The church in our day is ill-equipped in handling grief, suffering, and lament. Unfortunately, many Christians do not have a category for expressing real grief, sorrow, and pain in the Christian life. If you do, for some, it is seen as a lack of trust in the providence of God for your life. If you are deeply sad for a prolonged season, it may be seen to some as discontentment. Beloved, in this article, I want you to know that it is okay to be sad and hurt really bad. It is good to express your grief and sorrow to God. In the Bible, we have been given categories to rightfully express those pains to our loving Heavenly Father. You are not left on your own to figure things out. Rather, the “man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief,” welcomes you to draw near to Him in your sorrows and grief (Isaiah 53:3). As Spurgeon once said, “the man of sorrows wept so that He could wipe away all of your tears.”

In this article, I would like to address the following subject: What lament is and how it helps the Christian. I will seek to unpack this subject in a three-fold manner. First, we must understand what lament is not. Second, we must see what lament is. Third, we must know how lament helps Christians.

WHAT LAMENT IS NOT:

First, we need to clean out any cobwebs in our brain that give us the misconception that the biblical practice of lament is something “taboo” if practiced regularly. Let me set before you what biblical lament is not:

  • It is not a practice only for the spiritually immature believer.
  • It is not a lack of trust in the being, character, and providence of God.
  • It is not displeasing in God’s sight, when properly practiced.
  • It is not a spiritual discipline that the Christian or the church should overlook.
  • It is not a peripheral matter in the Bible.


Now that we have cleaned the cobwebs of our brain, what is biblical lament?

HOW DO WE LAMENT?

Second, we need to look to the Bible in order to find out how to properly lament when faced with grief, sorrow, and pain. As you scan the Bible, you will quickly find the book of Lamentations and the Psalter filled with cries and petitions from the hearts of God’s hurting people. Roughly sixty-five psalms are categorized as lament psalms. That is, approximately 43% of the psalter is given to lament. That is a significant portion of the Psalter. As we know, the psalter was the “hymnbook” for the people of Israel. The people of God, under the Old Covenant, would sing from the psalter. It can be argued that most of the songs they sung were lament psalms. Further, we know that our Lord Jesus, when He walked on this earth as God the Son Incarnate, sung lament psalms. On the cross, as Jesus died as our sin-bearing, wrath-removing substitute in our place, He cried out a lament psalm, namely, Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God has given us a category and framework to lament in His precious Word.

To unpack this more fully, I would like to first set before you a definition of lament, and then, a framework to lament. Firstly, what does it mean to lament? In his book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop gives a helpful definition: “Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness… Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.[1]

In 2022, my wife and I had to learn this definition of lament. Our household was struck with the deep sorrow and grief of losing our son Isaac in his infant years. The American Presbyterian minister, R. L. Dabney, describes the grief of bereavement so well: “Ah! When the mighty wings of the angel of death nestles over your heart’s treasures, and his black shadow broods over your home, it shakes the heart with a shuddering terror and a horror of great darkness.” As a family, we felt the angel of death “nestle over [our] heart’s treasure.” A “horror of great darkness” flooded our home. It was in this darkness where we learned the framework of biblical lament. Whatever your cry may be, God has given His you a category and space to have an honest cry of hurt and pain to God. Lament is not a lack of faith. Rather, it is the supreme expression of faith. In your sorrow and pain, as you lament, you are expressing it to God. You are looking to Him, even when you do not see or feel His goodness, though you know it. In your lament, you are wrestling in prayer with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness. When properly conducted, God is not displeased, but pleased in our lament.

How then do we lament? I encourage you to use Psalm 77 as a framework for your prayer. Read through it. Pray through it. As a family, we printed Psalm 77 and placed it on our kitchen wall to see each day. Mark Vroegop highlights four patterns to follow in biblical lament.[2] This can be seen most clearly in the lament of Psalm 77:

We have been given a space to cry out to God in our pain (v.1-3):

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.”

We have been given a space to pray through our struggles (v.2-4):

“You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”

We have been given a space to pray through our questions (v. 7-9):

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” “

Lament ends in trust in God, even when we don’t see His goodness (v.10-13):

“Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?”

As you walk through grief and pain, God calls you to pause and lament. Cry out to God in all of your pain. Express your struggles and fears to God. In a way that is honoring to His Holy Name, express your questions. As you conclude your lament, find a gospel promise to anchor your hope and trust. Finish by focusing on the being, the character, and the acts of God. Preach Him and His gospel to your soul, even when you don’t feel like it and don’t see it.

Now, you may be thinking, where do I begin? I can hardly pray during this season of grief. All I can do is cry. All I can do is groan and sigh. How can I properly lament if I can’t find the words to utter? Commenting on Acts 9:11, C. H. Spurgeon, writes: “When our hearts are broken and we bow in prayer, we are often only able to employ the language of sighs and tears; still our groaning has made all the harps of heaven thrill with music.  That tear has been caught by God and treasured in the receptacle of heaven.[3]

HOW DOES LAMENT HELP CHRISTIANS?

As we conclude, the practice of lament is a vital spiritual discipline for your Christian life. Guaranteed, during your Christian life you will be faced with grief, sorrow, and pain. The question will become, how will you respond to it biblically in a way that honors God? The simple answer is lament. Learn how to lament. Never forget the category and space that God has given you to express your pain and trust in Him. Lament is “how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead.”[4]

References

[1] Vroegop, Mark, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament (Crossway, 2019), p. 25-27.

[2] Ibid, 30.

[3] https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/11/3/1/.

[4] Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, 23.

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