.”
Space Mountain was, and still is, a wild ride. If you haven’t gone on it before, consider yourself warned. The third chapter of Lamentations is also a wild ride. If you haven’t read it in a while, consider yourself doubly warned.
The opening verses of chapter 3 include some of the most personal, painful laments of the whole book. We read verses like, “[The Lord] made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is” (Lamentations 3:16-17). In utter discouragement, the writer of Lamentations confesses, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD” (3:18). Then he adds, “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.” (3:19-20). You just can’t get much lower than this!
But then, as the text rushes at full tilt toward utter despondency, we come upon a stunning change of direction. Verse 21 reads, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (Lamentations 3:21). Wait! Hope? Where did hope come from? Lamentations has been utterly hopeless so far. But now? What? Hang onto your seats, for the shock has just begun.
Following the shocking mention of hope, we read this: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). One minute, the Lord has ground the teeth of the writer into the ground. The next minute, this same writer celebrates the ceaseless love and endless mercies of God. Talk about a wild ride! Surely, Lamentations 3 is one of the wildest rides in the whole Bible.
Have you ever experienced faith as a wild ride? Have you, for example, gone through times of joyful trust in God, only to be turned quickly into doubt and despair? Or perhaps you were sure God was calling you into a certain job or relationship, but for reasons that made no sense to you, what you anticipated didn’t work out. Do you ever find yourself praying like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)?
If you’ve been on that ride before, you know how crazy it can be. Perhaps you’re on that kind of ride right now. Or maybe you will be in the future. No matter when it comes, you should know that what you’re experiencing is common to God’s faithful people, like the writer of Lamentations, for example.
You should also know that, no matter how wild the ride might seem, God is in control. God is, as we’ll see in more detail in tomorrow’s devotion, utterly faithful and worthy of our trust. Therefore, we do not need to be afraid no matter how scary things might seem.
When I rode with Nathan on Space Mountain some 25 years ago, I felt terrible for him and guilty about my insensitive fathering, but I was not afraid. I did not feel even the tiniest bit of fear on Space Mountain. Why not, even though I was hurtling through the dark, just like Nathan? The answer is simple. I trusted those who had made Space Mountain. I knew that, no matter how unexpected and abrupt the turns might be, and even though I had no idea where I was heading, I would be okay.
So it is on the wild ride of faith. As crazy as it might be sometimes, we don’t have to be afraid because we know God is sovereign, and God’s steadfast love never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end.
Has your relationship with God ever felt like a wild ride? When? What happened?
How would you describe the “ride” of your faith right now?
How is it possible to go from utter despair to bold confidence in God’s faithfulness?
Talk with your small group or with a friend about the “wild ride” of faith.
Gracious God, every time I read Lamentations 3 it takes my breath away. Even though I know verses 21 and following are coming, I’m stunned to read them. What a jaw-dropping shift in language, from aching lamentation to bold faith!
Again, I thank you for the blunt honesty of Lamentations, for the writer’s willingness to share his faith as it is, not as it might be when prettied up a bit.
Thank you for being with me always, even when I’m on the wild ride of faith. Help me to trust you even when I don’t understand you, even when it feels as if my life is topsy turvy.
Today, Lord, I pray for people who are right in the middle of this ride. They’re being tossed to and fro in the dark. They’re hanging on for dear life. Help them, gracious God, to know that you are right there with them. Hold onto them in your love and mercy. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Honest Unbelief
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.