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.
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.
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.
Lament is the language that leads us through our sorrow and into praise. Trouble comes to us. We know disappointment and frustration; sorrow and pain. Trusting the Lord and taking hold of courage in the midst of problems grows our faith when we use the language of lament.
The Mourning Song of Lament and Trust
Lament is the song our hearts sing as it mourns our circumstances, as it points our hearts to trust in God’s character, and as it expresses all the pain that we never dreamed we would feel. Lament’s song gives voice to our pain and brings hope to our heart. We begin our lament with the releasing cry of our worries, anxieties, disappointments, anger, and heartbreak. It’s an emptying of everything in our heart: the ugly parts we try and hide, the doubt we cover up with weak faith, and the fear that maybe God won’t come through for us.
As we empty our hearts of all it’s turmoil, we remind ourselves to trust in God. In lament, we confess our trust because our hearts need the reminder of the truth about God’s character. Trust is defined as a “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing.” (dictionary.com) In one five letter word, we discover a depth of meaning.
Truths for Trust
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord know those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.'” 2 Timothy 2:19
The Pendulum Swings
When we face confusing or hurtful circumstances, our understanding of God’s character goes on trial. Our emotions sway our hearts, like a pendulum, back and forth, back and forth, but a heart that finds its anchor in the Lord of Hosts is the heart that learns the lament. We cry and then we confess trust.
But what happens when our emotions of despair and depression keep swinging to rage and threaten our peace of mind? Confession of trust is more than just saying over and over again, “I trust you, God.” It’s declaring the truth about God while feeling the emotions of despair.
A Look into Psalm 31’s Lament and Trust
If we look at Psalm 31 as an example we see how David confessed his trust in God and declared truth about God’s character. We find David asking God to rescue him while re-remembering God’s character and attributes.
God is a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, refuge, and redeemer. It’s these that David writes for himself and for us in times of trial. David calls God faithful as he commits himself to God no matter what he faces. In verse three, we read an echo of Psalm 23 where God leads and guides. David rejoices because he knows God sees his affliction and knows the distress of his soul and that God’s steadfast love holds him fast.
Lament Confessing Trust
A confession of trust is not an absence of fear or doubt, but the expression of confidence that God is bigger than our circumstances, fears, and sorrow. And not only is he bigger than all that pain, but he is compassionate beyond our wildest imaginations. Even when life hurts and we don’t understand what God is doing or why he is not acting the way we expect, we can trust his heart.
His heart is trustworthy because his love is steadfast. By remembering that we cannot be separated from his love, that his love stays the same, that his love isn’t double-minded, or performance based, we can face our afflictions with trust because God sees our soul’s distress and feels compassion towards us. We can be glad in his steadfast love even when we’re facing troubles. This is what grows our trust so that we can confess our trust. Lament leads our heart through sorrow to praise and finally to hope when we cry out our pain and then confess our trust.
The cry can be one of victory or loss. It arouses a crowd in support of their favorite team. The battle cry sends warriors racing into battle, and the cry of a son lost rips from his mother’s heart. The cry begins and ends so many of our life experiences.
“The cry of pain is our deepest acknowledgement we are not home. We are divided from our own body, our own deepest desires, our dearest relationships. We are separated and long for restoration. It is the cry of pain that initiates the search to ask God “What are you doing?” It is this element of a lament that has the potential to change the heart.” Dan Allendar
It seems as though my heart’s been doing much crying these last couple of weeks. Crying for lost relationships, lost dreams, and lost hopes. This world lies broken in pieces and it reminds me, once again, that this is not home.
As wonderful as life on earth can be, as amazing as Jesus’ good news is, and as constant as God’s presence carries me, this present life is not my final destination. I’m a wayfaring sojourner and every once in a while the pain of this life becomes my stark reminder that my life here is a temporary, albeit, preparatory journey for the life to come.
Living this life in the here and now, with an eye fixed on eternity, requires us to enter into this life fully, including all the joy and pain. The abundant life Jesus was referring to doesn’t mean a pain-free life, but a life lived with abundant faith, hope, and love.
Our life: faith-filled, grace-directed, and always-transforming, grows more and more three-dimensional when we run towards God . . . even if it means running through pain and sorrow to get to him. Sometimes we want to skirt around the issue. We attempt to build a bridge over it or find an easier crossing, but there comes a time when we must wade in and go through it to get to the other side. Our breath catches in our throat as we take the first step because the temperature is cold. Pain shoots through our foot as we step on the rock’s pointy edge. The water climbs higher and higher and something brushes beside us and finally, a cry wrenches from our lungs.
Betrayal. Loss. Disappointment. They bring sorrows and pain and discomfort that we need to wade through in order to get to the other side. Betrayal slams our identity to the ground. Disappointment tempts us to bitterness. And loss, well, loss wants us to question God’s goodness. God gives us lament as a means to communicate the depths of pain in our hearts. The cry is an integral part of lament that propels us towards hope.
The Cry that Empties and Fills
Lament is a cry of pain, anger, sorrow, or confusion. It’s a cry that empties all the hurt in our heart at the feet of Jesus and a cry that points us back to faith in him.
Psalm 31 contains all the elements of lament and provides us with a model to follow. In the first two verses, we read David’s cry. But we don’t picture him stomping his foot like a toddler demanding attention, screaming at the top of his lungs. Instead we see David’s heart’s cry with pain and longing for rescue, while declaring attributes of God. He called God his deliverer, his rescuer, and his refuge. David’s sorrow took over his voice and he cried aloud that God would hear his cry and rescue him posthaste.
I’ve seen storm clouds brew on the horizon and watched wild winds whip the grass into swirls. I knew I needed shelter as lightning blazed and thunder reverberated in my ears. Other times, the day started out in peace and ended in chaos. I had no warning. There was nothing on the wind to suggest devastation.
The day I lost my first baby was like that. I woke up that morning an expectant mother and went to sleep that night wondering what to do with the grief that threatened to swallow me whole. I passed through that valley alone. There was no way to reach my husband. No one picked up the phone when I called. I lay curled in a ball on my living room floor as waves of pain washed over me. There was no relief. Only cries for God to rescue and deliver me.
There are times when God prepares our hearts for the storm that’s heading our way and other times it takes us completely by surprise. But no matter whether we’re able to prepare for the upcoming maelstrom or are completely taken by surprise, the emotional response is still the same. Shock. Hurt. Pain. Questions. Anger. These well up within us and so we cry:
“God, I take refuge in you. Deliver me. You are righteous, don’t let me be put to shame. Lean towards my cry and come to me quickly. I need you, God. Be my rock and my refuge. Save me.”
The Cry of Lament Leads us Home
The lament opens with a cry of our pain that states what we need and declares God’s character. It’s in declaring who God is that gives us hope and reassures our heart and puts our faith into practice.
The enemy wants nothing more than to isolate you so that you feel as though you’re alone, that God doesn’t care, and that he doesn’t listen. However, by wrapping your cry in the truth of God’s character you insulate your pain-ridden heart against the deceptive wiles of the enemy. The enemy wants bitterness to take root. He wants you to question God’s goodness. Your pain is the enemy’s playground, but it can also be God’s way of leading you to greater healing.
So cry out your hurt to God. Cry out your fears and questions and doubts. But remind yourself that God is righteous, that he is your shelter, and strength. That he is with you, he is constant, that he hears you and longs to rescue you. Pour it all out and let him comfort you and lead you home to his heart.
Lament is part of honest communication between God and man. It bridges the “give thanks in all circumstances and rejoice” with “in this world you will have many troubles.” Expressing both rejoicing and suffering is integral to a growing relationship with the Lord. It’s easy to think that rejoicing amidst suffering looks like gritting our teeth and pasting a smile on and minimizing how we really feel about all the difficulties we face, but it’s not. It’s so much more and lament gives us the language we need to express our deepest hurts, sorrows, and disappointments.
Afflictions like sickness, loneliness, mistreatment, aging, and death touch us on a regular basis. Disappointment plagues us and makes the soil of the heart ripe for seeds of bitterness. Bitterness then grows into an invasive weed that chokes out all that is good and right and pure in our hearts. Bitterness causes us to forget the comfort of God’s nearness and to neglect the transforming power of his word. It prevents us from looking to Jesus, our advocate. At its worst, it makes us question the assurance of our salvation.
Lament reconciles praise and thanksgiving when our hearts break with suffering.
Faith is the trusting of our entire selves to God. We cry, “Why, God” because we’re desperate to find meaning in our suffering. Biblical lament leads us to greater faith because it returns our focus to God’s attributes and character while giving opportunity for our doubts and runaway emotions to experience God’s comfort. Lament leads us to hope.
Jesus was neither unemotional or ruled by emotions, but he kept them in the perspective of God’s character and will. We see this in the account of Lazarus, when Jesus waited two days to go to Bethany, how he wept, and when he raised Lazarus from the dead. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see how Jesus didn’t deny his emotions, rather, he expressed them through drops of blood as he wrestled with the reality of what was to come. Because our hope is Jesus, we learn how to lament with hope supporting our sorrows.
Lament becomes the greatest song of hope despite how we may feel about ourselves or our situation. It reveals that God is able to do above and beyond anything we can hope for or imagine. Cry out your pain in your sufferings, let lament lead you to rejoicing in who God is. He is steadfast and faithful, ever righteous and trustworthy. Rejoicing in our sufferings leads to endurance, endurance leads to character, and character leads to hope. Biblical lament (the expressing of our heartache followed by rejoicing) becomes an expression of hope.
An act of faith, a proclamation of hope, and a refinement of love
Lament refines our ability to love others well. Disappointments happen in life. We’re disappointed by ourselves and others. Disappointing outcomes of cherished hopes lead us to doubt God’s goodness and kindness. The language of lament gives words to our pain and sorrow. We’re commanded to love one another like we love ourselves, but what if you hate yourself and speak words to yourself that are filled with disgust and condemnation? It’s exhausting to love others when you’re filled with negativity towards yourself.
When we live in community with each other, egos get bruised, hearts wounded, and offenses taken up, but if we don’t deal with the emotions of those situations, our relationships falter. Lament gives us the freedom to express to God our uncensored feelings about our sufferings. And when we fail to lament we can fall into the trap of slander, gossip, and revenge. Part of the healing of our hearts from heart-wounds involves learning to lament biblically.
We experience life, hope, faith, and love
Emotions are neither good nor bad, but they are indicators of your heart and if acted upon can lead to life-giving choices or life-stealing cycles. God gives us the language of lament as a healthy way of expressing all the feelings this life brings.
The structure of a piece of literature includes exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement, and a story isn’t complete without each of these elements. Lament follows a similar arc and if we miss a piece, we rob ourselves of authenticity in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and it robs society of solid answers to deal with heartache and suffering.
Biblical lament includes these five elements: The Cry for Help, The Expression of Emotion, The Confession of Trust, The Petition to God to Act on Our Behalf, The Vow and Expression of Praise. The coming weeks will feature posts on these and how they help us navigate uncertain times.