A Psalm of lament
Lament is defined as to feel loss, sorrow or regret, often expressed in a physical way and sometimes through artistic expression. Psalm 25 is such a lament. David is the author of this psalm and as he is lamenting over his troubles, we find, in verses 4-7, an example for us to follow for the times that troubles and grief bring our own season of lamenting. David says, “Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindness, For they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!”
David understood, from personal experience, that when he was in trouble he needed to look to God. So, he prays four statements as he pours out his heart to God: 1) Show my your ways, Lord and Teach me Your paths; 2) You are the God of my salvation; 3) I wait on you; 4) Remember your tender mercies and lovingkindness.
In Seasons of lament, we sometimes need help to cry
One afternoon, a man came home from work to find two young girls from the neighborhood on the steps of his building. Both girls were crying very loudly, and were shedding big tears – what my mother would call “crocodile tears” (I used to wonder if she had ever seen a crocodile cry and how she knew they had big tears.) Thinking they might be hurt, the man put down his briefcase and quickly went over to them, asking, “Are you all right?” Still sobbing, one girl held up her doll and said, “My baby doll’s arm came off.”
The man took the doll and its dismembered arm, and after a little effort had the doll put back together again. “Thank you,” came a whimper from the girl. Then turning to the other little girl, the man asked, “And what’s the matter with you, young lady?” The second little girl wiped her cheeks and said to the man, “Oh, nothing is the matter with me, I was just helping her cry!”
Learning how to come alongside others and lament with them is spiritually healthy
Learning to lament the brokenness and losses in our lives is one of the most helpful and healthy things we can do for ourselves and for others. And learning how to come alongside others and lament with them, like the little girl who was “just helping her friend cry,” is spiritually healthy. When the body of Christ is healthy and strong, then the life in Christ we share together includes “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.”
The simple truth is that sometimes we just need help expressing our emotions and feelings when we are in a season of lament. We might need to know its okay to cry, feel sadness, hurt, disappointment, or even anger. And when we lament with others, we experience the love of God and others in a way God expects the body of Christ to build each other up. Esther Fleece says in her book No More Faking Fine, “Spiritual maturity does not mean living a lament-less life; rather, it means we grow into becoming good lamenters and thus grow in our need for God.”
Where does my help come from?
So even as we lament, we must also remember to seek God, because it is from God that we receive help. In Psalm 121:1-2, the psalmist wrote, “From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” You see, lamenting enables us to receive God’s mercy in the midst of dark clouds. And as we turn to God in prayer, and lay out our messy struggles, we can receive the help we need from our grace-giving God. And so, here in Psalm 25, we find David in a season of lament, seeking God.
What does a person in lament need?
Nicolas Woltersorff, in his book, “Lament for a Son”, said it this way: “What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.” When we come alongside those in great grief, let’s come in close and listen – let them share what is on their hearts without judgment or correction. And when we pray with them prayers of lament, let’s try to vocalize their pain so they sense that we empathize. Our grief-filled, candid, and messy prayer to God on their behalf can be so meaningful and refreshing for them. When we lament with them, it brings comfort because we come in close and refuse to pretend that “everything’s fine.”
Why Lament Should be our Prayer in Times of Grief
Mark Vroegop gives the following six reasons why lament should be our prayer when grief of any kind becomes a part of our lives:
1. Lament is a language for loss.
It provides a biblical vocabulary and a model for talking to God about our pain and helping those who are walking through suffering.
2. Lament is the solution for silence.
Unfortunately, far too many people either are afraid to talk with God about their suffering, or refuse to talk with God. Their silence may be a result of shame, a fear of rejection, anxiety, or a concern of being irreverent. But their silence also cuts them off from the God who loves them and longs to comfort them. Additionally lament moves us from silence to communication – with God and others.
3. Lament allows us an avenue for expressing our complaints
Complaining to God is not necessarily sinful. For hurting people, knowing that it is okay to express these kinds of things to God can be so freeing and life-giving. When we remember that God already knows the intent of our hearts and he knows how we feel, then we can understand that God is not intimidated by the emotions and feelings that He created us to have. Job is a prime example. If anyone had the right to lament and express complaints to God, Job did. But in Job 2:10, the Bible tells us, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
4. Lament is a framework for feelings.
It is more than the sinful spewing of every emotion and thought. Rather it is a God-centered structure to keep us from falling into the trap of self-centeredness and getting stuck in the mud of negativity.
5. Lament is a process for our pain.
It is more than a biblical version of the stages of grief. It invites God’s people on a journey of turning to God and trusting in God. Lament is more than something that comes out of us; rather, it is part of the process happening in us.
6. Lament is a way to worship
When we turn to God, pour out our pain, our questions, and disappointments, when we ask for His mercy and help, and when we express our trust in Him through praise and thanksgiving, then we find ourselves drawn to God and connected to God in worship.
Show Me Your Ways, Lord, and Teach Me Your Paths
God says in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” God sees through the lenses of eternity. We can only see today – this moment, this season of lament. And in a season of lament, our vision is often clouded by our emotions. But when we trust God, we seek His guidance and want to learn what manner of life (ways, paths) please Him and how His commands apply to our specific circumstances.
Even though David is in a seasons of lament, his prayer is for God’s presence and leading. Season of lament often lead us to seasons of yearning to know more and more of God, and this is true for David. He has a heart that wants to know and follow God’s truth. So, he places his hope in the power and strength of God.
For David, God was not just an impersonal national deity. He was David’s personal Savior, one who had protected him and delivered him through numerous conflicts and battles. And he expected him to continue to save him; his hope was always in God. So it was natural for David to want to know and follow God.
David’s prayer should be the prayer of all believers, especially in season of lament. God is our savior, and our hope is in him. He will deliver us from all the attacks of the evil one, and safely bring us into his kingdom. So, like David, let’s ask God to show us His ways and teach us His truths. Let’s put our trust in God alone.
You are the God of my Salvation
Tim Quinn said that he was stumped. His old Macintosh laptop simply would not run the Mac Bible software anymore. Though he had worked with it for hours, nothing he did would help. His wife suggested that he call the owners of the software for help, but no, he knew what he was doing.
Finally, after having exhausted every last idea, he gave in and called the Mac Bible corporation. After speaking to a friendly voice, he was assured that the person to whom he was being referred would know exactly what to do. Tim wasn’t convinced, but he called him anyway.
The name he had been given sounded familiar, and he soon learned why. The person on the other end of the line was none other than the man who wrote the Mac Bible software. He gave Tim a brief set of instructions, which he wrote down and hung up the phone. In minutes, Tim’s computer software program was up and running. He just had to go to the man who wrote the program.
Tim writes, “How many times in life do we try to work out our problems our own way? Finally when all else has failed, we go to the one who designed us. Soon, if we obey, we find ourselves once again at peace with God and functioning as he planned.”
David had a mature faith in the God of his Salvation
In the life of David, he often faced trouble. Saul tried to kill him sixteen times before David finally ascended to the throne. After David was crowned as king over all Israel, he continued to face all kinds of trouble.
Many scholars believe that Psalm 25 was written by David much later in his life when his son Absalom organized a rebellion against his father. Psalm 25 is not written in a style that is dramatic or emotional, but in a style that reflects a mature faith in the God of his Salvation.
Where do you go in times of trouble?
When troubles come into our lives, to whom do we turn? To whom do we go for help?
During the pandemic, it seems as if entire nations are turning to their governments for help. We want our government to get rid of the virus. We want our government to provide health care. And we want our government to help pay our bills with stimulus checks. While it is true that the government is able to play some role in helping, protecting, and providing, the mature child of God looks ultimately to the Lord. David writes in verses 1-2a, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.” David knew that the ultimate source of his encouragement was God.
Do you plead with God to help you understand his truth? Do you want God to teach you his paths so that you can walk in them? God has given us his Word. Let us read, study, and apply God’s Word to our lives.
I Wait on You
When we experience seasons of lament, it can be hard to wait on God. In these seasons, we are hurting and we want the hurt to stop. But it isn’t the kind of hurt we can take an Advil for or even a prescription strength pain killer. There is no quick, easy solution. But as we wait on God to work out His perfect will in our lives, we can expect that He is working all things out for our good.
In our time of lament, we can learn to trust him more. We can learn that our hope is in Him. And we can come to understand that as we rest in his arms of comfort and grace, we learn a little bit more of his love for us. In season of lament, we turn to the promises of God and there we take our stand. It is in season of lament that our faith is tried, pruned, and grown.
Where is your house built?
In Matthew 7:24-27, we find the parable about two houses: one build on sand and one built on the rock:
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Seasons of lament will show if we have built our house on the rock of Jesus or on the shifting sands of this world. If we have built on the rock, we will be able to wait on God without doubting his promises or losing our hope in Him.
Remember Your Tender mercies and Lovingkindness
The words “mercy,” “steadfast love,” “sins,” and “transgressions” remind us of Exodus 34:6-7 which tells Israel of God’s gracious intentions toward them. These verses say, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
For God to remember something is for him to attend to it in order to act. David asked God to attend to him in mercy rather than according to his sins. David wanted God’s forgiveness regarding the sins of his youth. He had regrets about the sins he had committed earlier in his walk with God, and he wanted to be assured of God’s forgiveness.
Don’t waste time remembering what God has Forgotten
In his commentary on the psalms, Harry Ironside tells of visiting a very old Christian. The man was about ninety years old, and he had lived a godly life. However, in his last days he sent for Ironside because, as he expressed it, “Everything seems so dark.”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Ironside. “You have known the Lord for nearly seventy years. You have lived for him a long, long time. And you have helped others. Whatever do you mean ‘dark’?”
The man replied, “In my illness, since I have been lying here so weak, my memory keeps bringing up the sins of my youth, and I cannot get them out of my mind. They keep crowding in upon me, and I cannot help thinking of them. They make me feel miserable and wretched.”
Ironside turned to Psalm 25 and read the verse in which David prays, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:7)
After he had read the words he said, “When you came to God seventy years ago you confessed your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ. Do you remember what happened then?” The old man couldn’t remember. Ironside said, “Don’t you remember that when you confessed your sins God said, ‘Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.’ If God has forgotten them, why should you think about them?”
The man relaxed and replied, “I am an old fool remembering what God has forgotten.”
If Jesus has paid the penalty for your sin, God will never hold it against you again. So, whether your season of lament is the trouble of COVID-19, sin, finances, marriage, children, career, or any other storm of life, let us remember this truth: God helps us in our time of need because of his tender mercies and lovingkindness.
However long it lasts, let us see our Difficulties in the Light of God
Campbell Morgan once said, “What we do in the crisis always depends on whether we see the difficulties in the light of God, or God in the shadow of the difficulties.” We don’t know how long the coronavirus pandemic is going to last. We don’t know how long any season of lament is going to last. But, however long it lasts, let us see our difficulties in the light of God and hold on to these four truths: God will show us his ways and help us in our time of need. He can be found when we seek Him because He is the God of our salvation. God can be trusted so we can wait on Him. And God delivers us when we take refuge in his tender mercies and lovingkindness.
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop, Crossway, 2019.
No More Faking Fine, by Esther Fleece, Zondervan, 2017.
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