The lament arc takes us from despair to release to hope and to praise because it allows for the full expression of emotions this life creates. Our responses to our life experiences can drive us towards God but when we tuck our emotions into a chest in the depths of the attic we rob ourselves of a deeper authenticity with Christ.
As we explore the lost language of lament, we discover a freedom in approaching God to receive the grace he longs to bestow. Our hearts swell with faith, hope and love as we realize that God gave us this language to communicate with him and that he longs to hear our hearts.
We cannot believe that lament is 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.
I’ve been a journal-er for numerous years, and several years ago as I read through an old journal, I cringed at the judgmental, negative, self-righteous way I sounded. I had the full expression of my emotions and crying out to God for help written in black and white, but the confession of trust, the petition for help, and any type of praise was noticeably absent.
My lament felt despairing rather than hopeful.
My penned words made me want to cast that journal in the nearest burn pile.
Instead, it’s tucked into the bookshelf, flat against the back with other books placed in front of it, spines lined up like little soldiers in a row. I didn’t throw it away because it’s my reminder of the importance of learning the biblical lament.
Praise is the final piece in the biblical lament.
We read, “Praise the Lord” or “Bless the Lord” or “I will offer my praise in the assembly” and we wonder how can that be possible when our lives fall apart.
Part of the biblical lament is preaching to your own soul. And in the praising God for his goodness because he’s faithful and kind and true, we minister to our own hearts.
Let’s read David’s word in 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.
Do you need this reminder? It’s far too easy to let your circumstances dictate your responses, but what if the next time life tried to melt your heart like wax and cause you to place your fear in the unknowns of “what if”, you tried praise?
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. He doesn’t forsake you because he is faithful. He brings light to your darkness because he is light. He gives good gifts because he is a good Father. He brings you 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 and that the whole world rests in his hands and on his shoulders. Not ours.
As we surrender control over the outcome of our situations, we turn to the language of biblical lament and we find hope and courage for our weary 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.
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, causing us to withdraw and to cast blame.
Emotions scare me because they’re so powerful and make me feel so powerless. They take me by surprise and it cripples me. I love good surprises, but I don’t love surprises that rob me of friendships, bring lousy news, and prove that trust can be broken.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to shield my heart from the extremes of emotions, but the thing I’ve realized is that if I fail to experience the emotions of sadness and anger then my joy and love cannot be as rich as they could be.
God doesn’t intend for us to live this life half-way but in fullness and abundance. Exploring our emotions is part of learning to live in the fullness he provides. But they can be frightening because we know the consequences of letting our feelings dictate our lives.
We shout words we can never take back. We slam cupboard doors and resist the temptation to throw dishes. We choose indifference rather than deference.
And over our happiest moments a shroud of sorrow lingers. We tiptoe around the proverbial elephant in the room.
Pain, sorrow, and disappoint is part of this life. And, as Christ-followers, we are not immune to struggles.
One of the best ways to learn to express your heart’s pain is to read the Psalms as if you were the one 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.
That thing that makes your eyes weak with sorrow and your heart and your body wracked with grief?
Sit with God in that for a little while and recognize that your distress is affecting your physical body, that it’s making it hard for you to make choices that honor God with your heart and your lips, that the distress you feel overwhelms you.
Take David’s words and make them your own.
David knew distress, he felt forgotten and rejected by so-called friends. People plotted against him and it felt like he was on the losing end of the deal. 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 dates that become testimonies of how God was my help. How he did guard my life and rescue me. (Psalm 25:16-22)
Learning to lament by way of reading the Psalms is the best way to learn to express the gamut of emotions created by the human experience and is vital to teach us to give voice to our deepest hurts, our deepest regrets, and our deepest sorrows.
Following David’s model, write your own Psalm, keeping in mind your own situation as you give expression to the pain in your heart.
ie: Oh God, I need your mercy, this distress makes me weak and I just want to sleep all the time. I can’t see anything good in my life, it’s all been pointless. Because of slanderous tongues, no one wants to be around me. Those who were my friends have turned their faces away from me and have forgotten me. I’m so lonely; I’ve been tossed aside like a broken dish. It seems as though people are plotting against me and conspiring to damage my reputation. But God I trust in you, because you are my God.
Commit to reading 5 Psalms per day to read through the entire book in 30 days and pay attention to the emotions and trust expressed there.
We use different filters in photography and post-processing to neutralize a bright scene or enhance blue skies, or draw the eye to a focal point. I have created presets for bringing out the eyes, whitening teeth, and getting rid of pesky under-eye shadows. Presets or filters applied the right way enhance the photo.
While it’s fun to play around with filters in Lightroom or Photoshop, filters used to hide the truth compete with the authenticity and transparency God desires in relationship with him.
Hebrews 4:12-16 tells us that everything is exposed before God, even the things we don’t want him to see or acknowledge to ourselves that they exist in our heart.
The Psalms are filled with raw, unfiltered emotion before God and that’s okay. We must have a way to express the raw, unfiltered emotions that navigating this life stir in our heart.
But, when we’re in the renewal and transforming process, a filter is an absolute necessary in training our hearts and thoughts into new patterns.
When we use God’s word as a filter for our lives, we don’t filter God’s word through our opinion, but our opinion and point of view through God’s word. And if there’s anything within us contrary to God’s word, then we readjust our point of view to God’s, we don’t readjust God’s point of view to fit ours.
We find the steps woven throughout the Bible and while this series includes practical steps to take, there also needs to be a foundational understanding of God’s love for you and your identity in him.
Philippians 4:8 is one of the filters we can use to filter our thoughts so that we generate new thoughts for our regenerated heart.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
I run my thoughts through this filter like I would run my raspberries through a sieve in order to separate the sauce from the seeds. I ask myself if what I’m thinking is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellence, or praiseworthy. Using Philippians 4:8 keeps God’s word at the forefront of my mind and keep my mind pointed to Jesus’ ways.
When we consider true in the biblical sense we refer to true conduct, sincerity, uprightness, and honesty. We can be totally and completely true and honest with God about our hurts, anger, and frustration.
Philippians 2:3-4 speaks of looking to others interests and not doing anything out of vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself.Honorable thoughts are thoughts are are filled with consideration, deference, and fair.
There’s a growing demand for justice in our world, but let’s strip it back to the Greek definition of just which is morally righteous, impartial, and upright. Are your thoughts moral? Impartial? Upright? Or are you finding your thoughts filled with revenge or showing favoritism? Jesus declared that even if we think hateful thoughts we commit murder.
Pure thoughts are innocent and blameless. Blameless. I can’t tell you how many times my thoughts are filled with blaming others for my problems. If you want to break free of the victim mentality that keeps you hostage, start by developing thoughts that don’t point the blame.
Lovely thoughts are thoughts that are friendly toward something or someone. Lovely thoughts are pretty difficult when we’re harboring unforgiveness and resentment towards someone or something. By filtering our thoughts through loveliness, we are made aware of any lingering vestiges of bitterness.
Do you speak well of your enemies or situations or are you full of grumbling and revenge? Commendable means to speak well of. The key to being able to thinking on things that are commendable is replacing a grumbly heart with a grateful heart by focusing on God’s character and presence during and despite the difficulties we face.
The Greek word for excellent refers to goodness of actions and virtuous deeds. Our actions are born out of our thoughts. What you think is how you act. If your thoughts are vengeful, you might just find those words you don’t mean to say, but mean in your heart, to fly out of your mouth like a dagger to wound and maim.
Worthy of Praise
Praiseworthy. Are your thoughts worthy of praise? Eventually, as you filter your thoughts through the other commands in this verse, they will be worthy of praise. Anything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent are praiseworthy. But the previous descriptions give color and nuance to this passage.
Paul is calling us to action in Philippians 4:8. We don’t have to remain stuck in unhealthy patterns of thought, but can be set free as we progressively apply these principles to our minds.
Freedom comes by way of walking in the freedom that God made available with Jesus’ death and resurrection. So we practice. Every day. Every minute. Every second.
Then we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to do his renewing work in our minds.