From “What If?” to “Even If.”
How many of you have ever had computer problems in the past, or your phone or iPad seems glitchy… and maybe you’ve called your IT department or you took in for repairs, what’s the common phrase everyone always asks you?
Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?
So many times, simply rebooting the computer or device solves the problem. And I think what we are experiencing with this virus, and quarantine, and having so much stripped away from us, that there is a glitch in our system and we need a reboot. But the glitch isn’t the coronavirus.
Think about this: Until 2 months ago, we could fly wherever we want, buy whatever we want, watch whatever we want, go wherever we want, do whatever we want… whenever we want. Our lives are very much built on the idea that we are our own people, and we do what we want. That we are basically in control of our own lives. That’s the glitch.
And that idea is proving to be false. We are not our own people, the whole world is more interconnected than we imagined, and we are not in control of our lives. No one planned for this. This tiny little virus made its way around the world in a week, and shut everything down. But I think God is giving us the beautiful gift of a reboot to bring us back to him.
If you have scripture nearby, I encourage you to turn to the book of Lamentations, and chapter 3. If you need to jump up and grab scripture, feel free to do that.
The book of Lamentations is written during a reboot in Israel’s history. You remember they were brought out of Egypt by Moses, into the Promised Land, and God told them if they are faithful to obey his commands and follow his voice, things would go well. If they abandon him, things would go poorly. Well, it didn’t take long before prosperity and peace distracted Israel from the living God, and they started worshiping other gods, building temples to worship these other gods, and following the practices of the pagan nations around them.
Now, you’ve probably been to the supermarket or something and seen a little kid acting up, and the mom starts counting – “get over here. ONE!.... TWO!... TWO AND A HALF!!!
Well, God counted to one. He sent judges to warn the nation to repent and return.
God counted to two. He sent prophets to warn them what would happen if they refuse.
God even counted to two and a half by raising up godly kings to legislate repenting. And the people still didn’t listen.
So God got to three. And three was that the nation of Babylon came in, besieged the capital cities, and carried away the Israelites to captivity in Babylon, away from their homes, their families, their farms, their land, and most painfully, the Temple. Away from the presence of God, like Adam and Eve being kicked out of the garden.
And Lamentations is written while the exiles are in Babylon. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the sin of the nation, mourning the condition of the city, recalling God’s judgement on their sin, and then we get to chapter 3 where the author is expressing how he feels in the middle of this affliction and sorrow and grief.
I talked to several of you this week, either on the phone or via text, just to see how you’re doing. I don’t know how many of you would say you’re depressed, but I know there is uncertainty and some fear.
A lot of you have loved ones who are high risk, and you wonder what if something happens? What if they get COVID. What if I get COVID? What if the kids can’t finish out the school year? What if my job never goes back to normal? What if I need a doctor and can’t get in to see one? When the bubonic plague swept through Europe in the 14th century, it took over 200 years for the economy to recover. What if that happens to us?
And those “what if’s” are legitimate concerns. And my goal for today is that Lamentations 3 is part of the reboot that helps us see, not the “what if’s” of this moment in history, but the beauty.
Let’s pick up in verse 21. Remember – he’s depressed, he’s afflicted, he’s feeling the weight of uncertainty and fear.
Look what these verses say about who God is:
His mercies never end.
His faithfulness is great, it’s abundant, more than enough.
He is my portion – that word means, something that’s been assigned to me, my share of the estate, my inheritance.
He is good to those who seek him
This is being written by a person who has had everything he held dear stripped away from him. So let me ask you: Can a virus be sweeping the globe, and those things still be true about God? Can we have loved ones in danger, or ourselves in danger, and those things still be true? Can you be facing cancer and those things still be true? Can you lose your job and those things still be true? Can your marriage be difficult and those things still be true?
YES! Of course! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! The promises he made to Eve in the garden still stands to this day. The promise to Abraham and Moses and King David are all still relevant to this day. God’s mercy hasn’t changed. His faithfulness hasn’t changed. His goodness hasn’t changed.
So if that’s what’s true of God, how should we respond?
Now the author of Lamentations knows this exile is God’s discipline for the nation, because exactly what God warned would happen came to pass. We didn’t have that same kind of warning, so I’m not saying this virus is God’s judgment or his discipline, but would we deserve it if it was? Have we let other things have a higher place in our lives than Jesus? When adversity comes our way, if what we just said about God is true, the best thing we can do is humble ourselves and pray.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14, King David’s son Solomon is dedicating the original Temple, and when he’s done praying, God responds to him by saying, “If I shut the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on my people, and my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”
Again, hear me out. I’m not suggesting that the coronavirus is a result of any one particular sin, or anyone’s particular sin. But God sending plagues is not against his character or nature, and he will use them to wake his people up. And if we want rid of it, washing our hands and staying 6ft apart is great, but washing our hearts is better.
I’m going to suggest two things that will be helpful for us to carry on through this season, no matter how long it lasts:
V28 – Silence. Make the time to be quiet with the Lord, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. In those moments of silence we are not bombarded by the constant barrage of TV and social media. Turn those off and be silent, listening for the Lord to speak. Take the time to get outside and take a walk. In God’s mercy, we can still be outside, enjoying fresh air.
Prayer. Philippians 4:6,7 Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Fill your prayers with thankfulness – worry turns to peace when we pray with thankfulness
Fill your prayers with repentance – V40,41: Let us examine and probe our ways and turn back to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven. Ask God to show you your sin, the idols of your heart, the things you’re holding onto that you need to let go of.
A practical tip for this is an app called The Daily Prayer app. It includes guided prayers every day, with what to pray, scriptures to read, and the Lord’s Prayer. For some of you it’ll feel too formal, but for me, it’s the framework that I need to make sure I do it.
Why should we do that?
On the other side of the coronavirus (when all of this moves on and we have a vaccine and no one is worried about it anymore), on the other side when we all come out of our caves and we can go about normal life again, WHAT WILL YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE LOOK LIKE? What will our spiritual life look like?
Will it have been nourished in ways you haven’t imagined before? Flourishing with faith and hope and confidence that you didn’t know were possible? Will it be a fruit tree full of good fruit? Or will it be a thorn bush, more dry and prickly than ever?
The author of Lamentations is asking that same question. He knows life won’t always be like this.
31 For the Lord
will not reject us forever.
32 Even if he causes suffering,
he will show compassion
according to the abundance of his faithful love.
33 For he does not enjoy bringing affliction
or suffering on mankind. -- Lamentations 3:19-33 (CSB)
Again, I’m not saying this for sure is God’s discipline, but Look at 32, 33 – Even if it is, God does not enjoy afflicting people or allowing suffering. If any of you got spanked by loving, godly parents as a kid, sometimes you heard them say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
And while we don’t understand it in the moment, our Heavenly Father says the same thing. Our salvation cost him separation from his Son. As Jesus hung on the cross, bleeding for your sins and your idolatry and your forgetfulness, he called out, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me!?” The answer? Sin. God’s wrath toward your sins and mine all were poured out on Jesus.
But even though God caused his son the suffering of the cross and separation, he showed him compassion because of his abundant love. And on the third day, with the payment for sin made in full, God raised Jesus from the grave so that verse 31 of Lamentations 3 is true of you and true of me: The Lord will not reject us forever. Even if he allows suffering for a moment, it’s not out of anger, it’s out of his abundant love and compassion, to see us return to Him, where we’ll find the deepest love, the greatest peace, and mercy forever.
My prayer for you today is that you allow God to reboot your heart this week, so that we take a longer, deeper look at God’s mercy, his faithfulness, his goodness, his abundant love, repent of our sin, and let him move us from fear driven “what if”, to the faith driven, “even if.”