The lost art of lament

Have you heard the term “lament” before? There happens to be a book in the bible with this specific word etched into its title. But does it mean anything for us today? Or was its purpose fulfilled only in the time of David, Jeremiah, and Job? Lamenting is almost taboo, and you will not see it brought up in church often, if at all. At least in the American church, most preachers strive to maintain positive messages that lack the reality of those raw emotions felt by real people in our Bibles. This absence of the art of lamenting leaves so many wounded warriors feeling stuck in a no-man’s-land. So many in the body of Christ are seeking therapy, on various medications for depression and anxiety with little to no improvement. Trust me, I have been there myself. Have you ever been wounded, struggling with the feeling of being abandoned, and stuck in the perpetual cycle of fear? The Word is full of gut-wrenching prayers of lament—of God’s people crying out to Him in moments of doubt and despair—so why don’t we do it? Why have we lost the ability to lament, and what are we missing without it?

What does it mean to lament?

The Hebrew word for “lament” is Saphad. It means to lament, wail, and mourn. Lamentation is more than a mere complaint or a grievance; it is “an expression of deep pain or sorrow.” The process of lamenting is an exercise of faith; it is engaging honestly and vulnerably with God. To lament is to cry out to Him in our deepest of doubts and troubles, all the while fully trusting in His power and provision to deliver us from despair. These prayers are intense and messy, but they always circle back to our faith in Him. When we hurt physically, we cry out in pain; when we hurt internally, we cry out in lament. Lamentation can be described as a loud, spiritual “Ouch!” Do you know that over one third of the psalms are laments? David had a heart that was bent toward God, and he knew the process of exchanging a spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise. Lamentation promotes a spiritual exchange. You come in with the pain, anguish, and loss; but you leave with the joy, peace, and thanksgiving from the very Spirit of God. However, our movement towards those fruits of the spirit can only be exchanged when we hold nothing back from Him. We must not deny honest pain, nor jump too quickly from loss to acceptance and skip over the lamenting process.

Why do we need to lament?

Lament is the prayer language for hurting Christians. It provides a biblical vocabulary and a model for talking to God about our pain or helping those who are walking through suffering. Too many Christians either are afraid or refuse to talk to God about their struggles because of shame, a fear of rejection, anxiety, or a concern of being irreverent. When pain is left to run rampant in our hearts, this can give rise to a deadly prayerlessness. Lament cracks the door open to talk to God again—even if it is messy. Think of pain as a blockage in a pipe. Ignoring that it is there will not fix anything, and over time the blockage will grow bigger and bigger. God designed our physical bodies to flow. Our nerves, blood, lymphatic fluid, and digestion were created to flow. Any blockage to the flow causes some horrible issues like a pinched nerve, stroke and so on. And just like our physical bodies need to flow, our souls operate best when things are free to move. Lamenting invites us on a journey as we turn to God, lay out our complaints, ask for his help, and choose to trust. Lament is more than something that comes out of you. It is part of the process happening in you. Lastly, lamenting is worship. Too many people think real worship only means an upbeat and happy demeanor. But grief-filled prayers of pain while seeking God are among the deepest expressions of God-centered worship. When you bring an offering of praise to God amid intense pain and loss, it is the most valuable thing that you will ever be able to bring to him for eternity. Therefore, our lives should be marked by personal lament because, through this discovery, we open ourselves to God’s grace and His ability to shape and change us.

You can come into God’s presence. He can handle the full weight of what you are dealing with. It might sound like this:

“God, I’m tired.”

“God, I’m sick of this.”

“God, I need help. I did it again.”

“God, I’m shaking right now I’m so mad!”

If you do not tell Him, it is going to come out somewhere else anyway. So, you might as well tell Jesus.

The Purpose Of Emotions

Emotions are a part of who we are. They come from the image of our Heavenly Father who has emotions too. Maybe you grew up in a family that did not allow you to process pain. Maybe your emotions have been stifled at an incredibly young age to a point where it feels like heresy to express what has been bottled up within you.  Have you learned to bury your pain deep inside, feeling invisible, ashamed, angry, alone, and unable to ask for what you need? Trying to hide the pain—from others and yourself—perhaps you have built walls, put on masks, and soldiered on.  The thing about emotions is that they express themselves in our physical bodies. The unresolved emotions get trapped in your body where they build and fester, draining our energy, leading to burnout, emotional imbalance, and eventually disease. When we chronically repress emotions, we create toxicity in our body, mind, and heart. This unprocessed emotional energy is stored in our organs, muscles, and tissues. It leads to inflammation and chronic health problems, and it undermines our overall well-being.

Have you ever wondered why most people are sick? Especially with the improvement of healthcare around the globe, it seems strange that people are sicker than ever. Could it be because we are only looking at our physical body and completely ignoring the emotional toil that is happening in our souls? You see, Tylenol cannot heal the bitterness operating in your heart but manifesting as a headache. All medicine can do is manage the symptom, but it never gets at the root. Jesus wants to help you pull those roots out, and part of doing that is allowing Him to be Lord over our emotions and heal our hearts.

The truth is that our battle today is not against “flesh and blood” but the deceitful forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12) and the deceitfulness of indwelling sin (Hebrews 3:13). These two forces are always trying to use your emotions against you. So, it might be helpful, by way of preparation, to remember the purpose of emotions so you can fight more effectively and know when to counter them. You see, God designed our emotions as a gauge, not a guide. They are meant to report to you, not dictate you. The pattern of your emotions will give you an account on where your hope is because they are wired into what you believe and value — and how much. That is why emotions like delight, affection, fear, anger, joy, are so important in the Bible. They reveal what your heart loves, trusts, and fears. Emotions are not your boss, they are reports. That is why Paul wrote, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12). Passions are issues of the heart that stem from our emotions. Besides those that have repressed emotions and not offered up a prayer of lament, there are also those who have agreed with the devil’s condemnation. Maybe you are a deeply passionate person and showing your emotions comes naturally for you, but you feel ashamed to be that same person before God when you are in pain or are upset. It is so important to remember that emotions are a good and gracious gift to every man and woman created in the image of God. He wants us to glorify him with our feelings—in fact, we cannot honor and obey him without our feelings! Far from being bad and unreliable, feelings are central to our loving and serving God.

Lamenting Throughout Scripture

In the beginning of Psalm 130, we see the wound of David. He is telling God how he feels about where he is at, and he asks God questions like, “If you measured us by our sins, who would ever get their prayers answered?” David then answers this and moves into praising God, reminding his soul to keep hoping and trusting in the Lord. He ends this lament with describing the good character of God and worshiping Him.

Out of the Depths [Psalm 130]

Lord, I cry out to you out of the depths of my despair! Hear my voice, O God! Answer this prayer and hear my plea for mercy. Lord, if you measured us and marked us with our sins, who would ever have their prayers answered? But your forgiving love is what makes you so wonderful. No wonder you are loved and worshiped! This is why I wait upon you, expecting your breakthrough, for your Word brings me hope. I long for you more than any watchman would long for the morning light. I will watch and wait for you, O God, throughout the night. O Israel, keep hoping, keep trusting, and keep waiting on the Lord, for he is tenderhearted, kind, and forgiving. He has a thousand ways to set you free! He himself will redeem you; he will ransom you from the cruel slavery of your sins!

Let us take a look at another Psalm of David. Psalm 38 has such a beautiful title, “A Groan Before the Throne.” It displays our permission to bring raw emotions to Jesus, and specifically before the throne of God. David is very expressive in this Psalm about his current circumstances. He does not hide anything from the Lord, and he recognizes that if he does not receive God’s help he is done for. David is making God his only option and I think we could learn a lot from this way of thinking in our own life.

A Groan Before the Throne – Psalm 38

I’m overwhelmed, swamped, and submerged beneath the heavy burden of my guilt. It clings to me and won’t let me go. My rotting wounds are a witness against me. They are severe and getting worse, reminding me of my failure and folly. I am completely broken because of what I’ve done. Gloom is all around me. My sins have bent me over to the ground. My inner being is shriveled up; my self-confidence crushed. Sick with fever, I’m left exhausted. Now I’m as cold as a corpse, and nothing is left inside me but great groaning filled with anguish. Lord, you know all my desires and deepest longings. My tears are liquid words, and you can read them all. My heart beats wildly, my strength is sapped, and the light of my eyes is going out. My friends stay far away from me, avoiding me like the plague. Even my family wants nothing to do with me. Meanwhile my enemies are out to kill me, plotting my ruin, speaking of my doom as they spend every waking moment planning how to finish me off. I’m like a deaf man who no longer hears. I can’t even speak up, and words fail me; I have no argument to counter their threats. Lord, the only thing I can do is wait and put my hope in you. I wait for your help, my God. So hear my cry and put an end to their strutting in pride, to those who gloat when I stumble in pain. I’m slipping away and on the verge of a breakdown, with nothing but sorrow and sighing. I confess all my sin to you; I can’t hold it in any longer. My agonizing thoughts punish me for my wrongdoing; I feel condemned as I consider all I’ve done. My enemies are many. They hate me and persecute me, though I’ve done nothing against them to deserve it. I show goodness to them and get paid evil in return. And they hate me even more when I stand for what is right. So don’t forsake me now, Lord! Don’t leave me in this condition. God, hurry to help me. Run to my rescue! For you’re my Savior and my only hope!

Where Do I Go From Here?

My encouragement for you today is to ask the Lord to show you where you have bottled up emotions. If it is anger, ask Him when that feeling started. And if a memory comes into your mind, ask Jesus to show you where He was when you were in that place. Give Him the right to cover that memory with His healing oil and come into agreement with Him. Forgive the person who hurt you. Come out of agreement with the lie you believed. And once you do this, I believe you will see a shift in your life. As far as in the future, remember to bring everything to the Lord right away. When emotions are fiery hot and you have not even processed through them yet, bring that to God. He can handle it, but you cannot. If you walk in this process of lamenting before the Lord and allowing grief and sorrow to flow out of you, the weight that you had been feeling will disappear and you will be freer than you ever have before. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). Stay free my friends!

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