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.
A litany of voices dash through my mind whenever I ask for help or clarification. And they sound a little something like this:
“Shouldn’t you know this?”
“Why are you bothering me?”
“That’s a stupid request.”
“You didn’t ask correctly.”
My heart races and the idea cements that I need to figure things out on my own. Asking Google or Alexa seems so much safer because I can ask my question and get my answer without the risk of irritating someone else.
The idea of asking for help seems foreign to many of us. In a self-sufficiency driven culture, the pressure to know all things or at least perceive to know all the things creates a pride that prevents us from asking.
Pride can also disguise itself as insecurity and whispers that we’d just better figure this life out on our own because we’re really not that important to God anyway.
I wrestle with both and it’s good chance you do too.
If we turn to the first few chapters in Genesis, we discover the tendency of human nature towards self-sufficiency. Two human beings in a perfect relationship with God hid from God once sin entered the world. Instead of running to God they ran away. They attempted to solve the problem on their own.
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.
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.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Imagine if we approached all our problems with this mentality. What if, instead of running away from God, we ran toward him crying for help, pouring our hearts out to him, and confessing our trust while 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 all it’s garbage and allows God to make something beautiful out of it.
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.
There is verse after verse about the importance of bringing our petitions to God.
Matthew 7:7, Hebrews 4:16, Psalm 107:28-30, Matthew 6:6-8, John 4:10, John 14:13-14, Psalm 121:2, Luke 11:13, John 15:16, James 1:5, 1 Peter 5:7, Phil. 4:6-7, 1 John 1:9, and 1 John 5:14-15.
Using our 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 this petition portion of his lament with a redeclaration of his trust in God. But then he goes on to ask for deliverance from his enemies, and that God would save him. He petition God to look towards him and let him not be put to shame.
Doesn’t this echo what’s 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?
Practice crying out to God for help, pouring out your heart to him, confessing your trust and petition him.
Being fully honest with the Lord requires practice and it might be tempting to cover up your angst. But lean into the process. You might not have all the answers, but your faith in the One who does will grow.
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.