Crying Out to God: Learning to Lament
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Crying Out to God
I stood alone in my livingroom – the gray of the dimly lit room pressing in around me. I could hardly breathe – despair crushing my chest like a massive weight. Falling to my knees in front of the couch, I began to shake as the tears came hot and painful. No words…just long inconsolable wails broken by choking sobs. That was my prayer: a sob, a cry, a wail, a gasp, and burning tears.
Grief, anger, fear, despair, isolation, loneliness, pain, anguish…not typical emotions we think of expressing when we go to God in prayer. When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I think I’ll spend my devotional time today expressing my anger to God”? Nonetheless, these are real emotions we all experience at times in our lives; emotions that King David was all too familiar with. David never hesitated expressing emotions like these to God. Neither should we.
When words finally came for me, I cried out loud, “God, where are you?”
King David often asked the same kind of question:
In Psalm 10:1, David asked,
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
In Psalm 13:1-2, David cried out,
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
And in Psalm 22:1-2, David cried,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”
Have you felt that way? Like God was far away? Like you’d been forgotten? Wondering where God was and if he would ever answer? I have. So did King David. Many of the Psalms begin like this: crying out to God, wondering where God is and when help will come. Most of these kinds of psalms are known as laments. A lament is a literary form – prose or verse – used to express suffering, distress, and anguish to God.
Learning to Lament
There are 150 Psalms in the bible. King David wrote the majority of them. There are several genres that most psalms fit into: Praise Hymns, Royal Psalms, Thanksgiving Psalms, Wisdom Psalms, and Laments. Of the 150 psalms, more than half are laments. David frequently used the lament to express his own feelings of distress to God. When he was fleeing from Saul, when he was fleeing from his own son, Absalom, when he was hiding from his enemies in dank caves – cold, lonely, hungry, wondering if he would live to see the next day – David used the lament to cry out to God and plead for help.Lament Psalms are sometimes called Complaint Psalms. Did you know we can actually go to God and complain to Him about what is going on in our lives? Imagine that. Click To Tweet
A lament contains several basic components. The majority of the laments will contain some (but not necessarily all) of these basic components:
1. Address to God
2. Cry or Complaint
3. Petition for Help
4. Lament Proper
5. Statement of Trust
6. Praise or Vow to Praise God When He Acts
We can use this same simple formula to cry out to God as well – to compose our own laments. Let’s take a look at Psalm 64. As we work through it together, you can insert your own situation, your own complaint, and make the lament personal to you.
Psalm 64 – A Lament
1. Address to God
1 Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
2. Cry or Complaint
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.
We don’t know who the psalmist’s enemy was, but he was in fear for his life. What is your complaint? What causes you distress? Cry out to God as the psalmist did. Don’t be afraid to voice your complaint.
3. Petition for Help
Next, the psalmist makes his petition: he tells God what he wants him to do.
2 Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
What is it that you want God to do in your situation? Take a few minutes to tell God what you want him to do.
-Lord, give me comfort.
-Give me relief from my pain.
-Draw near to me in my suffering.
4. The Lament Proper
Then, the psalmist goes into greater detail. He tells God exactly what his problems are; what his enemies are plotting against him; what he feared.
3 They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
4 They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.
5 They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it?”
6 They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.
Take this opportunity to tell God in detail what is causing you distress. Why are you in pain? What are you afraid of? Why are you angry? Let it out. All of it. No holding back.
5. Statement of Trust
The amazing thing about the lament is that the psalmist doesn’t just complain. He doesn’t stop there. After stating his distress, he remembers God’s past faithfulness. He lists it. He confesses trust in God and in God’s power to act again. Listen to what the psalmist says:
But…such a small word, but a very big transition. But…In spite of all that was happening, the psalmist is confident in who God is and in God’s ability to act. In Psalm 13, David says, “But…I trust in your unfailing love”. In Psalm 22, David says, “Yet… Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One”.
Here David says,
7 But, God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
8 He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
9 All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.
How has God been faithful to you in the past? Take this time to reflect on God’s power. Reflect on his character. Reflect on his faithfulness. List it. Record it. Write it down. Confess your trust in him and in his ability to act on your behalf – in spite of and in the face of your current troubles. Things are tough right now, BUT (YET) in light of who God is and how he has acted in the past, you can have confidence in him. Confess your trust in however he chooses to act.
6. Praise/Vow to Praise
Finally, a lament ends in praise or a promise to praise the Lord. The psalmist turns from complaint to worship. In spite of everything that has caused the psalmist distress, he praises the Lord. Regardless of how God chooses to act, he will continue to praise the Lord.
The psalmist says:
10 The righteous will rejoice in the LORD
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him!
How will you praise God today? Will you vow to praise him regardless of your circumstances, simply because of who he is?
No, we don’t need a special formula to express our pain and suffering to God. Yes, we can simply cry out, and God is there. God hears us. He listens, and he can handle even our strongest emotions; so don’t hesitate and don’t hold back.
But, there are several things I really like about this formula.
First: It gives us permission and a vehicle to express feelings to God that our culture often encourages us to deny or conceal or simply brush aside.
Second: While it allows us to express distress and suffering, it does not allow us to wallow in it. It’s healthy for us to express our emotions and be honest about the difficult things in our lives, but it’s important that we don’t get stuck there. A crucial step in the formal lament is recalling God’s past faithfulness and proclaiming our continuing trust in him. It’s important for us to do the same: remember how God has been faithful to us in the past, and decide that we will trust in his faithfulness in this situation as well. This shift in focus initiates a significant shift in our attitude and our perspective.
Lastly: The lament always starts out with a cry of anguish (a complaint) and ends in praise. It’s easy for us to praise God when things are going well in our lives. It’s important for us to learn to praise God even in the tough times. In all our circumstances, God is still God. His character doesn’t change even though our circumstances do. It is for that character that we praise him, not the circumstances we live in. The psalmist reminds us of this.
What We Learn from the Psalmist
When you are angry, when you are grieving, when you are lonely, when you are suffering or in pain, remember what we have learned from the psalmist.
1. Come before God. (Address)
2. Tell God what distresses you. (Cry or Complaint)
Feel free to openly express your distress. Remember: It’s OK to complain!
3. Tell God you want him to do something about it. (Petition)
Tell God what you need. Ask for help.
4. Tell God in detail what your situation is. (Lament Proper)
Don’t hold back. Let it out. Tell God every single detail.
5. Remember how God has been faithful in the past and confess your trust in him. (Statement of Trust)
List all the ways God has been faithful in the past. Turn your focus toward all the ways God has already acted in your life.
6. Then, praise him for who he is. (Praise or Promise to Praise)
God is still God. Praise God for who he is. Promise to praise him no matter the outcome of your situation.
_____________________________Lament. Cry out to God. From the depths of your spirit, cry to the Lord. He will not turn a deaf ear to you. God will always listen. God will be there. Click To Tweet
Want some additional resources to learn more about lamenting (and a few things that will inspire and uplift you)? Here are a few of my personal picks. (Affiliate links)
For help writing your own lament, download our Everyday Prayer Journal.
If you haven’t used e-products before, I’ve (Cheryl…switching writers here) recently discovered and fallen in love with the Evernote App. It allows me to highlight and write directly on my pdf files using my Kindle.
Steps to Use Evernote:
1. Open your app store and download the free app Evernote onto your Tablet/Kindle/iPad.
2. Now, from the email we sent you, download the pdf (Everyday Prayer Journal) onto your Tablet/Kindle/iPad.
3. Usually, the download automatically opens, but if it doesn’t, open it.
4. Click on the share icon.
5. Click on the share button.
6. Choose Evernote.
7. Once the journal downloads into Evernote, you can click on the icons at the top of the page in Evernote to highlight, write and erase.
This video to shows you how to download this pdf into Evernote on your computer.
If you don’t think you are techy enough – I promise, it’s not that hard. Plus, once you start putting e-products on your tablet, you realize you can carry way more books with you anywhere, write directly on them (and erase) – it’s so handy, it’s addictive.
This blog post contains affiliate links.