Learning to Lament

Psalm 77 | Ian Thomas

April 7th, 2019

God has graciously given us the biblical category of “lament,” which helps us put to words our feelings of grief and sorrow, instructing us how to speak honestly to God in our pain.

Main idea: We are invited to pray in honest, painful lament while fighting to trust the promises of God’s goodness.  

Lament is a posture of honest prayer in the midst of pain that leads to trust.

I. Learning to Cry Out (77:1-4)

Lament is a prayer with a particular direction: it is a crying out to the Lord in our distress.

We are often tempted to some unhelpful responses to our sorrow and suffering:

  1. We can try to ignore what is happening

  2. We can turn and remain inward in anger and frustration

The Psalmist here does not ignore his feelings nor allow himself to stay inward; he “meditates” on what he is truly feeling and then cries out directly to the Lord in raw honesty. It is ok to grieve and to feel heartache in the face of sorrow. This is modeled within these divinely inspired words.

“To cry is human, but to lament is Christian…. Belief in God’s mercy, redemption, and sovereignty create lament. Without hope in God’s deliverance and the conviction that he is all-powerful, there would be no reason to lament when pain invaded our lives… to learn how to lament, we must resolve to talk to God – to keep praying. Lament begins with an invitation to turn to God while in pain.” ~ Mark Vroegop

To remain silent in the face of this kind of disappointment and sorrow is a form of unbelief in some way; when we do this we are communicating that God doesn’t care or that he is indifferent. The Psalmist reminds us that “he will hear me.”

“The historic song of lament gives you permission to vocalize your pain as it moves you toward God-centered worship and trust. Lament is how you live between the poles of a hard life and trusting in God’s sovereignty. 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.” ~ Mark Vroegop

II. Learning to Ask Honest Questions (77:5-9)

The Psalmist does a “diligent search” of his spirit and meditates on what he is feeling in his heart. This is a painful and a necessary work in the lament process.

“The all hiding-places and retreats, however obscure, are explored, and affections before unknown are brought into the light… he searched for the causes on account of which he was so severely afflicted, and also into what his calamities would ultimately issue. It is surely highly profitable to meditate on these subjects, and it is the design of God to stir us up to do this when any adversity presses upon us.” ~ John Calvin

As he reflects on the Lord’s past faithfulness and the struggle of not feeling it in the midst of his pain, he fires off a series of 6 questions that probably make us uncomfortable.

“A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust – a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom.” ~ Stacey Gleddiesmith

The Psalmist is not just venting here; he is taking the promises of God (his favor for his people, steadfast love, grace, compassion, etc.) and throwing them back at God. He is putting language to the tension of who he knows God to be and what he is feeling in the moment.

III. Learning to Argue With Ourselves (77:10-20)

The Psalmist kept praying and eventually a shift takes place. Lament leads us somewhere, and it ultimately calls us into a greater trust in the Lord. There are 3 things that the Psalmist “remembers” that leads him to trust despite his circumstances being unchanged.

  1. He remembers the Lord’s past faithfulness (77:10-12)

  2. He remembers the Lord’s character & nature (77:13-14)

  3. He remembers the Lord’s saving activity (77:15-20)

“The Psalmist is not just being a stoic and gritting his teeth till the storm passes. Nor is he simply venting his feelings. He redirects his thoughts and feelings toward the truth about God… The psalmist is arguing against his own heart, which had ruled that things were hopeless” ~ Tim Keller

As the Psalm progresses, all of the first person references drop out. Asaph doesn’t mention himself once in the final 8 verses, while he mentions the Lord 21 times. This does not negate the hard work he did in meditating and mining the depths of his own soul, but it reminds us that lament ends with greater trust in the Lord.

The exodus was the greatest saving activity the Psalmist could reference at this point in time of redemptive history; Christians today have an even greater redemption story when we look to Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself cried out a lament Psalm on the cross (Ps. 22); he knows deeply and intimately what it is like to experience the pain and suffering of a fallen world. But Jesus ultimately reminds us that though we might not see it, God has a purpose for our pain.

All of our “why” questions in the midst of Lament are always eventually answered with a “who” in Jesus Christ.

“The once-crucified and abandoned Jesus, who is exceedingly able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who submitted to sickness, sorrow, pain and death voluntarily, rose from death. His resurrection assures us that we, too, along with our other friends and loved ones in Christ, will rise in victory over death… God sees our every tear. And yet, he does not merely see our tears; he shares them, and he stores them in a sacred bottle as his treasure (Psalm 56:8). God, of all Beings, knows what it is like to be separated from a loved one by death. God, of all Beings, knows first-hand the gut-wrenching nature of this horrible thing called death. It is not the end…not for God and not for us.” ~ Scott Sauls