Lamentations 3:1-33

In 2003, Eddie Carthan, a senior linebacker for the Navy football team, was in the locker room before the kickoff waiting to go out on the field for the coin toss. As a senior co-captain, his pregame ritual was to stay calm, reserve his energy, and focus on the battle he was about to enter.

The game against archrival Air Force was the fifth game of the year. Their Navy team had two wins and two loses on the year, but was still struggling with confidence because the team had only won three games against 30 loses over the past three seasons.   That’s enough loses to discourage any team.  (Ibid)

That’s when Eddie, Coach Paul Johnson, and the rest of the team began to hear the entire Navy brigade perform this thunderous pregame cheer:

Cheerleader: “I”

Fans: “I”

Cheerleader: “I believe.”

Fans: I believe.”

Cheerleader: “I believe that.”

Fans: “I believe that.”

Cheerleader: “I believe that we.”

Fans: I believe that we.”

Cheerleader: “I believe that we will we will win.”

Fans: “I believe that we will win.”

Cheerleader: “I believe that we will win.”

Fans: “I believe that we will win.”  (Ibid)

The cheer was the brainchild of Naval Academy Prep School student Jay Rodriguez. He taught it to his peers who started using it at basketball and football games. The teams were so bad there just wasn’t much opportunity to use the cheer.  (Ibid)

With a couple of wins and even a couple of respectable loses, now there was hope. So with the team still in the locker room, the crowd began to repeat the words of a cheerleader.  (Ibid)

As the cheers in the stands became louder, the team’s spirits rose and they looked at each other and though no words were said, the looks in each other’s eyes said it all, “We believe that we will win.  (Ibid)

After losing six years in a row to Air Force, they won that game 28-25 and five more games, giving them an eight win season and a trip to the Houston Bowl.  (Ibid)

Have you ever been in the grips of discouragement? Perhaps you are there right now and you need someone to someone to lift you up. You’ve come to the right place.

But first, I must take you to someone who can understand your discouragement. His name is Jeremiah and some say his is responsible some of the words from the book of Lamentations, as the book likely had many authors.

The book of Lamentations in the Old Testament is a book of complaints, written by people who were discouraged about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

Like us, when they were discouraged, they complained. Their spirits were down. Their ability to see hope was diminished. Optimism was for the future was hard to find.

They saw God as the One who either blessed or cursed you so when things were not going their way, especially when they tried to honor God, they complained.

In this text God is being blamed for everything that is wrong in this person’s life. He believes God has turned away from him and afflicted his body. The trials he is facing are God’s doing.

He doesn’t believe God hears his prayers. He thinks God is out to get him. He believes God has filled his life with darkness. He has become a laughingstock to his friends. He says God has made him bitter and angry. He no longer gets any respect; he has no peace or happiness; he has lost his home.

This man is discouraged after losing his beloved city of Jerusalem.

It’s difficult for us to understand the love and attachment this writer had for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem became a walled city 4000 years ago. It was the traditional site where Abraham carried Isaac for sacrifice before God stopped him.

It was located on a hill and it had a perennial water source making it making ideal for fortification, so about 3,000 years ago King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his royal city.

He built a royal palace there and brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city. Jerusalem became a spiritual and a political center for the people.  It was like Washington D.C. and the Vatican or your most precious church location all rolled into one.

So imagine 9/11 and imagine if 9/11 had taken down our Capitol or if an EF 4 or 5 Tornado hit our city and destroyed most of our homes and landmarks.

Jerusalem was razed to the ground. King Zedekiah’s sons were captured and killed. The King was blinded, bound, and taken to Babylon. A small number of people were left to tend the land. The rest were taken away in exile.

Jeremiah was one of those people left behind. The destruction was around him on a daily basis. Can you imagine living in the rubble of the city day after day while still trying to maintain your faith?

If this is Jeremiah’s lament, it shows that this prophet of God struggled with faith, persecution, and human suffering. All of these were enough to discourage him.

When life piles on the difficulties, it’s human nature to become discouraged. It’s a perfect time for a major fall on our part. During times of discouragement, we are prone to wander from our faith and engage in activities that greatly damage our relationship with God and others.

When Moses left the people and went up on the Mt. Hebron to receive the Ten Commandments of God. He stayed gone a lot longer than people expected. They became anxious. These were former slaves and were used to having structure. With their leader gone, they were anxious and discouraged. They turned to Aaron and asked him to make them a god they could see and worship. They wandered away from the God who led them out of bondage and created a god of their own making.

This is one of the great dangers of discouragement. Discouragement causes us to shift our emphasis away from our worship of God and away from following God’s commandments to placing our focus on people, places, and things that end up becoming gods in our lives.

Our gods can be any thing we engage in that drowns out the noise of discouragement: alcohol, television, food, the Internet, sleep, drugs, a lack of interest in work, unhealthy sexual activity including pornography, gambling, a lack of interest of friends or exercise.

When we become discouraged, some benign things can be profaned, and profaned things can become common, and common things can become missing or used in excess or not at all. Life gets out of balance.

In times of discouragement we can allow our trust in one another to erode and we cease living by the Golden Rule. Sometimes we just disengage to the point that we do not pay attention to the people around us who love us

In our discouragement, we are sent wandering, searching and looking. The Christian is not exempt. We can get wrapped up in a belief system that is not biblical. Like Jeremiah, we can start believing in things about God that are not true. If our trust and faith in God are damaged because of the circumstances we are in, we can become even more discouraged

There is a spiritual battle taking place for our souls when we are discouraged. While discouragement isn’t sin, Satan wants to take our discouragement and use it against us, telling us that our faith is no good, that our God is of no help, and that we are fools for even having a belief in God.

Satan wants to use our discouragement to stop ministry, to slow down progress, to impede vision, to discourage others, to cripple our faith, to cause us leave the God we love, and to eventually send us into a depression.

Most people cannot see their way out of being discouraged unless their circumstances change.   Yes, it certainly helps when the clouds part and the sun comes out. Sometimes things happen that cannot be undone. So if you are discouraged today, what should you do?

Here are a few facts. Rarely do we have control over all our circumstances. We like to think we are in control of life, but we it’s usually an illusion. Yes, we can change some of the circumstances, but rarely can we change all the circumstances. The one thing we have control over is how we react to what comes our way.

We must understand that the battle taking place on a daily basis is a battle for our minds.

That means that we need to have enough self-awareness to know what is going on in our minds and to seek other perspectives besides our own in order to maintain good mental health.

Our discouragement is often a matter of our inability to see beyond our limited perspective. Therefore, we should be willing to listen to wise people who might be able to bring light, knowledge, and hope to the situation that we don’t have.

We often think that no one understands us and that no one has ever gone through what we are going through. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

It can be very helpful to swallow our pride and talk with someone that can offer us different perspectives on our situation.

The Navy football players had a conversation with the Navy brigade before the game against Air Force. The Navy Brigade did all the talking from the stands and the football players did all the listening from the locker room.

The Brigade told the team, “I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win.” They told them over and over until the team began to believe it themselves. Before they won the game on the field, they had won the game in their minds. They had to believe in themselves.

Somebody had a conversation with the writer of Lamentations 3 between verses 20 and 21. I don’t know who it was.   Maybe Jeremiah went to see a counselor for prophets. Maybe he stopped and spoke to a wise old man sitting at the broken down city gates. Perhaps he just had a little talk with the Holy Sprit.

Something happened to the writer between verses 20 and 21. It fact, it doesn’t even sound like the same person wrote verses 1-20 wrote verses 25-41. It’s as if he heard the same cheer that the Navy Football team heard.

This man who had been lost is his laments now has hope. His mind has been set on something different. He is no longer focusing on all that is going wrong in his life. Now he is focusing on the attributes of God that bring him hope.

He says that God’s love does not run out and His mercy does not dry up. Like the dew they are created anew every morning. He decides that God is all he’s got left, so he’s going to stick with God. He believes that waiting quietly on God and sticking it out during tough times are virtues. He finds encouragement in solitude, silence, prayer, and waiting. He believes in facing your troubles and not running from them. Contrary to his former thinking, he now says that God takes no pleasure in making life hard and doesn’t approve of those who make life hard for others.

Instead of being bitter, this writer believes in trying to get better by taking a look at the way we live and by reordering our lives under God.  He suggests we do this through repentance and honest conversation with God.

Nothing in Jerusalem has changed except the heart of Jeremiah.

So you are discouraged today, it is easy to blame your discouragement on all the external issues. I know, believe me, I understand. I know what it’s like to say, “Well, if such and such were to change, then it would solve my problems and I would not be discouraged.” That only ties my mindset to my circumstances, which may not change.

This is not to belittle your pain. Neither God nor I seek to belittle your pain or deny that your grief is real.

We all sing laments. It’s the reason there’s a book in the Bible named, “Lamentations.” However, God doesn’t want us live every day with lament. There are also books called Gospels. There’s good news. The Lord wants us to know the good news available to us through Jesus.

So this is not a recipe for denial. This is not a pie-in-the-sky nothing is wrong kind of religion.

The Bible just shows that God doesn’t want us to continue laments. We should face our troubles and call out our demons. We should continue down the path until we can once again celebrate the God of hope who will bring us through troubles and give us victory over everything that threatens to steal our joy and peace.

As a part of a believing, worshiping community, I assure you, that it helps to hear the voices of others who are saying, “I believe, that we will win.” That’s why the church is here. That’s why I am here as a pastor.

So, for those of you are discouraged, may your laments become joy and peace in believing. Don’t suffer alone. Reach out to those who care. I care. Call on me.

For the rest of you, may your chantings of encouragement bring hope be power to the discouraged through the Holy Spirit. Amen.