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