Psalm 13:1-6 1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. 5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
So this morning we are keeping it real. I want us to talk about the reality of lament, the reality that we get hurt, crushed, tired, disappointed, depressed, and depleted. This particular Psalm gives us a formula for Christian lament. All of us will struggle and question and deal with feelings of isolation throughout our lives. Lamenting is part of the human experience, but how we choose to lament as believers can be different from how the world experiences lament. For the Christian, lament takes us somewhere, it lifts us somewhere, it teaches us something, it becomes fruitful in our lives. For the non-Christian lament is simply a feeling-based experience to get through rather than a faith-based experience to take us to a better place.
I want us to understand this morning that our lament can become an offering to God if we will let God be the Lord of our Lament. And God can do something with the offering of our lament that becomes a testimony much bigger than our personal trial. Your personal lament, your personal struggle can be used of God to give courage, hope, confidence, and strength to countless others because that is how wonderful our God is. He can take the worst human experiences and turn them into trophies of grace and gifts of grace to help others find meaning and purpose in their own pain.
As I prepared this message I thought of the Painter family here in our own congregation. Mark and Darcia and all of the family, you have allowed us to journey with you in your lament and we have lamented with you. Christina left us too soon. We all prayed so hard for God to heal her in this life. We didn’t get what we asked God for, but that didn’t keep us from trusting Him and worshiping Him in the midst of it all. And the Painter family led the way in expressing faith and glorifying God. To this day, they still have pain and great loss, but as they have turned their lament to God they have also expressed their hope in the Resurrection and have given God glory for Christina’s life and impact on countless people. Your Christian lament has been an offering to God and a gift to the Body of Christ. Through your “broken hallelujah” we have gotten to see the God who sustains, the God who is more than enough, whose grace is all-sufficient.
The following is an example of a song of lament that has touched many of us throughout the years. The Spafford family lost everything they owned in a fire. Making plans to rebuild, they moved from Chicago to France. Horatio Spafford carefully planned the trip from America to France and booked tickets on a huge ship for his wife and four daughters. He was planning to join them a few weeks later. On the voyage, the ship was rammed by another vessel and sank, carrying his wife and four daughters to the bottom of the ocean. All of his plans suddenly were crushed.
In grief and lament as his ship passed over the watery grave of his wife and four beloved daughters, he wrote this famous hymn, “It is Well with My Soul”. Most of us know that hymn and have been touched deeply through the words expressed in every verse. Horatio Spafford knew the power of the prayer of lament in that instant. His words have helped multitudes face their own sorrows.
You can hear the Psalmist’s lament as four times in Psalm 13 he asks, “How long?” Verses 1 and 2: 1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? When will this end? When can life go back to normal? For those of you who have experienced deep lament, you know life is never “normal” on the other side of this kind of deep grief. While life may never be normal it can become new. It can be good again if we allow God to be the Lord of our lament.
Allow me to give you four steps to allowing God to be the Lord of your lament this morning.
- Acknowledge your feelings.
When you read Psalm 13 you see the emotional turmoil of the writer. Do you feel forgotten? Do you feel unseen and insignificant? Are you a prisoner in your own mind? Does your heart break day after day without relief? Are you persecuted, vulnerable and violated? Do you feel your strength leaving you?
When the trial is long we may feel as if God has forgotten us. When the trial is long we may feel as if God has turned His back on us. When the trial is long we may feel as if we will not make it. It isn’t un-Christian to feel. It isn’t un-Christian to hurt or express sorrow. You don’t show a lack of faith when you lament, you simply show your humanity. The shortest verse in the Bible gives us a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus. Jesus wept.-John 11:35 There are life experiences that can only be processed with tears. God has given us our emotional capacities as outlets to help us manage parts of our lives.
Acknowledge your feelings but don’t be ruled by them. Acknowledge your feelings but don’t give them authority in your life. Feelings aren’t facts. Feelings are feelings. They are one way we process, but not the only way we should process. Just because you feel one way about something you are going through doesn’t mean that is the way it really is. At some point we need to move from the emotional level to the enlightenment level in our lament.
- Ask for enlightenment.
In verse 3 the Psalmist asked for God to give light to his eyes. He was asking for a perspective that would inform his feelings. He was asking for understanding about what he was dealing with. He was bringing faith into the equation along with his feelings.
God keeps giving me opportunities to reference one of my favorite Scriptures. It is: Ephesians 1:17-1917 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HIM BETTER. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
We need to move through lament and times of sorrow with godly wisdom. Allowing ourselves to lament may begin with emotion, but that is the entry point to lead us to revelation. And what is the goal here in Ephesians 1:17? May we know God better in and through the process of lament.
Paul goes on to say that he prays the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened, verse 18, so we can know and experience God’s hope. Hope tweaks our emotions. Hope guides our emotions to higher ground. Hope steers us up out of the valley and into a brighter day. Paul didn’t stop there, but in addition to the wisdom and revelation and hope that this enlightenment produces we gain an understanding about how our circumstance will end. We are not powerless. As we ask God for enlightenment in our situation He reveals His power to us.
When you understand that you have spiritual power you realize you can overcome what you are feeling. When you access God’s power and experience a change in your emotional self, whether your circumstances continue for a minute or change the way you desire for them to, you can have a sense of wellness and can exercise faith that gives you strength. It is hard to exercise faith when all you are exercising is feeling, but when you add enlightenment (wisdom, revelation, hope, and power) to the mix you have the ability to shift your focus from experience only to the realm of faith.
If we only lament through our emotions and are never enlightened in the process we won’t be able to anchor our minds to God’s truth. We won’t be able to live with a balance that is needed to be able to steadily walk forward.
We all have emotional blind spots. When we listen to our feelings we make hasty decisions, we say things we don’t mean, we post things we regret, we burn bridges and seek revenge. It can get ugly. Lament can not only tear us down, but it can lead us to tear others down. We want someone to blame. Our anger over our situation causes us to take it out on others. Our depression over the situation causes us to distance ourselves from others. Both approaches hurt our relationships.
When we are blinded by our emotions we look for ways to make ourselves feel better that can often be outside of the will of God. We may want to drink or drug our cares away or we may go in search of some other fantasy that will distract us or dull our pain. We might plunge ourselves into work overload so we just don’t have to deal with the heaviness of it all.
We can be so buried in the emotional aspects of our circumstance that we surrender the opportunity to impact others in our journey. I know how deeply grateful I am for the testimony of Horatio Spafford and the lyrics and melody of “It is Well with My Soul.” I am sure my life would go on without that influence, but what a gift he gave when instead of turning completely inward, Spafford was willing to minister to others in his pain. That is enlightenment. When you can look to God and be used of God even in the midst of your lament, you know God is the Lord of your lament.
Move as quickly to the enlightenment phase by asking God to enter into your emotional crises.
- Anchor yourself to the love of God. You are going to learn more about the love
of God during times of lament than you will when you are on the mountaintop and all is well. You don’t know how deep the love of God is until it has met you at your lowest point.
The writer of Lamentations was probably Jeremiah. Turn to Lamentations 3, please. Jeremiah was known as the Weeping Prophet. How would you like to be best friends with him? You’d be going to a party with him and introducing him like, “So, hey everyone, this is my friend, Jeremiah, he cries a lot, but it’s all good!” J Jeremiah was a man of great lament. He had great reasons to lament because he wasn’t just lamenting for himself but the entire nation of Israel that had strayed from the Lord. Jeremiah moved to the phase in his lament where he absolutely anchored himself to the love of God!
Lamentations 3:1-26 1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; 3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. 6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. 7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.
Everybody say, “That’s heavy!”
8 Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. 9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. 10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, 11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. 12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. 14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.
Everybody say, “That’s harsh!”
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. 16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. 17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Everybody say, “That’s sad!”
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Everybody say, “That’s incredible!”
What was it that literally saved this person’s sanity and life? It was remembering the Lord’s great love! Because he meditated on the love of God he was able to steady himself. He was able to talk himself into seeking God some more, into waiting on the Lord’s timing in his life.
You see, what happens when we ask God for help is that we can start looking for Him and seeing Him even in the rubble of our lives. That enables us to move from looking at ourselves and our feelings to looking at God and His faithfulness! Glory to God, when you get a fresh “up-look” at God you can get a fresh outlook on just about anything! (including having your teeth knocked out with gravel!)
Here is good news for you this morning: No matter what you are feeling, God has NEVER stopped loving you, and He is your portion which means He is enough to get you through your time of lament if you will allow Him to.
He is enough. Tell your neighbor, “He is enough.” He has enough love, He has enough compassion, He has enough mercy to get you through. Great is His faithfulness. He won’t drop you. He won’t desert you. He is good to those who don’t place their hope in their feelings, verse 25, but to those who hope in him.
Jeremiah even said in verse 26 that there was something good about lament. He said it was good to wait on God. It was good to trust in Him. Waiting on God means we trust God’s Sovereign plan and will in our lives. It means even as we feel what we are feeling and as we ask God to show us what we need to see in our circumstance that we also rest in His love.
- Adore God for who He is and has been.
Go back to Psalm 13 and verse 5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
There is something about meditating on the love of God that leads us to worship and adoration. It moves us to thank and praise Him and to extol His name. Did you know you can lament and worship at the same time? You can sorrow and sing at the same time?
There are times, now a few years out from Christina’s passing, that I look out and see the Painter family engaged in worship. I know their hearts are still broken. I know they miss her every day. I know they wish that things could have been different. I know they must have questions, but the faithfulness of God and the new mercy they have chosen to pick up day after day after day causes their mouths to glorify God and their hands to stay outstretched to the One who has faithfully been on the journey of lament with them.
We have been hit hard this summer in WV with flooding and loss. People’s lives have been altered to the point where they won’t recover what was. They won’t be able to return to “normal.” They have great reason to lament. The people who lost their loved one in the crash on I-64 last week have deep reason to lament. You could easily argue that we have many reasons to lament here in the United States.
As we lament, let’s remember we are the ones who are held by the love of God. We are the ones who are carried in the arms of God. We are the ones who experience the manifest presence of God. We are the ones who know the hope of God. We are the ones who receive the revelation and wisdom of God. We are the ones who receive daily mercy from God. We are the ones who possess the power of God to keep going not just by the skin of our teeth, but with a song of triumph in our hearts. God is good. He is good when we are on the mountaintop, and He is good in the valley of lament.
Never once did we ever walk alone! Never once did He leave us on our own! You are faithful, God! You are faithful!
Maybe life right now isn’t the way you pictured it. Maybe you are in a place you could never have imagined. Hold on to the love of God. Wait for His will to be revealed in your life. Praise Him as you work through your feelings. Allow God to draw even closer to you.