This past year has been the hardest of my life. My world turned on its head when my wife had a devastating stroke which left her needing permanent, round the clock, care, leaving me to care of our young daughter as a single dad.
While I would like to say that I’ve past every test with flying colors this year, it wouldn’t be true. Some days its feels like I barely survived, and like my faith was hanging by a thread. However, the Lord has continued to supply strength for each new day and challenge. We’re all still here, though we are left with a permanent limp – so to speak.
One of the most difficult lessons that I am still learning is to wait on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord is tough because it requires us to realize that whatever is wrong in our lives can’t be fixed by our own efforts. There are circumstances that we may rail against, but all our efforts are useless. One thing I have learned this year is that God often puts his people into such circumstances to refine our faith, to give us a genuine hope, and to stop trying to be the god of our own lives.
I you have a favorite passage in the book of Lamentations, I bet it is verses 22 and 23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” I love these verses, but this year, my attention was caught reading down a little further.
Verse 27 reads “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” One reason this verse stands out to me is that growing up, my dad frequently quoted this verse to me out of context. Basically, to him, it meant “Get a job! Word hard while you’re young!” (I may have been about 8 years old when this was first applied to me.) Sorry, Dad, but if you had read the surrounding verses, I think you would have come up with a significantly different application.
Here is the passage with the surrounding context: Lamentations 3:25–33 “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. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause 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.” (ESV)
So what is this yoke that it is good to bear while young? Counterintuitively, it is the yoke of suffering without immediate relief. Earlier in the chapter, Jeremiah describes his suffering, saying he feels like God has ripped him to pieces like a lion, and that God has shot fatal arrows through him – you get the picture. This isn’t a headache – it is real, gut-wrenching suffering, yet somehow he comes around to say that this is a useful experience, especially while one is young. Perhaps Jeremiah has been into some of his “mighty fine wine” as he’s writing, or perhaps he has something vital to teach us.
It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around this, as many of us barely have the patience to wait two minutes for the microwave to cook a burrito, but for Jeremiah, waiting on God through suffering is an indispensable means of cultivating hope. If God instantly solved all our problems, there would be no need for hope, and no opportunity to grow in faith and in intimacy with the Lord. Learn this lesson while you’re young, Jeremiah says, because genuine hope in God is precious and will prove its worth over and over again throughout your life.
Hope is grown in us through patient suffering, because it is in those times that we find out if we really believe what we say we do. It is a fire that burns away our false hopes and pretend faith, to expose what is real. The faith that Jeremiah expresses, against every thing he sees going catastrophically wrong is that the Lord will not cast off forever (v.31), and that he will turn and show compassion because of his steadfast love (v.32).
Though everything around Jeremiah is going wrong, and no help seems to be on the horizon, he has learned to wait for God because he is convinced of the goodness, justice, and character of his God. This comes from a man who started his prophetic ministry as a youth, and faced opposition every step of the way. He bore the yoke when he was young, and as a result, he has a genuine hope in God in the midst of unspeakable devastation. It is only when we have learned these lessons, that we can, perhaps with tears, to stare into the storms of life and declare: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
God is never late. His purposes for his people aren’t random or ill-conceived. When He backs you into a corner, where there is absolutely nothing you can do to help yourself, be assured that He is doing some of His best work in your life. Yield to that yoke, and wait. After all, there’s nothing else you can do. God has never failed any of his children. You will see the deliverance of the Lord if you wait for Him in hope.