Psalms of Lament

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Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.

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Cast Your Burdens on the Lord

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Whatever we are going through, God knows. That statement itself should give us peace and strength to endure anything, yet we often find ourselves fighting to survive the daily circumstances and conflicts that surround us.

While we are gasping and choking for air, we should be resting at the Master’s feet breathing in His daily peace and calmness. While we are treading water with no sight of land, we should be sheltered and safe under the Lord’s outstretched arms of protection – so why aren’t we?

God promises each of us a supernatural peace in the midst of turmoil, if we seek Him first. In turn, despite what is going on, we will know He is in complete control. To cast your cares upon the Lord also means to give God control in your circumstance. You can’t have one without the other! Carrying life’s burdens leads to anxiety, which causes us to worry, and which ultimately takes our eyes off God and focuses them on our problems and ourselves.

Worry is fundamentally a willful form of self-centeredness. Instead of praying and seeking God, we can become consumed with trivial circumstances. If you could picture heaven and earth colliding, our minds would be in the epicenter. There is a daily struggle being waged and if we lose the battle over our minds, we lose the war. Staying grounded in the Word and keeping in close communion to God is how we overcome and prevail over the siege warfare being used to wear us down. In the end, God gives beauty for ashes, like a phoenix rising from its own demise. God will do the same for us when we allow Him to use our circumstances for His glory and when we view our trials through His eyes and perspective.

We expend countless energy and resources on problems which are either unimportant or are completely out of our control. However, when we look to God and allow Him to carry our burdens, we allow Him to shine light in the dark areas of our life and we trust Him to do what only He can. In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 Paul said, “all our troubles are light and momentary, compared with the eternal glory being accomplished by them.” These profound words mean we have no idea what or how our trials and circumstances are accomplishing. Some trials may be for us: to strengthen us, to better ourselves, or perhaps to even correct an area of our life; while other times, the trials we walk through may be for the people in our lives. We may be the epitome of a disciple of Christ, but one trial comes on the heel of the next and it’s the people in our lives who are watching how we handle ourselves when there seems to be no hope. True faith is always measured where there seems to be no hope.
TrustGodGod’s Word tells us to lay our requests before Him and to wait in expectation. This is impossible to do if we don’t keep our eyes fixated on God. As we draw near to Him; He draws closer to us and when we are in communion with God, we can hear His still, small voice speaking words of wisdom, love, joy, peace, and life. Worrying accomplishes nothing just as maybe leads us in circles that go nowhere. Jesus answers yes and amen and He empowers us for whatever life may throw our way and He is our song allowing us to have joy despite our circumstances. Today is the day the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it. Don’t worry about tomorrow for it will worry about itself. Like manna from heaven, God will give you exactly what you need to make it through this day and tomorrow He will do the same when you seek Him with all your mind, soul, and strength.

The way of the Lord can be narrow and often steep, even perilous at times. That is why we must constantly cast our cares, our anxieties, and our burdens on Him so we are less likely to fall as we traverse the path set before each of us. The less we have to carry the less likely we are to fall. As we give God everything that attempts to hold us back, He takes them and buries them at the cross where the blood of Jesus was poured out so we never have to live in condemnation of our sin and so we can experience closeness with God. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom making a way for each one of us to know and experience God on a deep and personal level. God knows what you need and when you need it, so trust Him and you will never regret it. I’ll end with two of my favorite quotes: “We must cease striving and trust God to provide what He thinks is best and in whatever time He chooses to make it available. But this kind of trusting doesn’t come naturally. It’s a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith.” Charles R. Swindoll & “Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck. Faith is the solvent that sets you free.” Shannon L. Alder

Who or What Could Save Me?

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There have been times in my life where it has felt like my relationship with God was like two ships passing in the dark with a sea of void between us. These times were very discouraging and very painful to walk through because my sinful life condemned me, my shame overshadowed me, my past haunted me, my circumstances frustrated me and my mistakes made me feel worthless. I found myself asking who or what could possibly save me?

In order to make it through life and everything which happens along the way, we must know the answer to this question! The moment we become a follower of Christ, our debt is paid in full; nothing can separate us from His great love and our worth and our value is found in Him alone. On our own, we will never make it, but with God as our ultimate source of strength, we will never grow faint or weary. I know this firsthand because when I would try to do things my own way, I opened the door wide open for attack. The enemy would whisper any number of malicious and contemptuous lies in my ear to which I had no defense, but when God was the center of my life I could honestly say because the Spirit of the Lord lived inside of me, I felt freedom. Instead of having to answer who or what could save me I could declare who or what could possibly separate me from His great love?Romans 8_38

Despite our past or what we are currently walking through, God can use anything and He never wastes any painful experience as long as we give it all to Him. With God as the focal point in our life we can walk through fiery trials and emerge without even smelling like smoke. We will not only survive oppression, but we will thrive in the midst of it. It sounds crazy, but the more messed up our life is and the more junk God has saved us from, the more God can use us and the more we can begin to understand what it truly means to be redeemed by grace because of His mercy.

Lion of JudahHowever, when God isn’t our number one priority in life, we are vulnerable to attack and one of the most important things I’ve learned is the devil is a very patient predator who is waiting for the exact moment in which we will experience the greatest harm so he can completely destroy and devour us. He is waiting for the kill shot, but what he fails to realize is the greater our fall, the greater our potential testimony will be when we humble ourselves enough to receive God’s unending grace. With this information, we should look for areas in our life in which we are vulnerable to attack and surrender them to God because it is much easier to avert a disaster than to clean one up.the-devil-as-a-roaring-lion The instant we think we are above any pitfall, we open ourselves open up to it, so we must continually look to God in all things and trust that His ways are higher than our own, especially when we can’t see a way. Don’t get discouraged when life happens; just trust that God will work all things for your good when you love Him and are called according to His purpose.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NASB)

Last Resort

The busier our life gets, the more time we should be making for God, yet the more hectic our life becomes the less time we seem to make for Him.  When we make our relationship with God the top priority in our life, no matter what we are walking through, we will know that we are living according to His will.  You may be thinking, “What good is that going to do me when my world is crashing in all around me?”  I’ll tell you, “It is the only thing that will get you through when everyone and everything in this world has forsaken you.”  It took me, in a time not so long ago, to learn this painful lesson.  It literally took me getting to a place where God was all I had to realize He was all I needed.

It’s not a matter of if a storm will come; it’s a matter of when and if we are going to weather it, we must depend on God to get us through.  When the water begins to rise, when the walls begin to give way and panic begins to set in, what we do in this most desperate time is something we should be doing all the time: praying.  Instead, this is often our last resort and the sad reality is many of us know a lot about God, but rarely experience His presence because we don’t communicate with Him through prayer.  I love what Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Prayer is powerful.  The devil smiles when we make plans. He laughs when we get too busy. But he trembles when we pray – especially when we pray together.”

If prayer is so powerful, why don’t we make it more important in our lives?  Do we think God has more important things to do, that He won’t or can’t answer our prayers, or are we more afraid that He actually will show up, but then ask something of us?  Is the notion of being transformed into the image of Christ that terrifying?  When we commune with God, His heart becomes ours and what moves the Father begins to move us.

So now what?  Given everything I have just said what should you do? Begin to pray and just be yourself; stop focusing so much on what you are asking and begin to focus on whom you are asking.  I learned very early that practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent and growth takes time, but I promise you the more time you make for God, the less stressful your life will become.  The best way to learn how to pray is to begin praying.  Start your day by thanking God for the air in your lungs, even the breath in your mouth, well maybe after you brush your teeth, but you get my point…   The more you begin to experience God, the more of Him you will want because there is a void in all of us that only He can fill and if I am going to be full of anything, it is going to be Christ!