How to LamentSeries: The Psalms and Me
Teach Us to Lament
A sobering fact that we all must come to terms with is that all of us will experience deep emotional pain in this life. Be it from the loss of a loved one, betrayal, unjustly attacked, a severe medical diagnosis. There are infinite reasons in a world marred by sin why such pain would come upon someone. Some of you here this morning are currently experiencing such pain. Others have experienced such pain recently, and the wounds are still healing.
This pain brings with it an overwhelming flood of emotions and questions. Emotions and questions that can make us feel uncomfortable and afraid. But God in His mercy, grace, and love has shown us, given us, a way to deal with this pain, these emotions, and questions, lamentation. For to feel emotional pain is human, to lament is uniquely Christian.
What Is Lamentation?
The word lament is not in our common vernacular anymore. Because of that, most of us only have a vague idea as to what lament means. Most of us have an idea that to lament is to be upset, mournful, crying, or even complaining. But lamentation is more than just feeling these things. To lament is to take our grief, our pain, our questions and direct them to God. I like how Mark Vroegop defined lament. He said:
"Lament is different than crying because lament is a form of prayer. It is more than just the expression of sorrow or the venting of emotion. Lament talks to God about pain. And it has a unique purpose: trust. It 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" (Vroegop, Dare to Hope in God).
Here are a few psalms that illustrate lament for us:
- Psalm 22:1-5, 19. This psalm depicts the soul in anguish and emotional grief that it feels like God is far from them. But, like other Psalms of lament, the psalm is not simply about airing your grief. It is about expressing your grief in a godly way that ends with praise of God and His goodness (Psalm 22:19ff).
- Psalm 42:5 "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?" This lament is followed quickly by remembrance, "Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence."
- Psalm 6:6-8 "I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries. Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping."
As we said, lament is talking to God about our pain and directing our pain into renewed trust in Him. Ultimately lament turns to God.
Lament Turns to God
Psalm 13 will serve as our introduction to the psalms of lament. This is one of the shorter psalms of David (only six verses); however, this psalm teaches us much about lament. We learn from this psalm that most laments contain four elements:
- A turning to God. The psalm begins with, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1). David has made a choice. He has chosen to bring his pain to God. Not to shrink back from Him.
- The bringing of the complaint. David pens these words next, "How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?" (Psalm 13:2). Lament is holy complaint. It is not the lashing out of anger or grief for its own sake. No. Lament is, as one writer put it, "humbly and honestly identify[ing] the pain, questions, and frustrations raging in our souls."
- The bold request for help. David asks of God, "Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken." (Psalm 13:3-4). Lament takes our sorrows and helps us flee to who God is. What He has promised us.
- Chose to trust. This is the goal of lament. After we have poured ourselves out to God, we chose to trust Him. David says in Psalm 13:5-6, "But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me." David, having come to God with his care and complaint, having boldly asked God for His help, ends this psalm of lament with a decision to place his trust where he has placed it so many times before, in God.
God has given us the language of lament so we can deal with this world distorted by sin. It is how we talk to God about the things that pain us to our very souls, and it is how we rise again in hope.
Learning to Lament Well
As we have stated previously, the psalms are the example God gave us for dealing with the highs and lows of life. They are for the everyday person, and because of that, they are raw and practical. So, I want to offer a few considerations for learning to lament for us this morning in the remaining amount of time.
- My first suggestion is to spend time in the psalms of lament. Learn the language of lamentation. Study what made the people of God grieve to the core of their souls. A starting place (not original to me) would be Psalms 10, 13, 22, and 77.
- Take a psalm of lament and look for the four basic elements of lamentation.
- Turning to God.
- Bringing your complaint.
- Asking boldly for God's help.
- Choosing to trust.
- Next time your soul is anxious, you are tired, betrayed, suffering loss. Write it all out in a lament. Model this after a psalm of lament if you need the structure.
While commenting on the overall structure of the book of Psalms, Tremper Longman made a very appropriate point that I would like to end with. He said that "A decided shift takes place as we move from the beginning of the book to its end. As we move toward the end, praise overtakes lament until at the very end of the book, we have a virtual fireworks of praise….In a real sense, the book of Psalms moves us from mourning to joy. As it says in Psalm 126, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy" (v. 5)."
There is no shortage of things in this life that will cause us pain and trouble. God has given us the language of lament so we can endure this world until the end. Consider the promise of Revelation 21:4 as an anchor for our laments, as the promise that renews our hope in Jehovah.
 Adapted from Vroegop, Mark. “Dare to Hope in God: How to Lament Well.” Desiring God, June 26, 2021. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dare-to-hope-in-god.