Everything is fine. I’ve got it all together. Can’t you see how great my life is? How happy and smart my kids are? Even my food is beautiful!
Or how about this one:
Everything is terrible. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. Can’t you see how mistreated/oppressed I’ve been? How it’s all [insert politician of choice]’s fault? People are so stupid!
Sound familiar? At various points in my life, my social media presence and my interactions with people IRL (not to mention my private thought life) have reflected each of these stances. And if you’re like most people, you can relate to both of these approaches to life, especially when life gets hard.
Our natural inclination in the face of adversity seems to be vacillation between a carefully cultivated façade of strength, and bitter complaining. Both are attempts to direct the attention of others to ourselves, whether through accolades or pity. Neither are God-glorifying reactions to life’s inevitable trials.
Thankfully—as the more spiritually mature among us already know and graciously model for the rest of us—God’s Word offers us a better, Christ-exalting approach. The biblical pattern for responding to seasons of difficulty or grief is called lament.
The word “lament” comes from the Latin word for “weeping/wailing,” and is defined alternately as “a passionate expression of grief” or “an expression of regret or complaint over something considered unsatisfactory, unreasonable, or unfair.” In Scripture, we see lament everywhere from the earliest Old Testament saints (Job 3) to the throne room of heaven (Revelation 6:10) to the garden at Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-44). We even have an entire book called “Lamentations.”
With so much emphasis in the Bible on lamenting—both individually and corporately—why is it that we have such a hard time with lament today? While that question is partially answered by our fallen nature’s desire to make ourselves the center of our own story, I think it is at least as much the product of a more practical explanation: We’re out of practice.
For decades—if not longer—the Church (I’m speaking globally here) has tended to avoid lament, opting instead for a feel-good faith in which we attempt to present to the world (and to one another) a picture of people who are blessed by God and, as a result, have their lives in order. We have preferred upbeat songs of encouragement and praise over songs which express the full range of human emotion, though thankfully this is a trend which seems to be reversing recently.
While the intent in all of this may have been commendable in its desire to make Jesus and his Bride look good, there’s a big problem here: It’s pretty much the opposite of what God says he wants from us. The Bible doesn’t show us a hunky-dory world in which the people of God have everything figured out and are freed from all their problems.
Rather, time and again we see that God’s people most certainly do not have everything figured out. They are constantly facing struggles for which they have no solution except complete reliance on a God who sometimes says “no” or “not yet.” Their prayers and songs express anger, pain, complaint, and impatience. Did you know that more than a third of the Psalms are laments? I can tell you that far fewer than a third of the songs we sing in our church or hear on our radio are laments.
To a large extent, we lack the vocabulary of lament when it comes time to respond to trials. Increased Bible intake and study in the Psalms will help, of course, but I also believe that one of the greatest purposes of the corporate gathering of God’s people is to help one another become conformed to the image of Christ. The patterns of our corporate worship help us to form habits in our private lives which shape our lives of worship in every circumstance. We need to learn to lament together.
As the guy responsible for planning and shaping our corporate gatherings, I owe you all an apology. I have not given lament the proper priority in our gatherings, and have been increasingly convicted in the last year—when lament has been especially needed—that this lack of equipping has been detrimental to the spiritual walk of many in our congregation, myself included.
But rather than simply lament our lack of lamentation, I want to take the next month—when our church will be studying together on the topic of suffering—to emphasize lament and equip us all to lament better. Not only will this help us to respond biblically in times of crisis in our own lives, but I believe it will also give us a much greater impact in our efforts to evangelize the world around us. The world can clearly see that our faith in Christ has not exempted us from suffering; the world desperately needs to see that our faith in Christ changes how we suffer.
I love pastor Mark Vroegop’s definition of lament: “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.” Over the next five Sundays, we’re going to be exploring together what this looks like in our corporate worship gatherings, where we’ll see and practice each of the four key elements of biblical lament: (1) turning to God, (2) a complaint, (3) a bold request, and (4) an expression of trust and/or praise.
Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.Mark Vroegop
As singing is one of the most important and effective tools we have for expressing lament, we’re also going to be singing songs of lament each Sunday in May. Many of these songs may be new to you, but it is my hope that they will help us all to tune our hearts to sing Christ’s praises in our darkest days.
I pray for fruitful and memorable times of worship with you over these next few weeks. Thank you for being a church that worships and loves well!