Lamentations 3:19-25

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866 and grew up in a ‘dirt poor’ family. He only received an elementary education in a little country schoolhouse, but even so was recognized as being one of the smartest kids in the county and at age 16 became the teacher at the same school. Ten years later, he walked the sawdust trail at a revival meeting to give his life to Christ. In the next few years, he developed a passion to become a pastor and although he had no college or seminary training he was ordained to the Methodist ministry at age 36. Unfortunately for Thomas, he was extremely frail and suffered from increasingly poor health that required him to give up his ministry after only one year. His poor health plagued him until the day he died.

But even so, he didn’t give up on God. He turned to writing Christian poems. Over 1200 were published in several Christian periodicals of the time. In 1923 at the age of 57, he wrote a poem about God’s continual faithfulness over his lifetime despite his difficulties.
That poem was so moving it was set to music and became one of the most loved hymns of all time.

It was introduced to Americans in the mid-1950’s when George Beverly Shay, who was Billy Graham’s song leader, began singing it at the latter’s revivals. Thomas Chisholm was inspired by the words of Jeremiah the prophet recorded in his Book of Lamentations (3:22-23)

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

Jeremiah the prophet was born in 644BC and lived most of his life in or nearby the capital city of Jerusalem. Along with Isaiah, Jeremiah was one of the two giants of Hebrew prophecy. He received his call to be God’s spokesman at the age of 18. He quickly earned a reputation for fearlessly calling his nation to repentance and warning it of certain destruction at the hands of the Babylonians if they chose not to.

For his boldness, Jeremiah often found himself in the hot seat with the King and his palace officials who preferred to stick their fingers in their ears rather than listen to Jeremiah’s gloomy predictions. He was imprisoned several times. Jeremiah 38 tells how he was lowered into a well; that though there was no water, he sank down in mud. For 23 years Jeremiah called for repentance and predicted disaster.

Finally, in the year 586BC, disaster struck as the Babylonian army swooped down upon Jerusalem and surrounded the city with the intention of starving the inhabitants. After two years of dreadful suffering, the Babylonians breached the city walls, the Holy Temple was looted then burned along with most of the city buildings. The majority of the inhabitants were killed, while most of the survivors were marched 900 miles back to Babylon as slaves.

It’s interesting to note that Jeremiah was treated fairly by the Babylonian commander and allowed to remain in the land.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah were born of the prophet’s extreme sadness at what occurred to his people and city. It is a somber work consisting of five dirges whose mood is set at the opening: ‘How lonely sits the city that was full of people.’

Jeremiah doesn’t mince words as he describes in grisly terms what he witnessed:

I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken. My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets. They cry out to their mothers, “We need food and drink!” Their lives ebb away in the streets like the life of a warrior wounded in battle. They gasp for life as they collapse in their mothers’ arms. What can I say about you? Who has ever seen such sorrow? O daughter of Jerusalem, to what can I compare your anguish? O virgin daughter of Zion, how can I comfort you? For your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you? (Lamentations 2: 11-13, NLT)

O Lord, think about this! Should you treat your own people this way? Should mothers eat their own children, those they once bounced on their knees? Should priests and prophets be killed within the Lord’s Temple? See them lying in the streets—young and old, boys and girls, killed by the swords of the enemy (Lamentations 2:20a-21a).

Yet from the midst of the doom and gloom of the Lamentations, a light shines forth: two verses; right in the middle of the entire work, where its very placement clues the reader that it is the heart of the message:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Wait a minute Jeremiah, how could you possibly express faith like that? You have just witnessed your nation suffer a disaster of hellish proportions at the hands of foreign invaders. If that wasn’t enough to make you turn your back on God Jeremiah, what about your own sufferings for speaking out against the King? How many beatings and imprisonments can you endure and still hold on to your faith?

And some of us might say, “What else did he have to hang on to?”

About 25 years ago, I led a Youth Retreat to a camp in NW Michigan. Junior Henry was a good friend of mine and offered to come along to help out. One night at devotions Junior told the sad story that occurred when he was 18. On Christmas Eve, his brother spent the night at their grandparents. The entire family was planning to gather the next morning to celebrate Christmas. All the family arrived by 9am for breakfast but they waited and waited for the grandparents and Junior’s brother to arrive. They waited until a policeman knocked on their door and informed them that Junior’s grandfather had pulled out in front of a train and all three were killed instantly.

After a few moments of taking it in, one of the kids in the group asked, “Mr. Henry, how did you remain faithful to God after something like that that happened?” Junior thought for a few seconds and said something I have always remembered: “What else did I have to hold on to, except my faith in the Lord?”

That wasn’t the first time Junior had to deal with heartache. A couple years after that Christmas, Junior met Nancy, married, and had three girls in three years. When Lisa, Lori, and Leslie were 10, 11, and 12, their mom was stricken with cancer and died two years later.

I hadn’t talked to Junior for some time so I called him Friday. Sandy answered and said “Did you hear about Junior? He had a heart attack about 5 years ago and ever since then doesn’t remember so well.”

Junior and Sandy still faithfully attend the same church every Sunday. What else do they have to hold on to?

When disaster strikes, as it did for Jeremiah and Junior, it kind of forces our hand. Most people either (1) walk away or (2) cling ever more closely to faith.

Think about it; when disaster comes upon us, shades of gray begin to give way to either black or white as far as faith is concerned. We will either decide “there is no God,” or “He doesn’t love me” and walk away. Or the opposite occurs; we become so desperate there is nowhere else to turn in our pain and loneliness; except to God.

Those kind of ‘walk-away’ or ‘cling-to’ decisions are not usually made over night. But sooner or later, calamity will cause us to choose one path or the other. The sad truth is when we walk away things almost always progress from bad to worse.

In 1981, Illinois Bell Telephone downsized from 26,000 employees to just over half that many in one year. The remaining employees faced all kinds of commotion: changing job descriptions, company goals, and supervisors. One manager reported having 10 different supervisors in one year. A research team had been already studying more than 400 workers before the downsizing occurred and continued to follow them for 6 years. About two-thirds of those employees suffered significant performance, leadership and health declines including heart attacks, strokes, obesity, depression, and substance abuse. Surprisingly, the other one-third actually thrived during the upheaval despite experiencing the same amount of disruption and stressful events. Those employees maintained their health, happiness, performance and tackled their jobs with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. (

In hard times, when all hell breaks loose and life is turned upside down, will you thrive or be one of those who fall apart? My goal in this series is to encourage us to take the higher path. To strengthen our faith in God’s never-ending love (from song Your Everlasting Love) so that when we’ve been through fire, we’ve been through rain (from song Shout to the North) we won’t make a shipwreck of our faith. Instead, we’ll be refined by the power of his name and fall deeper in love with Him (from song Shout to the North).

What’s our takeaway today that will help us do just that?


If you desire to cultivate a deeper trust in God that will enable you to endure hard times, I encourage you to start every day counting your blessings and thanking God for them. In fact, I encourage you to begin right now.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame tells about a modern day Jeremiah. (He was one of three patients filmed in a docu-drama as they were told for the first time of being afflicted with a terminal illness and then followed throughout the treatment process with its ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, pain and terror.)

He was a humble pastor of a small inner-city Baptist church. He was in his late 60’s and had been a pastor throughout his adult life. His love for the Lord was so profound it reflected in everything he said.

When he and his wife had been told that he had only a few months to live, they revealed no panic. They quietly asked the doctor what it all meant. After he had explained the treatment procedure and what they could expect, they quietly thanked the doctor for his concern and departed. The cameras followed this little couple to their car and eavesdropped as they bowed their heads and recommitted themselves to the Lord.

In the months that followed the pastor never lost his poise. Nor was he glib about his illness. He knew that the Lord was in control and he refused to be shaken in his faith.

The cameras were present on his final Sunday in his church. He actually preached the sermon that morning and was quite candid about his impending death.

Some of you have asked me if I’m mad at God for this disease that has taken over my body. I’ll tell you honestly that I have nothing but love in my heart for the Lord. He didn’t do this to me. We live in a sinful world where sickness and death are a curse which man has brought upon himself. And I’m going to a better place where there will be no more tears, no suffering, no heartache; so don’t feel bad for me. Besides, our Lord suffered and died for our sins. Why should I not share in His sufferings?”

Then, Dobson concludes, “He began to sing, without accompaniment, in an old,
broken voice Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Oh God my Father. He sounded very weak, his face was drawn by the ravages of the disease, but the words he spoke and his demeanor as he sang were the most powerful expression of faith in God I have ever witnessed.”