Leaning into Lament
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.
I’m learning that my quick skimming of articles, emails, social media posts, and updates leads me to a lack of focus in my life. I use to be able to read for hours, getting completely lost in the journey the author takes me on. Now, I’m lucky if I can read for twenty minutes before I flip open my email or instagram. This lack of focus translates into other areas of my life — my inability to attend to what my kids and husband tell me, my prayer life, and my bible study. This concerns me because in order to live this “God-life” with power and grace, I need to be able to focus.
Romans 12:2 guides my life and gives direction. I know my mind needs renewing. I know the rabbit trails I go down that lead to disappointment, worry, and doubt. And every time I take a journey into that place, I regret it. Although I learn plenty, it reminds me of the power of focus.
Focus Affects Our Relationships
What do we focus on? How do we focus? Why is focus so important? Focus means to set our minds, eyes, and hearts on God. During a recent quiet time, I read Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Trust relates to knowing. Knowing grows through time spent in relationship. Relationship starts with faith.
While we grow and develop our relationship with the Lord, we discover the two-sided reality of the Christian life:
Acceptance in Christ and growing in Christ.
Status as kings and duties as slaves.
Presence of Christ and pressure of sin.
Made right with God and daily problems that help us grow.
Without an awareness of this two-sided reality, focusing our hearts and minds on Christ is a struggle. But, when we’re aware that we are accepted as we are and given opportunities to grow, our focus shifts from our circumstances to the One who guides, leads, heals, and loves. This focus helps guard our hearts, shows us where to serve, and grounds our hearts in hope.
Focus Helps to Guard Our Hearts
Our hearts need guarding. There is so much in this world that aims to demoralize our hearts through distraction and disappointment. We can guard our hearts by carefully considering what we focus on. Proverbs 4:23-27 lays out a delightful plan to teach us how to guard our hearts. Out of our hearts spring life. Therefore, what we think, see, say, and do makes a difference on our life.
Focus Shows Us the Next Thing
Our hearts need direction. Too much inward focus turns us into selfish minded people with a narrow view of ourselves and our world. However, when we look up and out, our hearts develop awareness of a greater view. Without purpose, the gifts God gives us languish and we never reach the fullest potential God has for us. Then others, for whom God gave us those gifts, do not benefit.
In John 4:35, Jesus tells the disciples to open their eyes to see the fields ripe for harvest. Somewhere someone is waiting for you to breathe a bit of the hope you have in Jesus into their hearts. That hope can be the difference between harvest languishing and going to waste or a harvest that does what it was designed to do: multiply.
Establishes Our Hearts in Hope
Hope is standing assured in what we cannot see. It is standing with our face to wind, feeling the sting of it on our cheeks and its power buffeting our bodies and knowing that the rock on which we stand will not give way. Sometimes we hunker down behind the rock, beside the rock, and sometimes we climb inside it in order to gain a reprieve from the blast. But no matter what, we know that our Rock never fails.
This is what fixing our eyes on Jesus does for us in the times when distractions and disappointments abound. It’s the one thing that we can do that grounds our heart in hope. God takes care of the rest, but we choose where to fix our gaze. Hebrews 12:2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”
The Story Unfolds
Your story isn’t finished. Your faith isn’t perfected. And that’s okay. You don’t have to worry about the ending or the plot twists. You don’t have to worry if your faith is strong enough. That plot twist? God is with you. That unexpected ending? God beckons to you to follow him. Your faith? God strengthens you even in your doubts as you fix your eyes on him.
Focus matters. It protects our hearts, guides our steps, and sets our heart on a firm foundation. As you move into the new year, take each opportunity to reset your focus. As you do so, your heart will be guarded, guided, and grounded.
Hello dear friends,
December slipped in wearing white and displaying crystals dancing on delicate branches. Its beauty on display reminds me that even winter storms display artistry by a Master Artist. Will I have eyes to see? Will you?
The next four weeks will bring a letter from me with reflections from the Word and a prayer to focus our hearts on the Lord. As we walk into December with all the joys, sorrows, and the busyness it brings, our souls need a moment to reset, release, and receive. It’s my prayer that these little notes minister to your heart as well as whomever you choose to forward it onto too.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–The spirit of Truth.” John 14:16-17a
“But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
My heart swells with relief that I have a counselor, someone who listens and who guides, in the Lord. Do you ever have those days where you wonder whether your efforts make a difference? Or what about those days when you don’t know if it’s worth pushing against a tide that seems relentless?
It’s in those moment when I remember the psalmists example of pouring out our hearts to the Lord. To tell the Lord our silly thoughts like a “I love these socks!” and the gigantic heart-rending concerns like “I can’t take another step,” brings our hearts to the One who can laugh and cry with us.
Jesus truly is a Wonderful Counselor. He’s wonderful because he knows all, loves perfectly, and stands beside us through the highest mountains and the lowest valleys. He’s a wonderful counselor because he guides us with wisdom, truth, and peace so our hearts can know rest.
I adore you and say with my whole heart, “O come let us adore you.” You make ways when I can’t see the way. You work miracles that I don’t understand. You part seas and walk on stormy waves. You shine light into my darkness. I stand in awe of who you are.
Make a way this Christmas season for my heart to experience a reset. I pray your counsel would guide me so that I would walk in your ways and know your peace.
You give me space to release all the angst that’s stored up in my heart. I release it to you and leave it in your hands. My fears. My concerns. My regrets. They’re yours and I release them to you.
I receive your wonder and grace this Christmas. Guide and counsel me as I rely on you. You are my wonderful counselor and I run to you with my joys and sorrows.
In Jesus’ name,
Have a delightful week as you lean into Jesus’ wonderful counsel. May your days be filled with the reality of his presence and may you know his wisdom for your circumstances.
Jessica of Welcome Grace