Psalms of Lament

We are familiar with the Psalms. We sing them every Sunday and many of us have grown up learning them by heart. Within them we find written expression for the range of emotions relating to the human experience. There are a number of different types of psalms, the most common type being the Psalms of lament. These Psalms are cries of anger, protest, deep distress and doubt, all brought before the Lord. The psalmist is in a desperate place and is crying out to the Lord for help, for deliverance.

Let’s learn to use the Psalms of lament as a means of expressing our own emotions and needs to God.

Thoughtful Laments

Most of the Psalms of lament follow a certain structure. They open with the psalmist expressing the oppression that he is facing and crying out to God. This source of disorientation may come from the psalmist’s own thought and action, the actions of others against him, or from the actions of God. No matter the source of oppression, the psalmist cries out to the Almighty for deliverance. This cry is then followed by a lament. Here the psalmist further expresses the oppression that he is experiencing and lays it out before the Lord. These words voice the pain and suffering the psalmist is facing; there is no hiding the depth of emotion that is experienced, but it is all brought before the Lord. It is natural to experience doubt, fear, anguish, disappointment, sadness and anger as we live as broken people in a broken world. Pain and the negative emotions that come with it are a part of life. We do not have to hold onto those emotions, nor act as if they don’t exist; instead, we can bring them before our heavenly Father.

The next part in the structure of the lament Psalm is the assertion of the psalmist’s trust in God. He expresses who God is, what he has done, and what he promises to do. It is true that life is painful, but the even greater truth is that we have a God who cares for us. He has demonstrated his care to us in many different ways and continues to do so. The greatest of His provision can be found in the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God has promised to provide for his people, and through the Scriptures we see numerous records of him doing so. These reminders of God’s goodness, grace and love for his people provide assurance that He is a God who listens to the cries of his people. God has done this in the past and his promises stand true for the future.

This builds up to the petition of the Psalm. After pouring out his heart to the Lord, and affirming God’s promises, the psalmist asks for relief from his suffering. He requests that God lift the pain and remove the trials that he is facing. The psalmist knows that he can ask these things of God because he knows who God is. He knows what God has done in the past and he knows that God is a God of compassion, mercy and love. This gives him the trust to petition God regarding the trials that he faces. He appeals to God to hear his cry and save him from distress because he is able to rest in God’s promises.

The closing of a Psalm of lament is an expression of praise or acknowledgement. When the Psalm is closed with such an acknowledgement, the psalmist expresses a confidence that God will hear this prayer and that He will answer. The expressions of praise are a promise for what will be done, what the psalmist will give when the prayer is answered.

Honest about Our Discomfort

Each of these psalms contain an expression of pain that many of us are not comfortable with. There is an incredible amount of raw emotion as God’s people grapple with their suffering. As D.A. Carson writes, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God[i].

We have a natural tendency to flee from any discomfort. Our society celebrates the comfortable, the well-established and secure. In the face of distress, pain or suffering we look for the fastest and easiest way to alleviate or fix the problem. We might turn to food and comfort ourselves by eating away our feelings, or we might try to numb the pain through alcohol, cigarettes or drugs – prescription or otherwise. We might try to fix the problem ourselves by leaping into a self-improvement program that promises fast results, or by trying to take control of our own growth. Perhaps we are so crazy-busy that we don’t have time to acknowledge our feelings. These are only some of the shields we use to stop us from feeling the pain of what it means to be human. We protect ourselves from the unease and run to what is most comfortable.

Scripture calls us in the opposite direction. As children of God, we are called to lean into the discomfort. We are called to face the things that are wrong in our lives and pour them out before Him. The Psalms of lament are found in Scripture as a model for us to bear our hearts to the Lord. They do not speak too specifically of turmoil or distress so that they can be transferred into the lives of others. We can place our own experiences, our own grief, anger or doubt into these Psalms and use them as a tool to pour out the grief, distress and unrest that we find within.

Are you aware of the ways that you flee discomfort, the ways that you avoid facing the distresses of your life? Do your shields stop you from noticing the distress and unrest you are experiencing?

When did you last pour out your soul to God?

When was the last time you lamented because of the turmoil you were facing?

Have you ever voiced the unrest, lack of peace and emptiness that you feel deep down in your heart to Him? To anyone? To yourself?

Turn to the Psalms and lament together with the psalmist. Bring the turmoil of your life before your heavenly Father. That is the only place where you will find true comfort.

Camille de Vos – Trellis Counselling

[i] D.A. Carson, How Long O LORD: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing, 2006), 67

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