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Let Us Lift Up our Hearts with our Hands (Lamentations 3:40-41)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (11:54)

Ralph F. Wilson, detail of 'Worshipping Hands', watercolor, 14" x 10".
Ralph F. Wilson, detail of 'Worshipping Hands', watercolor, 14" x 10".

I've been thinking a lot about revival lately. Revival is restoration of an individual or the church itself to a vital and fervent relationship with God after a period of decline -- moral, spiritual, behavioral.

Revivals

As I go to East Africa in less than a month, I am praying to see a mighty work of God -- renewal, revival in pastors and leaders so that they can make a difference in the communities where God has placed them. I recall the great East African Revival that began in 1929, spread throughout East Africa in the 1930s and 1940s, and continued into the 1960s. Millions of people were swept into the Kingdom of God through faith in Christ. There were times of deep conviction, of miracles, of inner renewal. It was wonderful!

We've seen many revivals in the past couple of centuries. But we need revival in our churches and in our countries today! In the West, we see the Christian faith waning. Unless the Holy Spirit comes in a mighty revival across our continents, we are doomed to slide into a powerless form of religion that has less and less ability to attract people to Christ.

Revival Begins in Us

Our churches need reviving -- truly! But we can't just blame our churches. Revival begins with us. In me. In you. Too often we excuse ourselves for practices we know aren't really pleasing to God. We drift with our culture, and fall into questionable behaviors and attitudes. And our love for Jesus can so easily wane. The Lord spoke to the Ephesian Church:

"I have this against you,
that you have abandoned the love you had at first." (Revelation 2:4)

Remember when you first came to Christ? Remember your joy, your love, your enthusiasm? Where is it now? No, we can't and shouldn't try to recreate emotions. And a maturing faith is different than the first exuberance of salvation. But, sadly, we can lose the love we had at first. What is left is an unsatisfying shell of orthodoxy, of duty, of going through the motions -- and, too often, sloppy living.

Jeremiah's Lamentation and Hope

Many centuries ago, Jeremiah laments the fall of Jerusalem and exile to Babylon as a result of Israel's sin. Jeremiah calls upon Israel to turn again to the Lord.

"Let us search and try our ways,
and turn again to the LORD.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands
unto God in the heavens." (Lamentations 3:40-41, KJV)[1]

This call to renewal has three parts.

1. Examining Our Ways (Lamentations 3:40a)

First, Jeremiah calls on us to "search and try our ways" (KJV), or as the ESV puts it rather accurately: "test and examine our ways."

"Ways" is the plural of the Hebrew noun derek, "way, path, road," here used metaphorically, relating to our actions and behavior. We can say that we love Jesus, but our actions prove out whether this is true or not. We humans are very good at rationalization. We often hide the truth from ourselves, so we can go blissfully on. We avoid going to the doctor for fear he or she might give us bad news. You know how this works.

So Jeremiah calls us to "search," "test," "examine" our ways. The Hebrew verb is ḥāpaś, "search, search out," to search out our ways in the sense of testing them to see if they have integrity.[2] We're to put our patterns and habits under a microscope. What in the world are we actually doing? Then Jeremiah uses a nearly synonymous verb, "try," "examine," "test," ḥāqar, "search, investigate, examine," connoting a diligent, difficult probing.[3] David asks God to do this probing, this "fearless moral inventory" (in the words of the 12 Step Program).

"Search me (ḥāqar), O God, and know my heart!
Try[4] me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous[5] way (derek) in me,
and lead me in the way (derek) everlasting!" (Psalm 139:23-24)

There's a grievous path of self-deception and self-righteousness that ends in sorrow, and there is a God-centered way of life that lasts forever.

Our sin may not be some deep moral failing -- though it may be. It could just as well be prayerlessness and hollow worship by rote. Pause and consider, say Jeremiah and David, that you're on the right path. And if you are not, now is the time to make a course correction.

2. Turning Afresh to Yahweh (Lamentations 3:40b)

"Let us search and try our ways,
and turn again to the LORD." (Lamentations 3:40)

The key verb in the second part of the verse is "turn again," "return," the Hebrew verb shûb, "to (re)turn." It suggests that Israel -- and perhaps we -- have diverged from the paths of the Lord, and need to make a directional change. The theological term for turning or changing direction is "repentance." We examine our ways, and when we sense problems, we turn afresh to the Lord.

Sometimes our spiritual pride gets in the way of repentance. Like the Pharisees before us, we can refuse to come for the baptism of repentance (Luke 7:30) because we imagine that we have no sin. The prophet Isaiah echoes the call to turn:

"Let him return (shûb,) to the LORD,
that he may have compassion[6] on him,
and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.[7]
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the LORD." (Isaiah 55:7b-8, ESV)

Admitting that we've been wrong is always hard for us. But consider God's response to our turning and returning -- compassion and an abundant pardon. Hallelujah!

3. Lift Up our Hearts with our Hands (Lamentations 3:41)

"Let us search and try our ways,
and turn again to the LORD.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands
unto God in the heavens." (Lamentations 3:40-41, KJV)

The third step is worship -- true heart worship. Lifting hands, of course, is the motion or gesture of prayer to God commonly referred to in the Old Testament.

Unfortunately, all of us have experienced going through the motions of prayer and worship while our mind has wandered far away. We read, we sing -- and to all outward appearances we are worshipping just fine. But the heart is the essential element in worship, and it is sometimes missing. Jesus speaks about this.

"Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.'" (Matthew 15:7-8, quoting Isaiah 29:13)

No more going through the motions. Repentance precedes worship. Jesus says,

"If you are offering your gift at the altar
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar and go.
First be reconciled to your brother,
and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)

Repentance is essential to true worship. David senses this in his great penitential Psalm 51.

"For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

Going through the outward motions of worship is not enough. God looks at your heart and mine. There is no hiding, for God "delights in truth in the inward being ... in the secret heart" (Psalm 51:6). He sees.

The Path to Renewal

In this pair of verses, Jeremiah gives us three simple but profound steps towards personal revival, personal renewal in Jesus:

  1. Examining our ways (verse 40a);
  2. Fresh repentance and turning to the Lord (verse 40b); and
  3. Worship from the inner person, the heart (verse 41).

"Let us search and try our ways,
and turn again to the LORD.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands
unto God in the heavens." (Lamentations 3:40-41, KJV)

Join me as we turn afresh to our loving Lord and experience his renewal.

Prayer

Father, you know our restless hearts. You know our lapses and failures. You know our struggles. But we bring them to you in repentance and faith. We receive your forgiveness afresh. And now we lift up our hearts with our hands in prayer, praise, and worship. Thank you, O Lord, for your mercy and compassion, and your wonderful love towards each of us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.


[1] These verses first came to my attention through a praise chorus, "Let Us Search and Try Our Ways," set to music by Pastor Jack Hayford (copyright 1981, Rocksmith Music). You can listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0kVLHOm4Qs

[2] "Search" (KJV), "test" (ESV, NRSV), "examine" (NIV) translate the Qal imperfect of hāpaś. (Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament ("BDB"; Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1907, 1953), p. 344.

[3] "Try" (KJV), "examine" (ESV, NRSV), "test" (NIV) is ḥāqar, Herbert Wolf, ḥāqar, in (in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament ("TWOT"; Moody Press, 1980), #729, Qal imperfect. Gesenius suggests that the primary idea is perhaps that of searching the earth by digging.

[4] "Try" is bāḥan, "to examine, try, prove," to determine essential qualities, especially integrity (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #230).

[5] ʿŌṣeb, "sorrow, wicked," from the verb ʿaṣab, to grieve, displease, vex" (Ronald B. Allen, TWOT #1666a).

[6] Piel stem of rāḥam, "love deeply; have mercy, be compassionate."

[7] "Pardon" is the verb sālaḥ, "forgive, pardon." The modifier in this infinitive construct is the verb rābâ, "be(come) great, many, much, numerous" (William White, TWOT #2103).

Copyright © 2019, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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