In America this feels like a non sequitur. Our founding fathers called the pursuit of happiness one of our inalienable rights. Moreover, if you’re affluent enough to attend Mizzou, then you probably can’t remember a time totally bereft of happiness. You’ve probably always (or almost always) had food, clothes, and shelter. But let’s be honest, that’s just naive – even in America we can live without happiness. We feel unhappy because all of our wealth and material possessions leave us unsatisfied, because we lost the girl of our dreams, because we feel lonely, because we feel directionless, because our plans always fail. Maybe some of you have even felt like the prophet Jeremiah, who cried out, “I have forgotten what happiness is” (Lam. 3:18).
Jeremiah faced terrible oppression. He was beat, starved, and left to die. Other prophets mocked him and no one listened to his advice. His ministry must have looked like a total failure (he had maybe two or three followers throughout his time as a prophet). He watched his friends and family die at the hands of Babylon or stolen away into exile. Moreover, the few people he knew remaining in Jerusalem ignored his advice to trust in God and stay there. Instead the marched off to die in Egypt – and the forced him to come along.
Jeremiah continued his lament in verse 18, “…My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” Jeremiah not only forgot the feeling of happiness, but he felt himself losing his grip on his only remaining lifeline – God.
Perhaps you’ve felt this way too. You felt like a failure, like your life could not worsen. You find yourself wondering, “Is God still with me? Can I hope for anything better than this?” You felt your will and endurance in life decreasing, because you’ve lost sight of what is left to live for.
If that’s you right now, then maybe you’ve been brought low to see the actual heigh of God’s love. Maybe he’s exiled you to valley of despair, to call your eyes upward, that you might see the glorious peaks of his love, so that you might find yourself in awe of his mercy, grace, compassion and care.
That’s what happened to Jeremiah. Just as he lost hope, he looked up to God, cried out to him, and discovered that God’s love far surpassed his imagination,
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers 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.
“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 that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. (Lam. 3:19-27)
God’s compassion is new every morning. There is no number of sins, no depth of despair that can dry up his unending well of love. Every morning, you can return to him for love and strength anew!
But Jeremiah goes a step further. He says that God’s blessing is on those who wait for his salvation, who endure despair and heartache by waiting for God to provide. In fact, Jeremiah says it’s a good yoke for us to bear in our young age. Why? Because enduring suffering produces steadfast faith (Jas. 1:3). That’s the kind of faith that lasts, because it unceasingly trusts in God, and that’s a blessing! God is not like the empty idols who cannot satisfy, he’s the deepest longing of our hearts. If turn to him continually, we will continually taste fulfillment and joy in him.
Though our outward circumstances may not show it, our inward condition is joy in him.