Mornings at the Mission: The Lost Language of Lament

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I had a rough night last night, so as I often do when my spirit is troubled, I turned to the Psalms. What a privilege it is, to have to rich and vibrant a collection of inspired prayers and songs, passed down to us without error or corruption from our forbearers in the faith! In the Psalms we find moving confessions of faith, eloquent expressions of praise, exuberant songs of thanksgiving, and gut-wrenching prayers of penitence and lament. It is one of the latter I stumbled across this evening; Psalm 77.

I cried unto God with my voice,
even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.

In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord:
my sore ran in the night, and ceased not:
my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered God, and was troubled:
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.

Thou holdest mine eyes waking:
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

Will the Lord cast off for ever?
and will he be favourable no more?

Is his mercy clean gone for ever?
doth his promise fail for evermore?

Hath God forgotten to be gracious?
hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.

10 And I said, This is my infirmity:
but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.

11 I will remember the works of the Lord:
surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

12 I will meditate also of all thy work,
and talk of thy doings.

14 Thou art the God that doest wonders:
thou hast declared thy strength among the people.

(Psalm 77:1-4, 7-12, 14)

Lament is a lost language in today’s culture; we simply do not do it well. You’d think we would; after all, we daily see agonizing visions of sin and suffering… starving children, murdered loved ones, loathsome disease, rampant crime, corruption at all levels of government… there is much to lament in the 21st century. And yet we are also a culture that is so obsessed with convenience and expediency that it absolutely refuses to mourn. Even after the most tragic of losses, we are more likely to hear the encouragement to  “Move on with your life, just sitting in it like this isn’t going to bring her back,” than “You can’t rush grief, this won’t go away overnight; take all the time you need.”

In a world where there is so much to mourn, we would do well to learn how to truly grieve once again. The Psalms invite us to do just that; the words of the biblical writers resonating with the deep places of woundedness inside of us. The Psalmists teach us who to pray with honesty, directing us to express our hearts to God with reverence, without compromising the depth or intensity of our emotion. The Psalms also lend validation to our experiences, assuring us that we are not alone in our suffering; when it seems as though God is absent or unconcerned, we can cry out to Him with these venerable words, taking comfort from the fact that the path we walk is a well worn one; one that ultimately leads to healing. For in the Psalms, we at once receive the promise that God hears and answers our prayers (John 14:13), and the promise that His word will accomplish that which He sends it forth to do (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Beyond being a primer in the lost language of lament, the Psalter also imparts another gift; it teaches us what it looks like to have joy, even in the midst of suffering. When the Psalmist cries out to God in his agony, he is not simply wallowing in his pain. Rather we consistently see the Spirit of God lead him from his present pain, to a remembrance of God’s past faithfulness, particularly in works of redemption. How much more so should we who belong to Christ, as those who have found not just redemption from temporal circumstances, but a sure and eternal salivation from the wrath of God which is our just due, sing the praises of so sweet a Savior; One who is willing not only to rescue us, but in doing so to enter into our suffering, even as He invites us into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

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