The Paradox of Praise
Praise is the final piece in biblical lament. It’s the paradoxical nature of life with Christ. We worship in spirit and truth. God is both merciful and just. We lay down our life and live as living sacrifices. Lament is both pain and praise.
I encourage journalling as a way to process emotions, pain, wounds, and regrets, but the way I journal has changed over the years. One journal, from my “old way” of processing emotions, reeks of judgmental, negative, and self-righteous attitudes. It contains the full expression of my emotions and my cries for help written in black and white for all to see, but the confession of trust, the petition for help, and any type of praise is noticeably absent.
That old journal is despairing rather than hopeful. I contemplate burning that old journal, but I keep it tucked away as a reminder of what happens to sorrow and pain when it’s not processed through the biblical lens of lament. Someday my grown up kids will sort through my belongings and find that gorgeous covered journal filled with rotten words that led me further into despair and hopelessness, but they will also find a stack of journals that grew my heart.
Let Praise Lead
The lament arc takes us from despair to release to hope and, finally, to praise because it allows for the full expression of emotions this life provides. When we tuck our emotions into a chest in the depths of our heart’s attic, we rob ourselves of a deeper authenticity with Christ. Sorrow, pain, disappointment, fear, and, even anger, give us an opportunity to run towards God. However, we wonder how to, “Praise the Lord” or declare, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul,” when our lives fall apart.
Lament is not merely a venting session of all the ugly that hides in our heart. Venting the full breadth of our emotions without biblical exhortation results in a gossipy, negative view of our struggles and the people in it. My old journal is a prime example. God longs to shower us with grace and he’s given us lament as a way to share our hearts with him and a way for our hearts to be reminded of his goodness and grace.
Praise in Lament
A beautiful example of this is from Psalm 31:19-24:
“Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind! In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Love the Lord, all you saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”
David ends his lament with words of praise. He praises God for his abundant goodness and reminds himself to keep fearing the Lord and finding refuge in him. We need to re-remember what we already know. God is for us. He preserves us. But it’s easy to let our circumstances cause amnesia when our “heart melts like wax” and the “what-ifs” grow our fear.
One of the Hebrew words for praise is Towdah and it renders as a “confession of thanks and praise for what God is going to do.” We cannot confuse what we wish God to do based on our agenda, but we must base our praise on what God is going to do because of his character.
His character is solid, and he doesn’t forsake us because he is faithful. Light floods our darkness because he is light. We experience good gifts because he is a good father. He brings us strength because he is full of joy.
Praising God based on his character is what allows our heart to grab hold of courage. Praising God in our lament reminds us that God is God and we are not. The whole world rests in his hands and on his shoulders, not ours. Through lament we find surrender, hope and courage for our weary, exhausted, hurting hearts.
Ending our lament with praise points our hearts to our good, good Father and fills us with hope.
Read Psalm 31 and use it as a model of lament in your current situation. Start with the cry, move into expression of pain, confess your trust, petition God to act on your behalf, and then praise him for what he is able to do.
The Lament Arc Series
Asking for help doesn’t come without risk, and voicing questions holds opportunities for ridicule. But sometimes the risk is worth the ride and the questions unfold into glorious answers. However, before I give voice to my question, I jump through mental hoops like these:
“Shouldn’t I know this?”
“What if I come across ignorant?”
“That’s a stupid request.”
“I don’t know how to ask this without offending anyone.”
I keep telling myself and my kids that there isn’t a dumb question because asking questions is a sign of someone who’s hungry for knowledge and information. It’s when those questions reveal that I need something from someone–whether it’s someone’s help or their acknowledgement or advice– that I feel like I’m a major inconvenience. Too often, I turn to Google or Alexa because they’re less intimidating. My racing heart stills and the idea cements that I need to figure things out on my own.
In our self-sufficiency driven culture, the pressure to know all the things or at least perceive to know all the things creates a pride that prevents us from asking. On the flipside, insecurity whispers that we’d just better figure this life out on our own because we’re really not that important. Pride and insecurity drive us away from the One who receives our questions and who desires to give us good gifts.
If we turn to the first few chapters in Genesis, we discover the tendency of human nature towards self-sufficiency. Two humans in a perfect relationship with God hid from God once sin entered the world. Instead of running to God they ran away from him. They turned to themselves in an attempt to solve the problem.
Our tendency is independence and self-sufficiency, but self-sufficiency and independence feeds the pride that prevents us from running to God in times of need. When we screw up, we want to cover up. But God asks us to uncover and run straight to him.
Take Up Your Courage
Hebrews 4:12-16 tells us that God sees all things because everything is laid bare before him. It tells us that we have a high priest who intercedes for us and makes a way for us to boldly approach the throne of God to receive the grace we need.
Imagine if we approached all our problems with this mentality. Envision running towards God, crying for help, pouring out our hearts to him, confessing our trust, and asking for what we want. This is the power of lament: it brings us to a place of peaceful trust because we run towards God instead of away. It gives our heart a place to dump the hidden and the visible garbage. Lament allows God to make something beautiful out of our pain.
We don’t need to have it all figured out before we come to God. We don’t need to be prim and proper or spit and polished. It’s in the coming to him– just as we are– where he refines us and creates beauty out of ashes.
Bring Your Petition
Using Psalm 31 as a model, we see how David brought his petition before the Lord.
14 But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord,
for I have cried out to you;
but let the wicked be put to shame
and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced,
for with pride and contempt
they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
David begins the petition portion of his lament with a redeclaration of his trust in God. Then he goes on to ask for deliverance from his enemies and that God would save him. He petitions God to look toward him and not let him be put to shame.
Reveal Your Heart
These verses echo what’s so often hiding in our hearts: that God would do something about our circumstances and that his face would be turned towards us–in the big and little stuff of life. Yet, we’re often shamed into hiding our need. Shame leads us to false belief that we don’t deserve God’s help. Fear of disappointment holds us back from asking the question: “What do I want God to do for me today?”
And that’s the question I leave with you: What do you want God to do for you? Is it healing, provision, intercession, advocacy, trust, peace, or strength? Take your pain, tell God everything, redeclare your trust in him, and ask. Take courage and be bold.
Learning to Lament Series
Emotions scare me because they’re so powerful, yet render me powerless. The power of them takes me by surprise, like touching a hot pan. I yank back in defensiveness, shielding my wound. Emotions surrounding the pain of shattered friendships, lousy news, and broken trust cause me to harden my heart. Countless times, I’ve tried to shield my heart from the extremes of emotions, but I’ve realized that if I fail to experience the fulness of sadness and anger then joy and love don’t reach their full potential.
God has gifted us with the language of lament in order to grow our faith, proclaim hope, and teach us love. Lament is the language of emotion, and without lament, our hurtful experiences dictate the way we interact with God, ourselves, and others. Without a safe place for expression, we withdraw or cast blame. This prevents us from the abundance that the Lord offers in John 10:10.
Exploring Emotions within the Context of the Psalms
Exploring our emotions is part of learning to live in the fullness he provides, but out of control emotions create consequences in our lives that lead to more regret. We shout words we can never take back, we slam cupboard doors, and we choose indifference rather than deference. A shroud of sorrow lingers over our happiest moments and we ease around that massive problem we try to ignore.
As Christ-followers, we are not immune to struggles. Pain, sorrow, and disappointment follow us, interrupt us, and surprise us. We understand the importance of learning the language of lament, we’ve explored the cry of help, and the confession of trust. Today, we cover the expression of pain.
One of the best ways to learn to express our heart’s pain is to read the Psalms as if we’re writing them. When David writes in Psalm 31:9, “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief,” we are given the okay to tell God about our distress.
Psalm 31 guides us to sit with God in the pain and recognize that our emotional distress affects our physical body. When we’re weary from an emotional storm, it grows more and more difficult to make choices that honor God with what we do and say.
Let Emotions Remind us of God’s Goodness
When our eyes are weak with sorrow and our body wracked with grief, let’s take David’s words and make them our own. David knew distress; he felt forgotten and rejected by so-called friends. People plotted against him and he wondered when and if things would ever turn around.
I’ve been there, have you? As I page through my Bible, I find evidence of relating to exactly what David experienced. As I repeatedly read through the Psalms, I come to margins with scribbled dates beside them that remind me that God is my help, defender, and rescuer.
Learning to lament through reading the Psalms is the best way to learn to express the gamut of emotions created by the human experience. It enables us to give voice to our deepest hurts, our deepest regrets, and our deepest sorrows. Imagine the outcome if you’re able to lead your heart to hope the next time an emotional storm whips through your life.