Lamentations 4 and 5 are two of the saddest chapters in the Bible. Jeremiah was so descriptive of what life was like living under the control of their enemy. The people who were once wealthy were digging through the trash to find food. The kids were forced to do manual labor that was too hard for them. Anyone caught looking for food outside the city walls was killed. Confidence was replaced with desperation, and joy was replaced with a deep depression.
People no longer gathered to talk. No one sang any songs. The population was dwindling down because people were dying of starvation. It was a very dark period in Israel’s history. Jeremiah knew they were living under the enemy’s control because they had turned their back on God. He cried out in repentance and asked God how long would they suffer. Then he remembered that suffering is temporary, but God is eternal.
You may be going through a dark time in your life right now as well. It may feel like God has abandoned you and that you are living under the enemy’s control. I know what it’s like to live through that. I know what it feels like to lose everything and wonder if you should still try to keep going. I can let you know that the suffering is only temporary. It does end and the sun comes out again. God has not abandoned you no matter how alone you feel.
I pray Jeremiah’s prayer in Lamentations 5:21 over you today. It says, “Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had!” (NLT) I’m living proof that God restores what the enemy stole, and that joy returns. When God restores you, He will rebuild everything better than it was. When He gives your joy back, it will be greater than before. What feels like forever is only a season. Restoration is coming.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
In one of the darkest times of my life, I felt like everything was crumbling around me. I couldn’t sleep or eat for days. I laid in bed at night and would repeat Nehemiah 8:10. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Over and over I would say it. Then I started singing it through the tears. It became my mantra. Because of that, even though my world was crumbling around me, I found a place deep within that gave me hope that I would make it through it. Some days I couldn’t see past a minute in front of me, but i knew if God would help me survive that minute, then I could survive the next. God would remind me of Scriptures to hold on to or He would have someone give me one out of the blue. Life was hard, but God provided a way through it and gave me strength to endure.
Psalm 84:5-6 says, “How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord…Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring” (TPT ). This promise is to those who find their strength in the Lord first of all. Every one of us goes through the dark valley of tears. What I love is that God says, “Pick up your shovel during that time and start digging. Beneath all that pain is a pool where you can find strength and refreshment.” We’ve got to dig deeper than the way things appear on the surface. We’ve got to dig deep into God’s Word. We’ve got to dig deep into His promises, and put our roots there. If they’re on the surface, we’ll be blown over like a tree in a hurricane. Our roots cannot remain at surface level in the dark valley of tears.
You can either be defeated in that valley or you can find the brook of God’s blessing. God is pouring out blessings all the time, but we don’t see them because we get too focused on the things going on around us. Lamentations 3:21-25 says, “Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope. The Lord is good to everyone who trusts in him” (GNT). You can have hope in the dark valley of tears when you focus on God’s unfailing love to get you through it and His mercy to remind you that this is a season and there are mountain tops still ahead. Trust and hope in the Lord and draw your strength from Him.
Do you ever feel like you just don’t want to get out and face the day? Those days feel like you don’t have the strength or willpower to deal with whatever is coming. You know you have responsibilities, but that’s not enough to motivate you to get moving. When life isn’t going to plan, and your dreams of what life should be is so far out of reach, it’s easy to feel down and to not have the will to see the light of day. I think those are normal thoughts and feelings, but it’s not a place where we can dwell for very long. If we keep thinking about how bad life is treating us, bitterness can spring up and zap our strength.
Life gets messy and complicated for all of us, but we can’t dwell on what could have been. We can’t even just stay in the same place and just expect God to jump in and make everything better. While David was running from Saul and living in caves, he didn’t just stay in the cave and ask God to deliver him. He did something about it. He even moved away from his home land. By reading the Psalms, we can tell that David felt down and depressed at times because of what was going on in his life. There were times when he didn’t have the strength to keep going. In those moments, he changed what he thought about. He reminded himself about God’s goodness.
Psalm 62:11 is one of those times. He wrote, “God said to me once and for all, ‘All the strength and power you need flows from me!’ And again I heard it clearly said, ‘All the love you need is found in me!’” (TPT) Sometimes we need to remind ourselves where our strength comes from and that we are unconditionally loved even when we don’t feel it. We have to look beyond our temporary circumstances to the divine, never changing characteristics of who God is and put our focus there. He has never abandoned you. He has never forgotten you. He knows what you’re going through, and offers His strength to pull through. You are not defined by this period in your life. Your identity is found in Him alone. Trust His strength, His love and His grace to be sufficient in this time.
Imagine you’re running for your life. Not only is someone out to kill you, but they have an entire army with them. They have eyes everywhere that are constantly giving up your location. You’re running out of places to hide, and they’re closing in. You see a cave and run into it. You go back into the dark, damp cave and crouch behind a rock. There’s only one way in and one way out. You can hear voices outside from the army as they approach. Your heart is beating so fast you can almost hear it. Just then, a person’s silhouette darkens the cave opening and they step into the cave. Your heart sinks. This is it. Game over. Hope is gone. Despair sets in as the move closer and closer to you. Inside, you’re crying out to God for help because He’s the only hope you have.
This is how David lived and must have felt when Saul walked into the very cave he was hiding in. It was a desperate, hopeless situation. Maybe that’s where you are today. You feel trapped with no way out. You can’t sleep. You’re mentally drained and exhausted. You’re tired of running and hope is gone. People may be wondering why you haven’t thrown in the towel and given up yet. Despair is knocking on your door telling you that there is no hope or anyone who can help you. I just want to say, as someone who has been there, that despair is a liar. When you have no hope, you still have a prayer and that is all you need because God hears even the faintest cry for help.
I’ve found that just because I can only see one way out, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way. God is able to make a way where there is no way. He is able to bring hope into the darkest cave. He is Jehovah Jireh your provider. He is Jehovah Rapha your healer. He is Jehovah Shalom your peace. He is Jehovah Nissi your victory. Psalm 27:14 says, “Trust in the Lord. Have faith, do not despair. Trust in the Lord” (GNT). No matter what is going on in your life, trust in the Lord. He sees you and knows the very number of hairs on your head. He has not forgotten you. He will not abandon you. He will strengthen you and walk through this with you as He did for David, myself and countless others.
Every one of us will go through valleys. They’re those dark periods in our lives that are created by the loss of a loved one, the consequence of sin, being hurt by someone we love, an illness or something else. In the valley, it’s natural to want to push everyone away and face it alone, but that’s not God’s plan. That’s when you need those who love you the most to carry you, walk with you and encourage you. Having been there and tried that, I know the reasoning and the lies that get you to believe it. I’ve found that Psalm 84:5-7 give us a blueprint to endure the valley.
Verse 5 says, “Blessed and greatly favored is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion” (AMP). The first thing we have to realize is we shouldn’t try to walk through this time in our own strength. When our strength is weak, His is made perfect in us. We need to rely on God, and the people He’s placed in our lives, to get through this period of darkness. We also need to focus on Him rather than the issue. If we’re not careful, we can go further down into a darker place than we are.
Verse 6 says, “Passing through the Valley of Weeping ( Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings.” I love this because it’s up to us what we make of the valley experience. Will it be a dry, desolate place or will it be a place of refreshing springs? Are we just trying to push through it or are we learning as we go? God has blessings in the valleys of life if we’re looking for them and we’re turning those times into learning and growing experiences.
Finally, verse 7 says, “They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion.” There is light at the end of the valley because victory is ours when we do these things. You are not alone in this. God sees you, He gives you strength daily and you are on His mind. Don’t push Him or others away on this journey. They provide the strength you need to gain the victory over this period and place in life. The valley isn’t permanent. Weeping in the valley may last for a while, but joy is on the way when we do these things.
Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
When I was young, my dad taught me to play chess. I love the strategy of chess, the need to think ahead, and the anticipation of your opponent’s next move. What I don’t like about chess is when my King is on the run, and is being backed into a check mate situation. I don’t really like to lose, and in chess, you can usually see it happen before it does. Being powerless to help in any situation makes me feel a lot like that. I don’t see a way out, so I’m powerless to help. In real life situations, I get weak and tired from worrying about the outcome, especially if I can’t see the way to victory.
Maybe you’ve been there to. You’ve either been in or are in a situation where there’s no clear path to victory. You feel powerless over the outcome, and you’re tired from all the stress and mental exhaustion. When we are tired and mentally exhausted, our immune system grows weaker. We become more susceptible to illness. I think that why in Proverbs 17:22 Solomon wrote, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (NLT).
I know it can be hard to have a cheerful heart when everything points to your defeat. That’s why I love the promises God gives in Isaiah 40:29 that says, “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” It’s in our weakness that God gives His power to us. It’s when we are powerless over the outcome that God gives us the strength to continue. We don’t have to see the outcome 5 moves in advance. We can trust God that His will, will be done. We can trust that whatever comes our way can be used for our good.
If you’re tired, weak, and exhausted from trying to find the solution, give it to God. Lay it down on the altar and give Him control of the outcome. Your worrying about it isn’t going to solve it. He wants to give you strength and the power to handle it though. The final verse in Isaiah 40 reminds us, “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” It starts with putting your trust in the Lord.
One of the words God uses over and over in the Bible is courage. He wants us to be courageous when doing what He asks. One of my favorite passages is in Joshua 1. Verse 7 says, “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do” (NLT). Success starts with being strong and courageous, but what does it mean to have courage?
The simple definition is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s the ability to keep going when things aren’t going the way you thought they should. It’s the most difficult thing to have when you need it the most. If you’ve lived life at all, you’ve been discouraged. You’ve lost battles you thought you should have won. You’ve suffered defeat after defeat and wondered where the strength comes from to keep going. How do you find courage in those times?
In those moments, I simply prayed that God would just help me to take the first step, which was survival. We often think of courage as this great thing, but I believe it’s found in facing a new day, taking one more step or breathing one more time. It says, “I’m not going down. I’m not giving up!” Where do we get that courage from in those moments? As I’ve said, I found it in prayer and through God’s help.
Psalm 3:3 says, “But you, O Lord, are always my shield from danger; you give me victory and restore my courage” (GNT). God will restore your lost courage and give you the victory when you ask. Quit worrying about trying to win the war, and focus on getting courage from God to win today’s battle. Keep God’s Word in your heart, and be careful to obey it. Then, as Joshua 1:7 says, you will have success and victory.
To demonstrate how difficult it is to accomplish even the easiest tasks while you are bound up, I once tried to preach a sermon with my hands tied behind my back. I wasn’t sure how it would play out, but it proved to be more difficult than I could imagine. My first problem was holding the microphone. Then I needed help turning the pages in my bible. After that, I needed to turn the page in my notes. Finally, I couldn’t use my hands then I spoke, which apparently I do.
So many of us try to do more than speak while we are bound up. We actually try to go through life while we are bound up in depression, addiction, grief, sin, etc. If you’ve been there, you know that even the smallest tasks can prove to be difficult. Go designed you to live a life of freedom. As Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that He set you free.” Jesus also said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
There’s a song called “Chain Breaker” that says, “If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker.” The words to this song remind me that I don’t have to live bound up in my chains. There is no chain so strong that God cannot break it in your life. There is no depression so dark that He can’t bring you out of it. I’ve been in the deep, dark prison of depression and He set me free.
I love reading Psalm 107 because it’s a reminder of what God can do for us. In verse 14 it says, “He brought them out of their gloom and darkness and broke their chains in pieces” (GNT). If you’re bound up by chains today or are in a dark place, call out to God. Ask Him to lead you out of that place and to set you free. I know if He did it in my life, He can do it in yours. It’s time we all got back to living the life of freedom that God created us to live.
Right next door to one of the flooded houses I was helping to gut was a house that hadn’t been touched. Every house on the street had big piles of debris and trash out front except that one. I asked the owner of the house where I was helping about it. She said, “He came home after the water receded, took one look at it, locked the door, got an apartment, and walked away.” With every wheelbarrow of trash I dumped, I would look at that house and get upset. How could they walk away?
I get that there’s a lot of work to be done, but come on. I couldn’t understand them walking away. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that so many of us do the same thing in our lives. We look at the mess and think, “This is too difficult to fix. It’s easier to just walk away and give up.” Life does get complicated, and often the messes we find ourselves in are complex without an easy solution. I’ve learned though, that messes are incubators for miracles.
In the book of Jeremiah, he had been put in prison for speaking the truth. The Babylonians had seized Jerusalem, and they were threatening to burn the city down and take them away captive. God spoke to Jeremiah and told him that a relative was going to come to the prison to sell him a piece of family property, and he was to buy it. Why? Because God was saying that things would one day return to normal and the mess would be resolved. So he prayed in Jeremiah 32:17, “O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (NLT)
I can let you know that whatever you’re facing today is not too hard for God. While there doesn’t seem to be an end to your mess or a way out of it, God is working things out. Things will one day get back to normal. It won’t happen overnight, and things might get harder still, but what you’re facing isn’t too hard for Him. I’ve lived through messes where I thought there was only one way out, but God found another way. He will do the same for you if you don’t give up and walk away.
When I was 28, my first wife left me for someone else. My life felt like it was over. After a long bout of depression, I realized I had to start all over. In the wake of our divorce, I had to file for bankruptcy, and nearly had my house foreclosed on, as well as lost my business, a vehicle, and most of my friends. Everything I had built my life on was gone. The foundation for a successful life was gone. I didn’t know where to begin or how to start over, but God did.
He spoke to me multiple times through multiple people. One of those messages was, “What seems like an end is really just a beginning.” I have held onto those words for the past 13 years. While it was no fun to begin again, at least it wasn’t the end of my life. God gave me hope in that message in a time when I couldn’t see how I could survive more than a few minutes at a time. When there was no hope, there was no reason to live. God changed that with those powerful words.
In Joel 1 and 2, God speaks to Joel about a time when everything would be gone from the land. Joel 1:4 describes it like this: “What the crawling locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten; and what the hopping locust left, the stripping locust has eaten” (AMP). It was a wave attack like we face in our lives. It’s one hardship after another that seems to have no end. In those times we wonder where rock bottom is. Sooner or later you’d think we’d run out of things to lose.
But God doesn’t leave us in that barren land of devastation. He restores us and takes what seems like an end and turns it into a beginning. Joel 2:25 gives us the promise of restoration after devastation. God says, “And I will restore or replace for you the years that the locust has eaten–the hopping locust, the stripping locust, and the crawling locust, My great army which I sent among you.” Just like God has restored my life, He will restore yours. He will replace the years the locust have stolen with greater things than you can dream of.
I can attest it took time. It didn’t happen over night. Rock bottom for me was a deep hole that took nearly a decade to crawl out of. I held onto the promise of restoration throughout the hard climb up. God was faithful to His promise and will be for you as well. The restoration He has brought in my life has far exceeded any dream I ever had before the locust stole my early adult life. God has a greater dream and plan for your life than you can imagine. If you’re in the time of locust, hold on to His promise. Restoration is coming.