When Your Heart Goes Dark

How to Seize Hope in Suffering

“As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV). What a man thinks in his heart — not what he says with his mouth — is where to find the man naked in his natural habitat. He may say warmly enough to be convincing, “Sit, eat, and drink,” but sweet words can coat a bitter heart. He may brood against you while he bids you to his table. What he thinks inwardly, his soliloquy uttered in secret chambers — that is the man as he is.

But we may go further: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he will become.” That man in the inner chamber may change — for better or worse — depending on where he sets his innermost thoughts. Beautiful or beastly, peaceful or disturbed, heavenly or hellish — as a man thinketh in his heart, so he will become.

Knowing this, Scripture knocks loudly upon the inmost door.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1–3)

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5–6)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

The Holy Spirit would open the windows and flood our soul’s inner rooms with fresh beauty and light:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Have such texts prevailed with you? The secret thoughts of your inner man — upon what do they dwell? Are you being transformed by the renewal of your mind?

Thoughts in the Darkness

This principle makes all the difference for us in life generally, but especially in our suffering. As a man thinketh in his heart while under the knife of affliction, so he will become — hardened and drifting away or “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

We see this truth illustrated after one of the darkest events in holy Scripture: the destruction of Jerusalem. The book of Lamentations is aptly named, its pages stained with tears and blood. In it, the poet brings us into the ruins of his heart and the conquered city he loves. From within that cave, Jeremiah teaches us how to find warmth amidst the bitterest winter: he calls truth to mind.

As others sink irretrievably, Jeremiah goes down to the threshold of his heart, unlocks the door, and forcibly turns the thoughts of his soul away from his “affliction and . . . wanderings, the wormwood and the gall” (Lamentations 3:19), to his half-remembered God.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21–24)

In the midnight of despair, he brings the lantern of memory into the secret place of his spirit and there reads of God’s goodness and faithfulness from the sacred ledger. Behold the heavenly alchemy. He has seen recent nights haunted by unspeakable terrors and sins, yet he pens lyrics of God’s every-morning mercies and tireless love. His world has been stripped from him, but “the Lord is my portion,” he catechizes the inner man. “Therefore I will hope in him.”

Memory Raises a Star

He refuses to stop until he sees goodness even in this bleakest moment. Watch how he speaks to his soul and how far up the mountain he climbs to gain a higher perspective.

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. . . . [But why?] 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. (Lamentations 3:25–33)

In a cave so black he cannot see his own hand, memory shines forth with starlight. His God’s self-revelation flashes from Sinai: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). He sends his and the nation’s plight into the orbit of this God. He doesn’t indulge pain’s false preoccupation with self, but, bent in prayer, begins to see by faith flowers among the ruins, the goodness in a man bearing his yoke in his youth. And he travels to heaven’s throne to find his footing, reminding himself that his God will indeed afflict his people but not from his heart.

Though God will in no way clear the impenitent and guilty, he overspills in steadfast love and mercy toward his children. He loves them from his heart. His mercies that never cease flow continually to them from his essence. His goodness burns as a ball of fire above and beyond cold caves of grief. Jeremiah reasons to himself: God’s fatherly discipline will pass, our trials will someday cease, tears will have a final day, but his mercies shall never end — and they have not now ended. The sun, though distant, has not yet diminished.

Reader, are you suffering? What are you calling to mind? What promises from the faithful God do you need to seize? When all lights fade, Christian soul, the Lord is still your portion.

Call Him to Mind

Today, Jeremiah’s Lord has revealed himself more wonderfully still. When we call his truth to mind, the one we see is Jesus. Weary soul, are you remembering Jesus? The author of Hebrews exhorts us,

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1–3)

Desponding, struggling, exhausted saint, call the Lord Jesus to mind. Bring his sweet remembrance — and living presence — into the inner chambers. Think much of him, and the stone under your head shall become a pillow, the gall in your soul become sweetened. Do you feel weighed down by this life? Do sins cling to your mind? Do you begin to faint on the journey, tire from all the running, wonder how you will make it through the week? Look to Jesus. Call him to mind, and therefore have hope.

Look to him as the founder of your faith. The one who pioneered it, made it possible, laid the foundations, charged before you into battle. He is the architect, the great conqueror, your triumphant Alexander. He made the path, built the structure, leads into the battle of an already decided war. Does not the sight of him awaken fresh reserves to endure the broken edges of this life?

But not only the founder: he is the perfecter of your faith. Jesus is not like the foolish builder who begins a project without the resources to complete it. Look to Jesus; call him to mind, the finisher, the completer, the Perfecter of your faith. As you double over, begin to veer from the path, faint under the sun’s heat — see him at the finish line, as the finish line. He will bring you home; keep running. He is the one who finishes our faith (Philippians 1:6). He is the Great Shepherd — the great Perfectionist — unsatisfied with ninety-nine out of one hundred sheep brought home. Look to Jesus, troubled soul, the perfecter of your faith.

Died to Win Thee

Moreover, consider him “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Consider him spit upon. Consider him stripped. Consider him whipped, mocked, and slapped. Consider him pierced. Consider him bleeding. Consider him paraded through the streets and placarded upon the tree. Consider that he endured this from sinners. Angels did not perform the salvific surgery — but orcs laid grimy hands on him, demons taunted him, men of foul breath spat upon him. He died shamefully, at the crossroads of Jerusalem, at the dirty hands of rotten men. Consider it; consider him: the very embodiment of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

As a man thinketh much of Christ in his heart, especially in his suffering, so like Christ he shall become, and with Christ he shall dwell eternally. In the lyrics of Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken, Christian,

Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?