by Paul Joiner
“Lament enters the complicated space of deep disappointment and lingering hurt. It boldly reaffirms the trustworthiness of God. But, first we need to learn how to lament.” (Mark Vroegop, The 4 Basics of Lament)
“In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)
There is something in the culture we live in that wants to deny this reality. We live east of Eden, exiled from the garden paradise that we were made for. As God promised in the curse, our best labors also grow thorns and thistles. With death impending, our bodies waste with disease, fatigue, chronic pain, and the weariness of age.
Pain is the constant, pleasure is the intruder.
We wish it was the other way around and we do everything thing we can to reverse the reality, but the reality is greater than the facade. Pleasure breaks into the pain. There are good days and tremendous moments. But, soon things settle back to the constant hum of disappointment, fears, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.
And, in God’s kindness, he not only invites us to him with our pain, but even gives us the words to use. Right around a third of the Psalms are songs of lament. When Israel sang from their song book, always just a page away was divinely inspired words of groaning.
The Word of God comes from the Spirit of God. The Spirit who himself speaks on our behalf when our pain is to deep to even express.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
The same Spirit who speaks for us to the Father has also given us words for us to speak to God ourselves. When words fail us in our pain, the Psalms of Lament are God’s gift of a voice crying in the wilderness. God is our only hope and our constant help in times of need.
“Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust…think of lament as the transition between pain and promise.” (Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy)
Except for one Psalm (Psalm 88), all the Psalms of Lament follow a pattern: 1) turning to God our pain, 2) voicing our complaint to God, 3) asking God to act on our behalf, and 4) putting our confidence in the Lord’s work.
For most of us (maybe all of us), we skip steps 1 and 2. We may think we take step 1 seriously, but unless we are voicing our complaint to God, we are not drawing near with all our heart.
We should not keep from Jesus our deep pain because “ he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4)
And the Spirit who groans, gives us strong language to groan with
When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints (Ps 77:3)
And even words to voice our complaint to God.
You hold my eyelids open I am so troubled that I cannot speak I consider the days of old, the years long ago.
And then these strong, vocalized feelings:
“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalm 77:4-9)
That is really strong language. But its honest. It is what our hearts feel in the midst of grief, extended trials, and extremely dark seasons of trouble.
So let me suggest that we seldom arrive at the comforting confidence that the Psalms of Lament end with because we do not take the full journey that they take us on.
We want to arrive at the destination without making all of the stops along the way. We may voice the confidence, but our souls are still full of turmoil and questions. And they will be, until those questions are spoken to the face of the God who loves and redeems his people.
Finally, remember that a third of the psalms are Psalms of Lament. A third! We have to keep coming back again and again. Lament is a dynamic of life with Jesus, not a checklist to follow.
The heart isn’t a machine that you take through a checklist and then its OK at the end. It’s the heart. It’s complicated. And it is constantly interacting with a world that is east of Eden and longing for the final New Creation.
But the heart that learns to lament, will also enjoy the fruit of turning to the Lord.
they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)