Learning to Lament

By Joel Dipert

Since January, I’ve been praying through the Psalms, one a day, in addition to my regular Bible reading. And it has been such an eye-opener for me in realizing how much I got used to praying the same thing. The Psalms have helped give me a new vocabulary for prayer and in expressing my emotions to God. 

This week one of those Psalms was Psalm 43. It says this: 

"Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?"

And as I thought and prayed through those verses, I felt invited to express without fear, my true emotions, even my disappointments with God. I know that God has not rejected me, but like the Psalmist, we sometimes feel as though he has. And God uses even these mistaken beliefs about Him to draw us to Himself. 

The Psalmist continues:

"Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God."

In Christ, God ultimately shows us the relief from despair we long for. As we come to worship God in Jesus’ name, we can be assured that His light and truth will lead us where there seemed to be no way.

During this season of praying through the Psalms, I've also noticed that the songs we sing at church are often very good at reflecting the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving, but we don't have a lot of songs of lament in our current repetoir.

Eric Ortlund writes in his piece for The Gospel Coalition, A Missing Piece in North American Worship:

"To be a real biblical lament, it has to include a confession of trust and unconditional loyalty from the lamenter; without that, it's just complaining. But I also want to emphasize that, unless we lament, we're being unbiblical and unhelpful."

If songs of lament help us to comprehend a truer picture of 'The Man of Sorrows', then we should be actively looking for songs that portray biblical lament. Songs that express real human emotion about our fears, hurts, and discouragement, but ultimately lead to confession of trust in our 'Rock' and 'Refuge'. Our worship team should and will intentionally be working towards writing meaningful songs of lament to put on the lips of our congregation. Laments should be an important part of our personal and corporate times of worship. God created our emotions and he desires them to be used to bring Him glory.