I recently preached in chapel at Southwestern. Here is a "version" of what I preached!
One of my bad habits is that I’m a bit of a procrastinator, especially when it comes to sermon titles. I am notoriously bad about starting early on sermon preparation, but honestly, when it comes to prepping my sermons, I’m not disciplined enough (and preach so infrequently) that I don’t spend the time developing sermon ideas regularly. I do regularly pray for upcoming preaching, but don’t “simmer” in ideas and texts like I should early enough. My tactic has been to “wait for inspiration.” Some of you know what I mean—you’ve got a paper to do or a project to work on, but you’re not in the mood. So, you just sort of do other things and wait to be inspired to work on it. But, it often doesn’t work that way…we may be waiting for something—for inspiration, for God to breathe life into us—but those deadlines keep coming at us, regardless of whether we’ve been “inspired” or not!
There are definitely thing that we DON’T have to wait for inspiration in order to do? The “mood” doesn’t have to strike me in order to do a certain number of things. For me it’s watching LOST on Wednesday nights, or eating a piece of dark chocolate, or responding to an email. But other things—things that are harder, or more important, or more complicated—they require more attention, more drive, more focus. When the stakes are higher, we sometimes need that inspiration in order to get started.
But sometimes we wait because there’s nothing else that we can do! Ever had something unexpected come your way that derailed you? Maybe you got sick, you got a flat tire, or a friend came by with an emergency. Sometimes the waiting is more about being stuck. Sometimes we may say that we’re waiting for inspiration, but the truth is, we’re hoping that no one comes along to inspire us because we’re too tired, or in too deep to want to move.
Our passage today gives us a glimpse into that kind of waiting. Here is the context: Jerusalem has been sacked—the Holy City (and its worship) has been taken over by infidels. The author of this chapter (traditionally thought to be Jeremiah—the weeping prophet) is taking the fall of Jerusalem personally, actually, his description is much more of a man who is in a pretty deep depression—he cannot escape, he is crying out to God for help.
You get the impression that he pretty much think that his life has bottomed out.
Despair. Stress. Fear. Resignation. The world is falling apart. Actually, the way that this is written, quite literally, the world is falling apart! In fact, from A to Z. Each chapter of Lamentations is an acrostic in the original Hebrew language. The author is telling us that there are so many things wrong with the world that he can tell us something for EVERY letter of the alphabet! In fact, they probably memorized this and recited it at various times of the year. The world has gone to the pits!
Do you know despair? Do you know stress? Well, we all know hard times—like this time of year when we have lots to do and it’s hard to find the motivation to hunker down and get it done. But do you know the depths of despair? I would guess that some of you do. When your life is sort of spinning out of control…you’re not sure what the future holds, or if you even want the future to hold anything at all. Maybe you’re getting ready to graduate and you just see a big question mark for May 11, the day after graduation. Maybe you’re far from graduation and you can’t see how you are going to finish out the rest of your schooling. Maybe you’ve gotten bad news from home and you feel helpless in the situation. The darkest place in all of these situations (or whatever you are) is that place where you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
That’s where our guy is…in despair, announcing his lack of glory, brooding on his affliction. And yet…he says this.
What? That’s not what you expected, is it? He’s just told us how depressed he is and then, he drops the bombshell: God still loves me! And God—you are worthy of my praise! Great is your faithfulness!
We sang earlier a song earlier, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It was written by Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960). Mr. Chisholm was converted at age 27 and became a Methodist minister for a short time, but spent most of his life selling life insurance. He was never a wealthy man, in fact struggled with health and financially. And yet, he proclaimed the faithfulness of God: Great is thy faithfulness, Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
We also sang “It is Well With My Soul.” This song has an incredibly compelling story to it, too! It was written by Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) who was a businessman who lost a great deal of money in the great Chicago fire and also lost a son. Shortly after the fire, he planned a trip with his wife and 4 daughters to Europe but was delayed as his family set sail shortly before he was able to leave. On their trip over, their ship was met with disaster and sunk, leaving few survivors. Of his family, his wife, alone, survived. He followed shortly after their tragedy and penned these words: When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows, like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.
What gives these men hope? They have learned the secret of finding hope, even when circumstances are tragic—say, “teeth-breaking-ly tragic,” they have hope. How do they do that? Let’s turn back to the scripture and see what we can find.
What? Wait quietly in the midst of all this tragedy? No…here is our normal reaction: If there is something wrong, let’s use our voices, let’s lament! Let’s write a blog complaining about it or tweet our friends or even just complain loudly in the cafeteria when we’re ticked off about something!
But our lamenter says, “the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him” and even adds “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Do you buy that? Do you believe that the Lord is good to those who wait for him? Does waiting bring good things? Waiting feels like WASTED time, but is it?
We’re going to watch a short video of a woman who shows us that waiting does bring good things. Above all, in this clip, she exemplifies hope. Perhaps she hasn’t always exemplified hope, but she’s had some recent circumstances that have given us insight into what it means to wait.
Well, I’m guessing that you’ve seen the video of Susan Boyle, the 47 year old, singing sensation on Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent. Did you hear the hope in her voice:
• “Currently unemployed, but still looking”
• “Always wanted to perform in front of a large audience…I’m going to make that audience rock!”
• “Trying to be a professional singer—she hasn’t been given a chance before, but here’s hoping it’ll change”
She hasn’t won the competition yet, but she’s definitely won the hearts of the world! As of yesterday, there were 37.5 MILLION hits on her YouTube video. Susan Boyle not only has hope, but she shows us that hope is contagious! We all want to think about our dreams a little when we watch her sing. I wonder what gave her the courage to stand up on the world’s stage and sing. I wonder if it was reading words like this:
It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
Susan Boyle certainly knew what it felt like to be rejected, and yet, maybe she knew these words to be true—God would show compassion on her—he doesn’t willingly afflict or grieve anyone. There is a lesson in this passage for you, though, too. It specifically speaks to the young and says that it is good to “bear the yoke” in youth. See all these negative images:
• Sitting alone in silence
• Put one’s mouth to the dust (a posture of repentance or humility)
• Give one’s cheek to the smiter—that sounds like it’s going to hurt! (sound familiar—turn the other cheek?)
• Be on the receiving end of insults
Why is this something that youth should be bearing? It doesn’t seem like anyone should have to bear this mistreatment! Can anything good happen while you’re waiting?
Well, actually, the answer is yes: Have you seen a child that got everything that he demanded from his parents—candy, doesn’t have to brush his teeth, doesn’t go to school? Can you imagine this kid as an adult? An unchallenged kid would turn into an overindulged and narcissistic adult, demanding his way, regardless of who it hurts in the process.
But, have you met a child who has endured challenges—perhaps just boundaries set down from his parents, but maybe more—a loss in his family, or even a physical challenge. Not everyone responds productively in this circumstance, but there are those that take tragedy and turn it to triumph—that is the stuff of Disney Movies, right?
Can you see it: young man in despair, lost, alone, ominous music in the background, repentant posture, covered in dust, a man throws insults and slaps him on one cheek while the tortured offers the other one, when, off in the distance the hero is visible (there may yet be hope), and he rescues the afflicted. The hero is compassionate, strong, powerful, and loving! You see, this passage reflects more the sad reality that we will face trouble in our lives and points out that while God is not to blame for it, God is the one in whom we can place our trust. Learning this lesson, especially as a youth, allow us to persevere into maturity, trusting the goodness of God, despite difficult circumstances.
In waiting, we learn that our character needs to be refined: we must wait, as it proves what we are made of.
We also learn about God’s character when we’re patiently waiting before the Lord: God is compassionate, loving, merciful, faithful. In other words, God is worthy of our hope!
So…how do we wait? How do we have this hope? I think that there are 3 kinds of waiting:
1. Jiffy Lube Waiting Room (Passive waiting)—just a matter of time,
• Doing nothing
• Doing “busy work”—puzzle, knitting, watching tv
• Not necessarily productive, but not destructive
There is a spiritual parallel: going through the motions, getting distracted by “good” things, but not taking time to find out what’s really important
2. Hospital Waiting Room (Anxious)
• Anxiety, tears, prayer—complaint
• Time drags out—excruciating
• “Stuck in the mud” waiting
There is a spiritual parallel here, too: praying, but then worrying; laying it down, and then picking it back up again; impatience.
3. American Idol Waiting Room (Active)
• People rehearsing
• Maybe have family or friends there with
• Chatting about chances
• Scoping out competition
• Palpable anticipation
The spiritual parallel here is more productive: quietly listening to God, spending time in prayer, reading scripture, surrounded by Christian community.
When you’re waiting for inspiration, what kind of waiting are you doing? Are you passively waiting? Anxiously waiting? Or are you actively waiting?
There are important lessons that are learned while waiting. We can join in with the writer of Lamentations and hymn writers Thomas Chisholm and Horatio Spafford and find our hope in God! You may feel like your life is in a pit right now. Or maybe things aren’t even that bad, but you’re waiting for something—waiting to be inspired, perhaps. Waiting to graduate. Waiting to take the next step.
Are you taking advantage of the gift of waiting? Waiting is not wasted on the young! As you wait, you will learn of the character of God—the compassionate, faithful, loving character of God. You just might find the priceless gift of hope in the midst of tragedy. You just might be inspired by the Spirit of God in the midst of your waiting. What are you waiting for?