The Purpose and Practice of LamentAlison Haynes
Last time, we talked about Lament and why it is a necessary part of a Christian’s life. Mark Vroegop, in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy defines lament this way: “Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.” (Vroegop, 26)
As we continue to process our own stories and as the news from Turkey and Syria continues to be full of sorrow, let’s remember the tool of lament that God has graciously given to us all. Jesus knows our pain and he sees us when we are grieving. The words of the Bible are applicable to us, even now. Especially now! One-third of the Psalms are lament Psalms. And the whole book of Lamentations is addressing the grief over the destruction of Jerusalem. There are four basic parts to a lament, according to Vroegop: turn to God, bring your complaint, ask boldly, and choose to trust. Sometimes in the Psalms, we have resolution and all 4 parts of the lament, but sometimes not. Let’s look at Psalm 13 as an example:
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your
face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the
day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your
6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Step One is Turn to God. In verse 1, David comes to God. “How long, O Lord?” David knows that God is the one ultimately in control and coming to him is the wisest thing he can do. Even the expression of prayer is a submission to the Lord, acknowledging that He is in control and that we are not.
Step Two is Bring your complaint. You may be thinking that complaining is not something a Christian should do. And that’s not entirely wrong. Staying in a season of complaint without bringing it full circle to Jesus is where we can get caught up in the ways of the world. Every sinner knows how to complain! Complaining can easily turn ugly, if its ultimate direction is not towards God. Vroegop says, “… Psalms give us permission—even encouragement—to lay out our struggles, even if they are with God himself” (Vroegop, 48). Throughout the Psalms, we see many complaints, including the ones in Psalms 13:1-2: “Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” These are obvious complaints. David is not happy. He is seeking God and seems confused as to why these horrible things are happening. But look where David goes next…
…to step three, Ask boldly. “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” (Psalm 13:3-4) These are bold requests. This is David asking God to move! Vroegop points out that the writers of Psalms, “call upon God with such authority that it seems as if they’re commanding God to act. Their confidence in God’s character and their knowledge of his past deliverance compels them to make bold requests. The writers of lament stake their claim on what God has promised to do” (Vroegop, 57).
Step Four is Choose to trust. This last step may be the hardest one. It’s the step that makes the lament what it is. We can complain and request all we want, but if we aren’t willing to trust God with or without a change in our circumstances, then we’re missing the mark. David is modeling this for us in this very Psalm. In verses 5-6, there is a shift in David's tone and focus. He moves his focus from his current request and suffering to the unchanging character of God. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6) David is remembering what God has done for him in his heart. He’s had the head knowledge all along, but now he knows it deep in his heart. He’s chosen to trust the God that has proven himself trustworthy over and over again. The circumstances and original requests may have not yet been "met" or changed, but his heart is. Lamenting expresses our trust and faith in God and in that process, he changes our hearts.
We want to encourage you to take these steps and practice them. See how scripture informs us to not ignore the harsh realities of this world but gives us words to pray through our circumstances. The Bible gives us words that not only acknowledge the brokenness we face day in and day out, but words that will begin to slowly turn and strengthen our hearts in God our Father. What would it look like if you took what you are learning about lament in your own life and begun to practice it in your community? Grab your friends, your family, or your small group and pray for and lament with the people of Turkey. Use this as a guide to pray with and for your suffering friend, family, neighbor or coworker. Because of Christ, we do not have to fear the weight of brokenness in this world, he has already taken the load. He has given us the means to lament.
So, while grief is untame and at times feels as though we will drown in it, we know that we are not alone in our grief. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 reminds us that we, "do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope." We hold tight to the truth that he knows our weaknesses and knows that we cannot handle the grief of this world without him. Lament is a gift of grace and a helpful tool that he has given his people, not only for our benefit, but also as a means of ministry to the broken world around us. Nothing is immune to the brokenness of the world, and the world groans for his healing hand. Let lament be a helpful tool for you as you process, grieve, and go forth into the world with the light of Jesus.