A Study of Lament: Pour Out Your Heart

{read the rest of the series by clicking here}

We try to hide our pain and sorrow. We see it as embarrassing, or even wrong, for the Christian. After all, we’re supposed to rejoice always, aren’t we?
Yes, but I don’t think that rejoicing in the Lord equates a “happy smile,” and I definitely don’t think that Christians cannot go through seasons of sorrow. That’s not to say a Christian should remain in a state of depression. We are commanded to be joyful – but I think we forget that there is a time for sorrow and mourning. Tears – whether of the eyes or of the heart – are a normal part of the Christian life, used by God for His glory.

Jesus was a man of sorrows, and in Romans 8 it says that we are being conformed to the image of Christ. That brings me to believe that weeping has a place in the life of the Christian. It also causes me to think that the embarrassment we have at our tears and sorrows is wrong, because Jesus wept openly.
I also know that God doesn’t look with disdain upon our tears. In Psalm 56 it says that He takes account of our tears, even putting them in a bottle. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that those who mourn are blessed. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes not that they are not to grieve, but they are to grieve as those with hope. Ecclesiastes 3 states that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Those aren’t the only scriptures about it, though.
The Psalms are full of examples of lament. Just a quick read-through of the book turns up many: 6, 13, 17, 22, 38, 55, 56, 42, 51, 60, 62, 63, 74, 77, 88, 89, 102, 109, 130. They are laments for various reasons: sin, enemies, judgment, physical suffering, and abandonment. I encourage you to read them, pray through them, think about them, let inspire your own laments, even if there is nothing troubling you now. There will one day be mystery, unanswered questions, sorrow, in your life. Our lives begin in pain and tears, and they will most likely end in pain and tears as well.

When you feel that things are not right in the world, or when your sin is weighing you down, or when a loved one dies, or your body is racked with pain – when His presence is seemingly broken, His hesed – His mercy – gone, and you ask “Where are You? If You love me, then why?” When the curse of Genesis 3 that life is now toil and pain and sorrow seems more real than ever before – what will you do?
When it seems that God is gone from you and you have to decide whether to press on even when His face is hidden, asking yourself “What is God worth to me? Will I stay faithful to Him in the pain, or will I walk away?”
When you’re in the wilderness, or grieving over sin, suffering at the hands of enemies – will there be faith?

To some, lament seems like despair, not faith. It seems like yelling at God. But even though lament is honest with God, it refuses to let go of Him, asking questions of the mystery but refusing to doubt. It keeps us connected to God even when God seems so far away. Michael Card calls it the path to true praise. It empties self of self so that we can praise, so we can look beyond the pain right now and focus on who God is, learning to love Him not for His benefits but for who He is.

But how do we lament?
The simplest answer comes from Lamentations 2:19, where it says “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.” Tell Him everything, even the things you feel you shouldn’t (you’re already thinking them; He knows). Acknowledge your pain – you can’t heal a wound if you don’t admit it’s there. Don’t be idle as you wait for God. Remind yourself of truth, even when you can’t see it. You may have to do it over and over and over again, mixed in with crying out to God, before there is any change. Ultimately, the vav, the change, is something that only God can bring. Often in the Psalms it seems random and out of place, sudden and unexpected after seasons of lament. You can remind yourself of truth, but true change only comes from God.
Because of the vav, lament is no longer bitter, but sweet (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3), much sweeter than holding onto and hiding sorrow. Because lament doesn’t end in feeling forsaken, it doesn’t end in sorrow. He calls us to remember His love. Something great comes – the cross, and we look ahead to heaven, when we will part with lament.

But until then, there is suffering, and much of it.
Richard Baxter wrote that “suffering unbolts the door of the heart, that the Word hath easier entrance.” When all is going well, we lean too hard on things other than Him. Suffering causes us to lean only on Him, revealing how much we need Him, and how often we smother our need for Him in the things of this world. It makes us see God for God, not as theology we talk about, but as One that we can be with and talk to.

That is one “reason,” and yet it is often not enough. We find suffering unfair. We want to know why us and not another. We wonder how God can be good and bring this evil upon us.
We can seek answers, but still must acknowledge the mystery of God’s sovereignty, especially His sovereignty in conjunction with man’s responsibility when we are harmed by men. God is never an accomplice of evil. C.S. Lewis notes in The Problem of Pain that pain is only a problem if there is something greater out there that claims to be good. He writes that our view isn’t whole, so while we may see a contradiction there isn’t one. I won’t write more about it here, but Lewis’s book is very good, as is D.A. Carson’s book, How Long? which also addresses those questions.

As for fairness, there isn’t a lack of fairness on God’s part. There is the mystery again, what we don’t understand or see in what God is doing, what is going on behind the curtain. Lamentations 1:18, Deuteronomy 34:2, and Habakkuk 1:5 make that clear.
There may be times we understand, but there may be times that we never know why this side of heaven. D.A. Carson asked in his book, “There will be mystery – is there faith?” Are we ready to trust, remembering what is behind us, when we cannot see the way forward? William Cowper, a hymn-writer much-acquainted with depression, wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

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