Last week we kicked off our series on praying through different types of psalms looking at the imprecatory psalms. This week we are going to look at the lament psalms. Unlike the imprecatory psalms, we don’t usually have a hard time understanding psalms of lament, we just prefer to never need them. But we actually do ourselves a disservice when we avoid them because they can actually be tremendously helpful to our emotional health. (Not to mention the fact if we avoid them we avoid parts of God-inspired Scripture. See 2 Tim. 3:16-17) Lamenting gives our sorrow expression and grief an outlet, but it doesn’t stop there. God has given us humans many healthy expressions of emotional release as a part of common grace. Simply letting out your emotions can be healthy, but is not uniquely Christian. Lamenting takes our sorrow a step further because it takes our grief and pain and gives it to God. It takes hurt and turns it into trust. With nearly a third of the Psalms being psalms of lament we have been given a tremendous gift for processing our suffering.
Lamenting takes hurt and turns it into trust.”
Hello Darkness My Old Friend
But like I said at the beginning, our human nature tends to avoid suffering. It’s easier to focus on psalms of celebration. We would rather focus on positive emotions instead of sitting with our pain. But the Psalms of lament show us there is a place for grieving. There is a place for realizing how bad a situation is and letting yourself feel it. There is nothing spiritual about denying the reality of a bad situation. We see this in many of the Psalms, but Psalm 88 especially because the entire Psalm is painful. There is no hope or resolution. It just ends with despair. The last verse says You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend. The truth is we cannot heal from what we refuse to feel. If we deny the reality of our situation we will miss out on everything God wants to do in that situation and we will miss out on the healing that God wants to give us from that situation.
Lamenting In Prayer
One of the benefits of praying through psalms of lament is it puts words to our feelings. How many times have you been hurting and tried to pray, but felt like you had no words to say? Now imagine you opened up your Bible to Psalm 86 and prayed “Listen, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” (vs. 1) “God I am so desperate for you. I need you! Just like a deer longs for flowing stream, God I am desperate for you. My tears have been my food day and night.” (Psalm 42:1-3) “Please bring joy back into my life. I appeal to you because you are kind and abounding in faithful love.” (Psalm 86:4-5) Taking your raw, painful circumstances to God in prayer is an act of faith because you are taking them to God. It demonstrates a trust that goes beyond your own understanding of the situation. It’s faith to cry out to God: “God, listen to my prayer and do not hide from my plea for help.” (Psalm 55:1)
Taking your raw, painful circumstances to God in prayer is an act of faith because you are taking them to God.”
Lamenting Is Wrestling
Often in Psalms of lament, we see the writer asking God things we know are not true. Take Psalm 77:7-9 for example.
“Will the Lord reject forever and never again show favor? Has his faithful love ceased forever? Is his promise at an end for all generations? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger withheld his compassion? ” Selah
The obvious and theologically correct answer to this question is “No, God has not.” Asaph (the author of Psalm 77) then spends the remaining 11 verses reminding himself of all God has done. His feelings were in conflict with the truth. It took Asaph some wrestling but he got to the truth-God takes care of his own. Praying Psalms of lament give us the space we need to dissect our feelings from the truth. It gives us the space we need to ask God hard questions that express our feelings so that His Spirit can use His Word to remind us of what we really need-Him.
The wonderfully helpful thing about praying the Psalms of Lament is that it gives us words to do this. I don’t know about you, but when I’m hurting, I usually don’t have words. Praying feels impossible. But God has given us Psalm after Psalm that we can use to express the cries of our hearts.
Here are some more helpful Psalms of Lament. This list is by no means exhaustive, just some of the ones that God has used in my life. It may be just a verse or two, or an entire Psalm that resonates with you.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Nick Minerva