In a day when all companies seem to be downsizing, the typical customer service department has gone digital. Typically, now when you have a complaint, you can’t just call the customer service department, instead you are directed to see the menu online and follow the link. Instead of someone hearing your complaint, you have to describe your complaint by choosing the closest entry on the pulldown menu. Once you click on that complaint, you receive an automatic reply. In other words, you are not given the opportunity to even file a complaint. If per chance you get through to the customer service representative, most often they allow you to speak, again give a vague and scripted reply so even if you request to speak to a manager, you hang up feeling like nobody cares.
Unfortunately, many people feel the same way about expressing their disappointments with God, as if He only gives a “brush off” of “deaf ear.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a way to file your complaint with God but it’s a process that is more than just complaining. It’s called a lament. People in biblical times knew the value of lamenting, of expressing their feelings of sorrow and disappointment but a lament is more than just weeping, expressing sadness, or even walking through the grief process. A lament in biblical terms is a prayer of pain that leads to trust. In other words, God has given us an open door to His complaint department where He is ready to hear you out as you empty your care upon Him. Although not pointing to a lament specifically, the words of Jesus about the sorrow the disciples would experience in His death, would be turned into joy in His resurrection and following, so our sorrows expressed through a lament are turned into the joy of satisfaction in knowing God hears, cares, and our faith is built up as a result of drawing close to Him even in a time of lament.
John 16:20 (ESV) — 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
What constitutes a lament? In studying biblical laments, there seem to be four key elements that are sometimes presented in order but often present in a varied way. In Psalm 74 Asaph presents a lament concerning the invasion of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and in this lament, he presents the four elements.
First, you’ll find the writer addressing God in a heartfelt but respectful cry. Sometimes even the address is laden with complaint, nevertheless you can see that the heart in the midst of sorrow is reaching out to God.
Psalm 74:1 (ESV) — 1 O God, why do you cast us off forever? Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
Secondly, the biblical lament turns to God with a totally honest complaint. Under any other context, merely complaining to God would be a sin as seen in the experiences of the children of Israel.
Numbers 11:1 (ESV) — 1 And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.
But in the midst of the lament, a complaint is not only allowed but welcomed as we “come clean” about the disappointment in our hearts. This allows the lament to be therapeutic as our cares touch the heart of God. Notice Asaph’s description of the things that have broken his heart.
Psalm 74:4–11 (ESV) — 4 Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place; they set up their own signs for signs. 5 They were like those who swing axes in a forest of trees. 6 And all its carved wood they broke down with hatchets and hammers. 7 They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name, bringing it down to the ground. 8 They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”; they burned all the meeting places of God in the land. 9 We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. 10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? 11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
Third, based upon the complaint, a biblical lament includes totally honest and straightforward requests. The heart has been broken and the lament is God’s means of reaching into the heart to heal the broken heart so included is the open ended, “let your requests be made known to God.” Asaph presents six specific requests in Psalm 74.
Psalm 74:18–23 (ESV) — 18 Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs, and a foolish people reviles your name. 19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of your poor forever. 20 Have regard for the covenant, for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. 21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame; let the poor and needy praise your name. 22 Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! 23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!
The fourth part of a biblical lament are words of faith and reasons to trust God. You might call them words of submission to Him and His word. It is coming to the conclusion as the broken heart has been cleansed by way of lament that God can be trusted and He will always do what is right. Don’t miss Asaph’s words of faith.
Psalm 74:12–17 (ESV) — 12 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. 13 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 15 You split open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. 16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.
When you are discouraged or disappointed and would like to present a complaint, consider the value of a lament and look over Psalm 74 as a great example. See how Asaph addresses God, offers a descriptive complaint about the things that have broken his heart, makes his requests known to God, but includes some great expressions of trust and praise for God’s sovereign control.
When you present a lament to God, God the Holy Spirit has your heart and only good can come out of that as your burden is unloaded and your faith is increased.
Romans 8:26–28 (ESV) — 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.