It's difficult to recall the number of perplexed looks I've received over the past two-and-a-half years as I have explained to people my doctoral research project. Some have mused that wrestling with lament for this long must be disheartening.
I have experienced the opposite.
My intrigue with lament in the psalter was born from deep grief in my life. I was struggling to adore God with my soul while my wife and I were wading through a miscarriage, the loss of a child that had long been anticipated and prayed for. As this season of struggle continued in my life, it became obvious my trials were not unique. It became apparent that most in our church were in pain, in some form or another. The psalms of lament became something of a somber, unifying anthem for my congregation and I.
Nothing is more helpful to the human soul than to grasp theology that bears immediate impact. As hurting people surrounded by hurting people, our hearts should yearn to connect the Word of God to the hearts of His people. In a culture of consumerism and neo-positivity, the psalms of lament bring a refreshing balance of reality to our lives as we seek to treasure God from the darkest of valleys.
I would offer the following encouragement to consider revisiting the psalms of lament:
Psalms of lament ground the church theologically
In the psalms of lament, we encounter life and theology in their most raw forms. When the trials of life strike, there is no room for useless theological banter. Sorrow forces us to come to grips with the realities of this world and, more importantly, the beauty and benevolence of the God who reigns.
Reading the psalms of lament is a massive theological distillation process. All the hypotheticals or wrongly held beliefs are stripped away by the shockingly honest heart cries of the psalmist. They expose both man and God for who they are. Theology is too often relegated to musty seminary halls or to the dwindling minds of introverts, but theology belongs in the darkness and pain of life.
The psalms of lament remind us that theology is satisfyingly real
People need this brand of theology coursing through their veins, and so do pastors. So dwell on them, use them to cry out to the Lord, and care for others with them.
Psalms of lament make you a better shepherd
I recently conducted a survey among my church members. I was humbled by the results. Sixty-five percent of my church family indicated they were currently facing a trial in their life. How could I not have known this? I was hurt by my own deficiencies as a shepherd. These are the people I love most; they were hurting, and I knew nothing of the majority of their pain. As a congregation, we began to work our way through the psalms of lament. Sorrow found its way into worship, and more and more hurt began to become evident within our church family. People became less afraid to speak of their struggles. Deep and slow healing began to course through the veins of my church.
Learn the importance of the Psalms in worship with Phil Webb, Matt Boswell, Tom Pennington, Ligon Duncan, Bob Kauflin, Steve Lawson, and more in a self-paced, interactive format.
The psalms of lament open the hearts of people; they direct the cries of the people to the throne of God; and they help shepherds become more aware of hurting sheep.
Psalms of lament prepare you and your church for the inevitable
We live in a fallen world with expectations only Heaven can satisfy.
Don't underestimate the danger this poses
If we are not feeling the effects of this broken world now, we soon will be. How can we sustain worship when life becomes difficult, if not impossible? The psalms of lament fortify those who are momentarily happy for the inexpressible brokenness life so assuredly will bring. We are not fulfilling our role as shepherds if we do not prepare our people with an honest assessment of life and care for their needs in their hours of pain.
Jesus Himself prepared His disciples for tribulation and trials; should we not follow His example? What better way to care for others than with the theologically sorrowful, insightful psalms of lament? Prepare people for pain with the Psalms.
Psalms of lament focus people solely upon God
If we as pastors could focus our people's attention on one object, to give them one driving passion, what would it be? I think we would all agree that "thing" would be the glories and majesty of God. Certainly, all of Scripture points us to the admiration of God. But there are times, if we are honest, that our expositions of long books of the Bible can lose their focus. This is the fault of our exposition, not the content of Scripture. It is a wake-up call that we are struggling in our preaching to focus our people on the glory of God.
When we circle around frequently (as I believe we should) to preaching the psalms of lament, we are forced to focus on the glory of God. Lament strips away our focus on lesser things and draws us to the Great Comforter. The Psalms of lament offer its readers inerrant dosages of the glory of God within the context of suffering.
To lament is to be human; to worship with lament
is the mandate and provision of the Divine King
Connecting the glory of God to the suffering of His people seems a difficult task for the shepherd, but there is a reason these Psalms are included in the sufficient Word of God. As we read the Psalms, may our hearts be softened, His people strengthened, and God exalted as supreme.
To learn more about glorifying God in trying times, see our free guide: Suffer Well.
[Editor's note: This post was originally posted in May, 2018 and has been updated.]