In the next three weeks I would like to take some time to address some issues that have been on my heart in a practical pastoral way – Lament, the Church and Unity, and the Christian and Unity. How do we understand and practice Lament? How should the Church be working towards unity? And what are some things the individual Christian can be doing to help foster unity? For today, let’s talk a bit about the practice of lament.
Webster defines lament as a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Lately, there have been plenty of reasons to grieve and be filled with sorrow. But there is nothing uniquely Christian about grief and sorrow. Everybody identifies with those emotions from time to time. But what does Christian lament look like? Or what should be unique about Christian grief and sorrow?
First, lament should be a regular part of the Christian life. The brokenness of this world that is all around us and the sin struggles in our own lives should cause us to lament. As people who believe in righteousness, justice, and holiness, we should be grieved when we see unrighteousness, injustice, and wickedness expressed in our world, and our own hearts. This lament is meant to glorify God.
Sadly, lament is something that may seem foreign to many Christians. Perhaps it is a practice we haven’t talked enough about. Or maybe it has been seen as an emotion that just happens and not something we need to be proactive in. So then, how do we lament properly? I would love to see us, the people of Veritas Church, be people who lament well. Therefore, let’s get practical with this issue. I want to point out two errors that are common when it comes to Christian lament, with the hope that we would grow as people who lament well.
Error number 1: Forgetting hope
Lament is a major theme in Scripture. About a third of the psalms are psalms of lament. But lament in Scripture is more than just an expression of grief or sorrow. Lament in Scripture is about expressing grief or sorrow to God. This adds hope to our lament. As you read through the psalms of lament you will notice a pattern of the psalmist expression of grief and frustration to God turn to an expression of hope, trust, and worship. For example, in Psalm 13, David starts off by asking God, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?” He is not just expressing his frustration. He is expressing his frustration to God, and when God is your audience, His character meets your emotions. By verse five David says, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord…” In turning to God with our anger and pain and sorrow we find hope, and hope leads to rejoicing. David makes a decision to express joy.
Here is what we can’t forget: Christian lament involves joy. Paul tells the Thessalonians to grieve, but not like those who have no hope. We are to lament, but our lament should look different than the world’s frustration. Our lament involves hope. Zechariah describes God’s people as, “prisoners of hope.” No matter how bad things are, faith in God means we cannot escape hope. Our lament must always have a “but God” that introduces hope back into our emotions, returning us to rejoicing.
Error number 2: Skipping the pain
Because we know how the story ends, another error Christians tend to make when it comes to lament is to skip right to rejoicing, seemingly to ignore the pain. However, in the Old Testament we see godly people tear their clothes, wear sackcloth, and fast because of the sin all around them. It is understandable how some people may wonder if Christians are still bothered by sin today. Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, knowing he was about to raise him from the dead. The victory that was sure to come did not stop Jesus from expressing the sorrow that was. It is good for our souls to maintain an active disgust towards sin and brokenness. When it comes to lament, even though we know our story has a glorious ending because of Christ, we can’t skip the pain. It has a purpose. Dealing with the pain of sin helps us better understand righteousness. Dealing with the pain of injustice helps grow our compassion for others. As Christians, our lament must always have a “but God” that introduces hope back into our emotions, returning us to rejoicing. But we cannot forget to take in the pain on our way there. It is fuel for our worship and glue for our unity.
When it comes to lament, how are you doing? Are you someone who skips the pain, rushing right to the end of our story rather than living in it? Or are you someone who forgets hope, diving so deep into the pain that you get lost dwelling on it? I have been a victim of both. Growing in lament will mean constant course corrections. May we never rush through the pain God has for us to walk through. And may we never forget the hope we have in Christ. Those two emotions held in proper tension is what Christian lament looks like.
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