Growing up in Scotland a lament to me, was a sad sorrowful tune that was played on the bagpipes usually at the War Memorial. When I started Biblical Studies, I discovered “lament” was a category of Psalms and some other passages in various places in mainly the OT. In fact, over a third of the Psalms contain lament, and as you might have guessed the book of Lamentations is all about lament. In the New Testament we hear Jesus lamenting in the final hours of his life.
I think there is something important we can learn from these songs of sorrow and pourings out of pain.
In the Psalms of lament, you’ll find people passionately and honestly expressing grief, anger, bewilderment, or sorrow. Lamenting is about allowing your heart to cry out to God, its is an outward verbal expression of inner emotional confusion and pain.
Psalm 6 is a good example; in the middle of Psalm, we hear the writer opening up and saying
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
Here is the important point, the Psalms were gathered together to help God’s people express their worship and prayers. We believe that this was done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as was their gathering together and inclusion in Scripture. I find that interesting. God made sure that included in the Psalms and elsewhere in His Word that there were examples of lament, of people expressing the raw emotion of what they were feeling about what had happened to them. I think that fact reminds us that the Lord never expects us as His people to wear the painted smile of a clown. The Lord doesn’t want you to pretend outwardly that everything is great when inwardly your hearts is in turmoil. Lament allows us to acknowledge to ourselves and God that life for us has gone wrong.
The book of Psalms overall have a wonderful balance of people expressing joy and grief at what is happening to them. I am not sure we get that balance right today. Lament is perhaps the missing note in our worship and prayer life. I’ve discovered that the idea of lament is even seen as being “not spiritual” by some Christians.
I am wondering if after the year we have just experienced if many of us need to learn to lament again?
Many of us have lost so much during 2020. Consequently, we are entering this new year with a great deal of grief. Some of us have lost loved ones, some of us have lost jobs, some of us have lost relationships, some of us have lost financial security and the plans we had made based on that, some of us have just lost hope in the face of what we are going through.
What do we do with all that loss and this grief is stirs up in us?
Well, many of us have a tendency to bottle it up and mental health professionals tell us that is just about the worst thing we can do with it. Repressed grief turns into emotional cancer. I think a healthier way to deal with our grief and emotional pain is to learn to lament about it in the Biblical sense.
Lament is different from just crying out in pain because lament is fundamentally a type of prayer. It is more than just the expressing of sorrow, the vocalizing of hurt or the venting of emotion. When you lament, you don’t just talk about your pain, you talk to God about your pain. This means that lament has a unique goal: trust. One writer said that “lament is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.”
I suspect that as we enter 2021 many of us need to do just that because I have never known a year that has caused such fear, frustration, and sorrow.
So how do we do that? How do we learn to lament?
Well one Biblical scholar said there are four parts of lamenting
YOU TURN TO GOD …. So often the Psalms of Lament say things like. “How long will you hide your face me O lord” etc Lamenting starts when we turn to the Lord and involve Him in the situation that is provoking our pain.
BRING YOUR COMPLAINT. Every lament expresses some kind of complaint: “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?” (Psalm 13:2). As I said this isn’t just about venting our anger and frustration. Biblical lament humbly and honestly identifies the pain, questions, and frustrations raging in our souls and then brings them to the Lord.
ASK BOLDLY FOR HELP. Lamenting also involves seeking God’s help while in pain. “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) Its an expression of humility and faith. By lamenting we are saying “Lord I admit this is too big for me to handle on my own. Lord I know you can change me in this situation or change this situation for me.”
CHOOSE TO TRUST. This is the destination for our journey of lament. All roads of lament are meant to lead here: “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). The prayer language and journey of lamenting is designed to move us to renew our commitment to trust in God as we attempt to navigate the brokenness of life.
So, in essence lament helps us turn to God when life is tempting us to run from Him.
One of my commentaries on the Psalms says this “Since life is full of sorrows, and since the Bible is clear about the plan of God, Christians should be competent lamenters. We should regularly talk to God about our sorrows and struggles. Christians should learn to lament.”
I want to encourage all of us who need to do that, to do it and become “competent lamenters”. Actually, I think real life means we all need to learn to be competent lamenters.
We often make commitments at the beginning of a New Year. Well, if you are entering this New Year with pain, or sorrow or anger left over in your soul from this year I think a significant commitment for you would be to learn to lament
Here is a five-day devotional that will help you do just that
In a certain sense, Job models for us a type of lament. He laments that day he was born (ch 3). He laments the poor counsel of his friends. And in the final chapters he has a number of laments, notably, before all the distastes befell him, when God still looked over him. And his laments were often in the form of questions. But although his questions, he continues to look to God for the answers. He continues in his belief that God is there. And in the end, God comes to him. While the Lord doesn’t give quite the answers Job might have expected, the Lord makes known his presence. And Job was rewarded for his faithfulness, even though he voiced his complaints, his laments, to he Lord. Lament always must expressed to the Lord. Every part of our life interests the Lord and is attended by the Lord. Deo gratias.