“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.
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.
It’s a cry of pain, anger 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 is a great example of Lament. This chapter contains all the elements of lament and gives us 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 while he declares attributes of God.
David cried for deliverance, rescue, and saving.
What do you need deliverance from? What storm is bearing down on you with no relief in site?
I’ve seen storm clouds brew on the horizon and watched wild winds whip the grass into swirls and then dashed for shelter as lightning blazed and thunder reverberated in my ears.
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 you knew ahead of time about the upcoming maelstrom or were completely taken by surprise, the emotional response is still the same. Shock. Hurt. Pain. Questions. Anger.
We can stand defiantly or cower fearfully, but what we must do is 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 lament opens with a cry 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.
By wrapping your cry in the truth of God’s character you insulate your pain-ridden heart against the deceptive wiles of the enemy.
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.
Have you ever read something in your native language and then asked, “huh”? Learning a new language isn’t limited to foreign languages, but also to learning new skills. When I learned to crochet, I needed to learn what the abbreviations stood for and what it really mean to “dc in ch”. As I learned music, I needed to familiarize myself with music theory. Each learned skill possesses its own language.
Lament is the lost language of honest communication between God and man. It’s the bridge that connects rejoicing and suffering. But we’ve forgotten how to speak it in the light of “give thanks in all circumstances and rejoice always”.
Afflictions like sickness, loneliness, mistreatment, aging, and death affect our daily lives. 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.
Lament reconciles praise and thanksgiving when our hearts break with suffering.
Lament becomes act of faith, a proclamation of hope, and a refinement of love when done in a biblical manner.
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 points us back to God and his attributes and character while giving opportunity for our doubts and runaway emotions to experience God’s redemption.
Hope has a name and his name is Jesus. Jesus was neither unemotional or ruled by emotions, but he kept them in the perspective of God’s will. We see this in the account of Lazarus and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus didn’t deny his emotions; he expressed them and then submitted to God’s will.
Lament becomes the greatest song of hope because it reveals that, despite how we may feel about ourselves or our situation, God is able to do above and beyond anything we can hope for or imagine. Cry out your pain and then express your hope because hope follows suffering according to Romans 5.
Lament refines love. 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.
When we learn to speak the lost language of lament 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 dramatic 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 all the feels.
The Confession of trust.
The Petition to God to act on our behalf.
The vow and expression of praise.
We’ll cover each of these five components over the next month as we explore expressing emotion in a biblically healthy way.
God provides a healthy way to express the varied emotions we experience that brings faith, hope, and love.
Normally autumn is full of contrasts: bright blue skies against golden yellow cornfields. Bright red and gold leaves. Emerald grass and brown fields. Skies filled with constellations twinkling on a midnight curtain. But the skies have been pregnant with clouds, heavy and foreboding.
These gray days of marching forward no matter what while shrouded in lack of light have become symbolic to my faith. I believe the sun has risen even though I can’t see or feel it and so I behave in a way that confirms that belief.
I get up and follow my morning routine of teeth brushing, face washing, coffee making, praying and scripture reading. When the clock says 8am, I begin the day’s work and at noon, I break for lunch. All the while, it’s gray, depressing gray, and my spirit wilts and a scowl digs permanent furrows in my brow.
But when the sunshine pierces the gray mass, I rejoice by throwing my arms up, upturn my face, close my eyes and feel the sun warming my bones. Then I tuck the remembrance of what it feels like into my memory when the gray blankets my world once again.
It’s a simple illustration, but living out broken cycles is like wrestling through the sunny and gray days.
Living as #cyclebreakers means that we’ll have days when we feel like we’re conquerors, but we’ll also have days when we will feel imprisoned to old ways, habits, and thoughts.
In those moments, you must remember that you are a conqueror who lives by faith.
Living by faith is an active, continual journey upward and onward. It’s fluid and moving and ebbs and flows. Then it circles back around to readdress an old wound or realign a misguided heart. Yes, we receive Jesus by faith, but then we activate that faith when we live the truth of what we believe.
Will it be hard? Yes.
Will we see the fruit? Maybe.
Will we be forever changed? Absolutely.
You are a bold, fierce cycle-breaker because of the One who reigns in your heart.
Live boldly with activated faith like these examples:
Noah. . . who’s faith led him to spend 120 years building the ark, who teaches us faith in the face of ridicule.
Abraham. . . who left his hometown to go to a land he didn’t know who teaches us faith in the heart of God to lead and guide us.
Moses. . . who confronted Pharaoh, delivered his people, and led an unruly nation to the Promised land who teaches us our strength comes not from us, but from the One who is strength.
Joshua. . . and the Israelites in their unusual military strategy against Jericho who show us how to be obedient even when we don’t understand how things will work out.
Jesus. . . as he went to the cross to break the sin cycle once and for all and who is everything we need.
Believe and act. That’s the key to breaking cycles.
When you fail (because you will) refuse to accept condemnation and self-recrimination. Confess, receive forgiveness (from yourself, too), ask for strength, and move on.
Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for obedience.
These tools of breaking cycles are in your toolkit now. Each one works in conjunction with each other to break cycles, but the one you reach for will depend on what’s happening in your head and heart.
Do your thoughts ride an incessant merry-go-round? Be still.
Activating your faith means walking boldly in the face of your fears, enemies, and failures because of who is in you. God’s Holy Spirit will strengthen you, encourage you, and build you up. (Acts 9:31) He spreads a table before you in the presence of your enemies. He leads you to quiet waters and restores your soul.
He is for you and and not against you and equips you with every good gift in order to bring glory to him here in this life.
Remember God equips you for the task. He’s set you free from the bondage of sin and he will enable you to break the patterns that prevent you from running in his freedom.
Breaking cycles is a lifelong journey full of adventures and misadventures. One cannot condemn oneself when one fails and one cannot take the glory for one’s successes. It’s grace that we are carried through and it’s grace we receive when we need it.
Breaking cycles requires vulnerability. It means we must open our hearts up to new ways of thinking and patterns and take risks at doing something new. We might fail or we might succeed, but we won’t know unless we try.
One of the most challenging aspects of vulnerability is the risk our heart’s take. And vulnerability isn’t weakness, it’s allowing yourself to be known for who you are. It’s inviting someone from the foyer of your heart into the heart of the home, allowing them to see the dishes stacked on the counter and dried food on the table. (Has anyone else had a guest absentmindedly scrape food off your table?)
You see, when I break cycles, I need to practice living a new way. I need to step out from being afraid of failure or repeating what I don’t want to repeat. It requires a certain level of vulnerability coupled with a great deal of bravery.
But it’s dangerous and I’ve been burned. I’ve been like a moth to a flame, drawn in close by the lightness and the brightness of someone’s acceptance only to be seared by their rejection.
I’ll never ever forget the times when I had to bear the brunt of someone’s confession:
It was easy for me to talk to new people and not for them and they were offended.
I cared too much about raising my kids with a consistent set of standards and it made them mad.
I wasn’t grateful enough and caused their depression.
I wasn’t the type of person they were hoping I would be.
These incidences find their place in my memories and make me wonder if breaking cycles is worth it. But for grace.
Last week, we talked about using our spiritual weapons to tear down strongholds and how important it is to remember the power that lives in us because of Christ in us. This week, it’s about grace.
The kind of grace that transforms and gives us the ultimate ability to break cycles, bring peace to painful memories, and overcome failures.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8.
This verse reminds us that God is able. He is able when emotions run together and doubt and despair overwhelm us. His grace comes to us because we come boldly to his throne room.
Will you? When your cycles seem to be breaking you instead of you breaking them, will you run to him and admit your need and reach for his grace?
You can break those cycles. You can be a cycle breaker. This is part of your identity in Christ because you are a new creation because of the work on the cross. You don’t have to stay locked in the cage of your habits and patterns; you are liberated to enjoy the abundance that God has for you.
The abundance of things like grace and goodness, kindness and love, strength and steadfastness.
But. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it though. Sometimes we feel weak and broken down by our own failures and by other’s expectations.
Our weary hearts need a soft place to land and we have that in the arms of God receiving grace when we need it.
How does this work?
We catch our minds scattering down a path that leads us away from God. So we stop, we gather our thoughts, toss out the ones that don’t bring honor to Jesus, and then run right to the throne room and ask for grace. And our thoughts change from speculation and what if’s to settling on truth.
Or we know we’re going to see the person who’s words wounded us, so we pray ahead of time and ask God to remind us that he is near and then when we see that person, our spirits pray for grace while we interact and we see God move in us because we’re loving and responding with grace.
Breaking cycles draws us into a transformative relationship with Christ because we practice vulnerability with Him first, sending down deep roots into his love so that we can break those cycles that tear us and our relationships apart. We need not fear vulnerability for it is there that we find what we’re really looking for: strength to break cycles and live our lives as new creations because of Christ.
Spend some time in prayer today laying out the areas that you need to break. Be honest and vulnerable.
Ask for grace to help you break the cycle and then believe that God has met you.
Breaking cycles is like fighting a battle. It’s a battle for your heart, mind, present, and, mostly, your future. You might be thinking, “Duh, I’m lying bruised and bleeding on the field and every time I get up, I get knocked down.”
Yes. It feels like that. It feels like loss and after loss. And it feels like you carry the losing banner everywhere you go.
Breaking cycles and patterns of thought sometimes feels like you lose more than you win because it’s a series of small skirmishes amidst decisive battles.
But we’re not alone. We might be surrounded by the enemies of our pasts or our own imaginations, but God says he prepares a table, a feast for us, in the midst of our enemies. He invites us to rest and in the respite we’re given the strength to stand and fight again.
The Psalmist describes God as a warrior riding the clouds in response to your cry. Psalm 18.
The breaking cycles weapons are not a pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep a stiff upper lip and all that rot. It’s so much more.
Our weapons are the power of a heart fixed on the power of God. They’re spiritual weapons that enable you to tear down any thought, imagination, or mind-stronghold so that God’s truth can penetrate your heart.
The cycles and negative thought patterns begin before we’re even aware of what’s happening in our minds. It’s called a cycle because it’s become an automatic response. This is why one of the breaking cycle steps involve awareness of what’s in our minds. One way to interrupt the patterns of thoughts is by using your spiritual weapons to tear down thoughts and imaginings that don’t line up with God’s truth.
How do we do this?
We pray scripture.
“In Jesus name, I tear down the pride that’s creating this stronghold.”
“According to Jesus’ power, I tear down the idea that someone is spreading rumors about me.”
Listen, we walk and live in the flesh. We live in this world. We still have the effects of our past in our present. Yet, we’re also not of this world. This world is not our home, but this is where we live.
What would happen if we were to apply the benefits of being a citizen of heaven to our life in this world?
Wouldn’t we reach for heavenly weapons rather than for our usual way of dealing with problems that plague our minds?
Couldn’t we share the power of God with others by applying the power of God to our own minds and praying for other’s who are locked into patterns of thought that keep them trapped in strongholds?
“For though we walk in the flesh (driven by our natural responses), we are not waging war according to the flesh (self-preservation). For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh (revenge, back-biting, vindication), but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (parentheses, my addition)
Jesus is our High Priest. He intercedes for us. And it’s because of him that God sees us as holy and righteous and it’s because of him that we can go directly to God and receive the grace that we need in the exact moment we need it. Hebrews 4:12-16.
There is a light that flows out like a river from God. He invites you to step into it, arms thrown back, and let that light overtake every single aspect of your mind and heart. It’s in that position where strongholds tumble.
It’s a battle of which you’re assured victory. You might feel as though you’re losing more than you’re winning, but you win when you’re faithful. I heard a best-selling author assert that your successes are built on your failures, but I proclaim that your successes are built on faithfulness.
It’s your faithfulness in trusting God and his faithfulness in directing every one of your steps while you’re breaking cycles.
Prepare your heart for the battle by studying the Armor of God. I recommend Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God study.
Think of a situation that sets your mind to setting up strongholds because of false imaginations and then pray 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Out loud. And name what’s keeping you bound. Speak to it in Jesus’ name.
Take time to rest in God’s abundant love for you. That’s where you find your strength to stand and fight the battle.
It’s a commodity that seems to cost us more than it gives back. But rest is vital for our well-being. It shouldn’t induce guilt or shame, and yet, how many of us struggle with it?
There are times when I need a nap in the middle of the day, and if I’m honest, sometimes by 9am. I struggle to pause my activity so I can close my eyes for ten minutes. But when I don’t, I turn into scary Jessica. That’s the version of me that shows her teeth and and growls at anyone who comes near, including innocent laundry baskets and errant socks.
We need physical rest, but we also need spiritual and emotional rest as well. We need stillness.
Our bodies are still, and our minds are at rest. We’re given a break from the constant bombardment from noise, and our senses are soothed by the sight of lapping waters, the scent of earth and leaves, and the cooing of mourning doves.
God’s word is filled with visions of stillness. He leads you besides still waters so that your soul finds restoration. And he calls us to be still and wait for him to lead. Would that we could be as restful in the midst of our life’s storms as Jesus was when he napped in the boat during the violent storm on the Galilee Sea.
Embrace the quiet.
Stilling our soul is vital to breaking cycles.
For one, it enables us to learn to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. God knows our tendency to strive in our own strength, and so he gives us the gift of stillness so that we learn to wait for him.
Secondly, stillness gives us the opportunity to practice the presence of God. God’s presence doesn’t ebb and flow, but our awareness of it does. Stilling our soul gives us the opportunity to develop that awareness.
But what does this stillness look like?
It can be meditating on a passage of scripture that gives you hope or comfort or turning on worship music that sings of God’s attributes and character. And then turn those words into your own worship. Laying prostrate on the floor is an act of humility that reminds our soul that God is God and we are not.
You could take a leisurely stroll and study the leaves on the maple tree, the flowers that bloom or the way the goldfinch flits and flutters to its nest. Maybe you could lay on the grass, gaze at the clouds, and envision God riding to your rescue.
God loves you and longs for relationship with you that is filled with mutual enjoyment.
Yes, God teaches us in the ways of right living and he gently and tenderly convicts us when we travel off course. But he also enjoys us. He enjoys our quirks and interests because he gives them to us.
Enjoy him. Enjoy his kindness, sweetness, mercy, and grace. He is a good, good God and his heart is so good towards you.
He transforms you one step in one cycle at the time, but not every encounter with God will be a teaching encounter. There will be times when he removes the blinders off your eyes, and you will see clearly and change will overtake you.
Then, God graciously let’s those revelations take root in your heart, which means that you won’t be showed something new to work on every time you open your Bible. It’s in those moments when you read the Bible, worship him, and still your heart before him that you learn to enjoy him.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
Breaking cycles requires a strong heart. Sometimes it seems impossible and we wonder if the effort is worth it. That’s why this step of rest cannot be skipped or glossed over.
Taking time to rest in God’s presence is what encourages our heart and gives us strength to keep walking the righteous-living, cycle-breaking road.
Take time to quiet your soul and rest in God’s presence.
I write to encourage you that you can experience a vibrant, transformative relationship with God even if your past or your shame tells you otherwise. God invites you upward and onward, will you join me? You'll receive weekly devotionals straight to your inbox. By subscribing you'll receive my 7-Day Devotional, Kicking Perfect, as a thank-you gift from me!
You have Successfully Subscribed!
Your personal information is safe and will never be shared.