We all face circumstances in which we feel like we’ve hit the bottom. That’s a reality of life. Wouldn’t it be great to have a way to get out of the pit and find a way to the top? There are no instant cures, but the Bible is very clear about a way that takes a person from the pit of despair and sets that same person on the road to great hope. This pathway is called “lament.”
I know what you are thinking as I did when I first thought on the subject. The very word “lament” congers up thoughts of pain or agony but there is more, much more. Consider this: One third of the Psalms are actually laments and of the other two-thirds, you’ll find portions of those psalms that are expressions of lamenting. No wonder we go to the Psalms as we look for answers in life. But what about this lament stuff?
Psalm 38:1–4 (ESV) — 1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! 2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. 3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. 4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
Psalm 38:8–9 (ESV) — 8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. 9 O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
Psalm 38:21–22 (ESV) — 21 Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! 22 Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
A lament can be a defined as a loud cry, a howl, a passionate expression of grief, or a complaint that is made to God. A lament is more than sorrow or expressions of sadness and is much more than walking through the stages of grief, although all the above may be found in the lament. A lament expresses a belief in God’s mercy, redemption, and recognition of His sovereignty which is the very thing that leads a person to lament because it’s out of trusting that God is good and sovereign that the lament is voiced in a petition to God. A rule of thumb to follow in deciphering laments in the Bible is to notice four key parts: there is a specific address of God, there are elements of complaint to God, you’ll find a request, and finally a word of trust in the Lord, not necessarily in that order.
On Sunday, May 5th I preached a message on Psalm 38 “a lament of a sick man.” The Psalm contains the four elements of a lament. In fact, the entire Psalm is meant to be sung in a minor key and really gives hope to those who feel themselves in like manner to be in the pit of life. A Christian needs a place to vent but venting can quickly turn to bitterness which not only is a sin but also robs a person from enjoying God’s grace.
Hebrews 12:15 (ESV) — 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many of defiled;
Here’s where a lament comes in to take us from the bottom of the pit to the heights of hope. It’s not just complaining, it’s coming before the covenant keeping sovereign Lord, who does all things by His purpose and grace. So, you come before Him and honestly tell Him your woes and unload your burden. Don’t stop with complaining, but turn that complaint into a request, as if He said to you, OK you are not happy with things, what would you like? Your lament is then complete when you express your trust in God. Just like David expresses it above.
Understanding the lament feature of God’s word is an important part of living in a fallen world where there will be at times in the pit of life. Lifting yourself out of the pit is not an option because you can only come out by His grace. While in the pit, rather than allowing bitterness to cover you over and rob you of further joys, lamenting gives you the means by which you can express in full your feelings to God without disrespecting Him or simply having a pity party. Lamenting is a Christian’s way of grieving to the glory of God. Lamenting opens the pathway of healing grace and gives us the opportunity to use what we receive to minister to others.
2 Corinthians 1:3–5 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
Lamenting is a means to enjoy the top of hope even when you find yourself in the bottom of the pit. If God saw fit for a third of the Psalms to be sung in the minor key as laments, He must have had a reason and one such reason is that we all face times in life that are most grievous and we need to express our deepest grief to Him. Lamenting allows us to be open and honest with Him, while still being faithful to His calling us to live by faith.