Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Sorrow Mixed with Light

Leslie Basham: Sometimes our circumstances are desperate and full of despair. Pastor Mark Vroegop points us to our merciful and faithful God.

Pastor Mark Vroegop: I never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever run out of the mercy that I need! Every day, there’s fresh mercy available, even when life looks like a wasteland.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender, for April 18, 2019.

Picture the most stark, lifeless war zone you can imagine. Sometimes our hearts seem that desperate and broken! Over the last few days, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Pastor Mark Vroegop have been helping us learn the language of biblical lament. Mark is the senior pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Let’s listen as he and Nancy continue their conversation.

Nancy: I think, Mark, that it may come as a surprise to some people to discover that we have a God who gives us permission to express the deep pain and anguish that we experience living in a fallen, broken world, and you see that all through the Scripture.

I don’t know if most people know that there’s a book called Lamentations—to lament—and if they do, it’s probably not one we turn to very often. But this is an important part of our whole journey as believers. It’s a means of grace that God has given to us.

Mark: Yes, it’s a means of grace where we’re able to find our voice in suffering, but the book of Lamentations is also a memorial. It’s meant to remind us that our world is broken and that God is holy.

It helps instruct us to both: remember that that’s true, because pain will suddenly remind us that that’s true. But we need to be reminded of that more often than we probably even realize. But then, to be encouraged that even when the bottom falls out, God is still there and His grace and His mercy never end! And that’s the message of the book of Lamentations.

Nancy: So if you can find the book of Lamentations quickly, I want to encourage you to do that. It’s, oh, just a little past the middle of your Bible, right after the longer book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is the author of the book of Lamentations. It’s just five mostly short chapters, but a really important book for our Christian journey.

If you’re driving, I don’t recommend this right now, but if you’re in a place where you can actually turn to that passage in your Bible or find it on your digital device, I recommend you do that. The most familiar part of the book of Lamentations is probably found in the middle chapter and in the middle of that chapter, chapter 3, verses 22 and 23. We sing this, we quote it.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

As I say those words, the tune to a familiar song with those words is probably coming to your mind.

But, Mark, I think most people don’t realize the context for that wonderful declaration of faith is not something that we quote as often. Talk us through where that great statement of faith is found.

Mark: I think most people would view that text like a picture that I saw of a quaint cottage in, like, the Smoky Mountains with a beautiful place that everybody would like to visit.

Nancy: Like a Thomas Kinkade painting or something, right?

Mark: Oh, for sure, and we all think about how thankful we should be and how beautiful that is. The verse is beautiful, but the context isn’t! The context is not a cabin in the Smokies; the context is a war zone! It’s the darkest of the darkest moment when Israel has been decimated, the temple has been destroyed, the people have been taken off into exile.

This is a moment when the world would look at Israel and say, “What in the world happened!?” In fact, the very first word in the first verse of the first chapter is the word, “How?” And that’s the theme. In fact, something that was the original title of the book of Lamentations: “How did this happen?!”

Nancy: And the beginning of chapter 3 has that same tone, because there’s corporate lament, but the prophet here is also experiencing very personal lament. He’s touched by this whole situation; it’s not just like God’s people are experiencing this. He is one of God’s people, and he’s feeling this pain!

He (Jeremiah) says, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath” (Lam. 3:1). Just read to us, Mark, some of those verses in chapter 3 that describe the hardship—the deep, deep grief that prophet is experiencing—because I think that some of our listeners may say, “That kind of describes where I am right now!”

Mark: Yes, I think every follower of Jesus comes to that point. And you see the prophet Jeremiah flip from that verse that you just read all the way to saying to God in verse 58, “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.” So there’s a huge contrast from the first half to the second half of Lamentations 3.

Nancy: I don’t want to skip over the first half, because that’s an important part for him to verbalize—how he’s feeling before he gets to verse 58.

I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven [me] and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long (Lam. 3:1–3).

And, Mark, just read some of that portion where the prophet is feeling the weight and the oppression of his lament, before he makes that turn to see the promises of God.

Mark: It’s pretty clear that Jeremiah knows that, not only is the world broken, but he’s talking about God in a way that raises deep questions about the nature of his grief and what has happened. So, he says things, like in verses 7–10:

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy . . . though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked . . . He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding (Lam. 3:8–10).

I mean, this is really, really stark and gutsy language, frankly!

Nancy: And look at verses 17 and 18, here:

My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'

It’s like he feels hopeless and helpless! This is a really honest man, he’s a godly man, he’s a prophet chosen by God, but he’s saying, “This is awful!” Does that give us permission to express our complaint to the Lord?

Mark: Yeah. Well, I think that’s the reason that the book of Lamentations is in the Bible. It’s to help us to see the effects of a broken world, but also to know, “How does a godly person, in the midst of that broken world, still think biblically and righteously when the brokenness and the effects of sin have become catalytic in terms of their effects on society and culture?”

Nancy: And this is not just theory, here. I mean, you open up your favorite news app today—whether you’re liberal, conservative or somewhere in-between—you’re going to see things that make you grieve and say, “How can this be!?”

Mark: And the question in that moment is where do you go when that happens? Do you remain removed from your society and your culture? Do you take a posture like Jeremiah could have taken?—“I told you so!” Or do you enter in with the society and your culture and the brokenness of the world to say, “Look, this is hard and life is broken, and yet, God is still on His throne.”

That’s where Jeremiah goes in this book, which is a really helpful pivot. It’s the pivot of all laments, and it’s the significant pivot that happens in this beautiful—but hard—book of Lamentations.

Nancy: It’s a pivot we need in our own hearts and in our corporate worship, as the people of God, when we look at things like: injustice, racism, the whole Me, Too movement. People that you and I have in our lives who are reeling from dealing with the pain of abuse and assault and violence committed against them.

Then we look at other countries of the world and we see things that are more distant, but they’re heartbreaking! So how do we process that as the people of God? So we don’t stay buried in the, “How could God do this? How could this happen?” in our honest complaint to the Lord, but we have to make that pivot, and Jeremiah really helps us with that.

It kind of starts, it looks to me like, at verse 21: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” He just said, “My hope has perished; I don’t have hope.” But now he starts that pivot. What is it that he calls to mind that gives him hope, whereas minutes before he didn’t seem to have hope?

Mark: What Jeremiah does is, he takes the truth that he knows about God and he applies it even in a dark and very dismal moment. And as a result, there’s hope that springs out of the truth of who God is. What happens is, he rehearses the truth about God’s character, about God’s steadfast love, even though the circumstances around him haven’t materially changed.

There’s a different perspective, a different attitude. And, oh, how we need that! We need that at a cultural level; we need that at a church ministry level. I need that at a personal level, whether it’s deep levels of injustice or whether it’s just when I’ve been unfairly treated and I’ve got struggling emotions that I don’t know how to deal with.

And so, Jeremiah identifies a number of key pillars that we can grab hold of in the verses that follow in Lamentations 3.

Nancy: That hope that we’re longing for springs out of counseling our hearts with the truth about who God is, and God’s covenant promises, and the end He has promised—that He is redeeming this broken, fallen world and making all things new! That includes us, the people we love, the nations of this world will one day bow before Christ and honor Him as Lord!

What’s one truth for starters that we need to tell ourselves, that we need to rehearse, if we want to have hope spring out of this hopelessness we feel?

Mark: For me, verse 22 is not only familiar but it’s incredibly helpful to be applied, sometimes on a daily basis. Especially when I’m struggling, I’ve come back to this verse—whether it’s a cultural issue or personal pain: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercy never comes to an end.”

This is the darkest of all dark moments in Israel’s history, and yet even in this—even when life looks like a wasteland—there’s a floor that Jesus has bought. Pain never gets below the floor of His mercy and grace.

Nancy: Wow!

Mark: So I never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever run out of the mercy that I need! I may feel like I’m right on the edge. I go to bed believing the next morning there’s going to be mercy available to me. And this has been just lived out in my own life, trying to apply a faith walk of believing that whatever I face, there’s enough mercy for it, for today, and to go to bed living in this truth that His mercies are new every morning.

Every day there is fresh mercy available, even when life looks like a wasteland—no matter what the issue!

Nancy: As you’re saying that, Mark, I’m thinking of people you and I know who are struggling with something we haven’t struggled with, and that is in their marriage. They feel, “This is a wasteland! This is not working; there is no redemption! My mate has no interest in dealing with the issues in our marriage.”

You counsel in your ministry; you preach Sunday after Sunday to people in your church who you know are in that place. How can this word about God’s never-ending mercy be a means of hope for that person?

Mark: Verse 24 just, I think, encapsulates the essence of it: “The Lord is my portion . . . therefore I will hope in him.” When Jeremiah looks at his circumstances, what in the world would he have to hope in based on what his eyes see? And isn’t that what it means to be a follower of Jesus, that we live by not what we can see with our eyes, but based upon the truth that God tells us through His Word?

This verse says that, “The Lord is my portion,” so there’s enough supply for someone who lives in a marriage that’s deeply disappointing or in a relationship that’s regularly filled with conflict . . . that feels like a regular war zone. How is one sustained in that? It’s not by the change of a spouse or by the adjusting of the circumstances but rather by coming to a place of realizing, “No, the Lord could help me, and He can continue to help me, even though I can’t see where this is going or how this is going to resolve itself.”

So many times, life is very opaque in the future, and this near-term grace helps us to live every day believing that God’s grace is sufficient!

Nancy: And that doesn’t mean that you don’t take steps that may be needed to get yourself or your children out of harm’s way. It’s not saying you just stay there and say, “God’s mercy is sufficient, so I don’t take any steps to deal with this.” You’ve counseled—we’ve counseled—people about what may be some significant steps that are needed to provide protection there.

But even in the taking of those steps, it’s the mercy of God—the never-ending mercy of God—that is the source of hope and prevents the living in despair.

Mark: In some cases it would be that, “I’m going to believe that the Lord’s my portion to endure something that’s not fair.” But when we come to a matter of safety or justice, to say, “I’m going to believe the Lord is my portion, to do what I need to because this is right and there’s a justice and a legal issue here. I don’t want to take this step because of the implications of what this could mean, and yet the Lord’s faithfulness and His grace can be with us even in the midst of those seasons.”

So the message of this is, wherever it is that we go, whatever wasteland that we’re walking through, and whatever the implications are, the one thing that we can know is: God’s grace will never run out! That’s the point of the entire book of Lamentations! The whole book pivots right here in chapter 3.

Nancy: If you’re walking through one of those wastelands right now, as was the case with a woman I talked to on the phone last night who’s embroiled in a major legal situation in her place of work. She felt so hopeless, so helpless, having to take steps that are very courageous but terrifying on the face of it, this is the word that I was trying to share with her.

She knows these things, but sometimes we just need someone to come alongside of us and confirm that we’re not crazy for believing God’s truth! You may need to say to yourself, “God’s mercy never ends. God’s mercy never ends! He is my portion. I will put my hope in Him!”

And this is a truth that, as you rehearse it, hope will come springing up in your heart. That’s a theme of Lamentations—the hopelessness and the hope.

Now, Mark, as we think about truths we need to rehearse, I think sometimes the debilitating thing can be feeling that we’re just having to wait so long—that nothing’s happening. It doesn’t look like anything’s happening. Give us a truth to counsel our hearts with in those moments.

Mark: The other thing that Jeremiah says in this text, which has been so personally helpful for me, is that,

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 (Lam. 3:25–26).

Nancy: The repeated word there is . . .

Mark: Wait!

Nancy: Wait.

Mark: We don’t like to wait. Especially in our present culture, it’s even more difficult for us to wait because we’re not so used to it in any way whatsoever. What’s interesting is, chapter 3 has all of this truth, and if you’re to move on to chapter 4, it’s back to reality where, yet, the city is still broken.

This doesn’t end like a Hallmark movie, where they live happily ever after. This gets back to the real world: “I’ve got to figure out how to wait, but still be in a situation that is far less than what I hoped.” Deferred hope is hard! And Jeremiah, here, is going to root his heart in this truth that, “God’s purposes are being fulfilled even while I have to wait.”

This gap that I’m living in is not bad; it’s just really hard! I think the language here in Lamentations helps us to see that for what it is.

Nancy: And to see that waiting is not a waste. In God’s economy, it’s purposeful, and it’s part of the process of what He’s doing to bring good for us and glory for Himself. We see it as, “Why wouldn’t God expedite this process? Why wouldn’t He get me out of this faster!?” Well, we don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that the waiting is never wasted.

Mark: I think one of the most important things for us to remember is, there are things that God is doing that won’t become clear perhaps for years . . . or maybe until we understand all of His purposes in eternity. Yet in the midst of this, we can believe that this season is doing things that are really important!

Although they’re hard, there are really good lessons that God is teaching me, ways that He’s forming me and shaping me. We’re all marked by the wastelands of our life. We don’t necessarily get to choose them, but God can work through them!

Nancy: I think something else that has helped me in walking through some of these seasons is to realize that the final chapter hasn’t been written. God is writing a story. He knows where it ends. He knows where it’s going, but we haven’t seen the end yet. How does that bring hope?

Mark: I think the message of Lamentations is that, even though God is allowing this pain, in the midst of that He has compassion. According to the overflow of His abundant steadfast love, He is going to one day make all of this right.

One of the little phrases that I’ve used before for my own soul is that, “Jesus bought the right to make it right.” I remember standing over the grave of our daughter, and etched on her tombstone are the words from the book of Job, that we will bless the Lord.

I remember standing over that grave saying, “Even in this, I’m going to choose to bless the Lord, because the final word has not been spoken.” Every funeral I go to, or lead, I’m reminded that the final word . . .

We put a body into the grave, but the final word has not been spoken, that Jesus is coming again and all wrongs will be made right . . . and Christians know that! That’s why lament is their language to say, “The final word on this has not yet been said. This is not over!”

Nancy: Good Friday is not the end! Sunday’s coming; resurrection is coming! That’s what gives us hope in the midst of those painful, earthly realities.

Mark: That’s right.

Nancy: There’s another truth in Lamentations here that, as we rehearse it, gives us hope. That’s just the reminder that God is always good. We don’t always feel that, but it’s a truth we need to counsel our hearts with. How does that help us, Mark?

Mark: It just reminds us that God doesn’t delight in the pain of His children, that there are loving purposes behind every pain that comes. The thing we have to remind ourselves of is, just because I can’t see the purpose in this, doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose.

Sometimes we’re so quick to say that because this doesn’t make sense to me, then this doesn’t make sense at all. This truth from Lamentations 3:33 that, “He does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men,” that God has good purposes for everything that happens to us.

And that is a faith commitment that a follower of Jesus must simply rest their soul in because they won’t always be able to make the clear connection. I just have to remind my heart that God’s not enjoying my struggle, and yet the struggle is good because it’s producing something in me that is really, really helpful. If I can get my mind around that reality, it gives me strength to be able to endure when life doesn’t make sense!

Nancy: How have you and Sarah seen God “bring gold” out of the fire, out of the suffering that you’ve experienced. You lost a child, you’ve had multiple miscarriages, a false positive pregnancy. You’ve just had “hope deferred,” which I know a lot of our listeners can relate to when it comes to empty arms, empty crib, empty womb.

As you look back on this journey (and I know it’s not finished), what can you see now that you couldn’t see when it started fifteen years ago?

Mark: There’s so much! I’ll just highlight a few things. First, we’ve tested the Lord’s goodness and seen Him to be faithful and over and over and over, when it felt as though there was no light at the end of the tunnel. When we’re on sort of “the dark side” of God’s will, we have seen the faithfulness of God in ways that I wouldn’t have anticipated, in ways that are, at times, even hard to describe, but I’ve seen over and over that God is indeed true to His Word.

It strengthened our understanding of God’s sovereignty and His purposes. You know, it’s also been something that has created a beautiful oneness in our marriage. This suffering brought us together and united us, instead of dividing us.

It gave us a journey that we lamented together and walked through pain. There were moments when I would hold my wife up when she was struggling and moments when she would hold me up when I was struggling. Between the two of us, God gave us to one another to help us walk through this season of grief. So it actually, ironically, strengthened our marriage.

Pastorally, it changed how I preached. It changed my tone in terms of walking with people through sorrow and suffering. This is the kind of a thing that marks you forever. You see things— not only in the Scriptures and in life, but in people’s lives—through a different lens such that you’re able to empathize with them and to be a help by merely being a presence. You’re not just giving them instruction, but you’re walking with them through their journey of grief—whatever that sorrow happens to be.

Nancy: I would think it has probably affected the way that you conduct funerals.

Mark: Oh, yes, it has! I hate death. Every funeral is a reminder, “I want this moment to be over forever.” It has made it both a sober reminder that life is short, and also a deeply convictional reality that there is something underneath all of this sorrow that holds us fast and makes the community of Christ really uniquely special, as people lament and grieve together.

Yes, it has deeply affected how I approach funerals.

Nancy: I think sometimes we may have a tendency to—especially in the death of a godly person or an older person—we want to make this a celebration: celebration of the gospel, of a life well-lived, of heaven. And that can be really appropriate. But I wonder, sometimes, if we miss out in our funerals on the grieving part.

Ecclesiastes says it is good to go to the house of mourning (see 7:2), so sometimes this little “happy dance” thing may not be the whole picture that we need to experience and that we need to show the world.

Mark: Yeah, I think part of the reason—if we’re honest—is, we’re afraid of sorrow. I think of a friend of mine who was grieving deeply about a major health incident in the life of one of his children. He’s slumped over a footrest and is just sobbing! I know lament; I know what he’s doing. I wanted him to stop.

I mean, it made me uncomfortable—and I knew what was happening, and I knew it was good for him. There’s something within the fabric of humanity that, the sorrow of death reminds us that we are not ultimate. I think, as a result, we tend to try and find ways to get around it.

So I think funerals, in particular, ought to be celebrations of life . . . absolutely! But they also need to realize that a loved one is no longer here. This grave is a reminder. This sorrow can point me towards my ultimate hope in the resurrection of Christ.

Nancy: There’s a song that Steve Green recorded a number of years ago; it’s called Sorrow Mixed with Light. He says:

And what tomorrow brings
Who of us can say,
Beyond this sorrow mixed with light?
For somewhere in-between the beauty and the tears,
This is where we live our lives.

That’s really what this message of lament is about, isn’t it, Mark?

Mark: It is. Lament is the song you sing in the land between, “This is really hard!” and “God is really good!” It’s the language that you use as you pray when you’re asking God, “Why in the world is this happening?” and “I believe that You can make all things fit with Your divine purposes!” And so, it is this in-between language. The wonderful thing is, we won’t lament forever!

There will be no lament in the New Heavens and the New Earth, when all our sorrows cease and all the fulfillment of our hopes are ultimately realized! But until then, while we live in this in-between world, lament needs to be the language of God’s people, because life is filled with sorrows, Jesus is alive, and God is good! So, God’s people ought to lament.

Steve Green:

And what tomorrow brings
Who of us can say,
Beyond this sorrow mixed with light?
For somewhere in-between
The beauty and the tears,
This is where we live our life.

My eyes look to You. You're the hope of my days.
My eyes look to You as I cry out Your name,
And I wait for all things to be remade.1

Nancy: We’ve been listening to Steve Green’s song “Sorrow Mixed with Light.” And we do “wait for all things to be remade.” We have God’s promise and His faithfulness and His deep covenant mercy to sustain us between now and then.

I’m so glad that Pastor Mark Vroegop has written this book called Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament. Perhaps you’re in that journey right now, needing that grace of lament. Or very possibly, you’re not there yourself, but you know someone who is, and you’d like to be able to be a good friend, a helpful encourager, to know how to pray, to know how to encourage, while they’re on that journey. We’d be glad to send you this book as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts today.

You can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com to make that gift, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. When you make your gift, be sure and let us know that you’d like to have a copy of Pastor Mark’s book on lament.

We’re going to continue our conversation with Pastor Mark Vroegop tomorrow, on Good Friday, as we talk about a prayer of lament that our Savior cried out when He was suffering for us on the cross. Be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is reminding you that God’s mercy is fresh every morning. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

1 Steve Green. "Sorrow Mixed with Light." Somewhere Between. Sparrow Records, 2005. 

 

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