Praying Psalms of Lament (Psalm 13)

Praying Psalms of Lament (Psalm 13)

A year and a half ago my wife and I were struggling with health trials.  So I wrote out my thoughts like a prayer to God. I’m going to read you a portion of my raw and unfiltered prayer from 20 months ago.

“Lord, you know my heart and my weaknesses.  I am sick and tired of this trial.  I am losing heart.  I want relief and rest and comfort.  But where is it?  Where is my rest?  You’re not delivering me from this.  Do you care?  Are you near?  Have you forgotten me?  Why won’t you take this away…?  My heart is full of sorrow—no, I’m brokenhearted for this mess we’re in.” 

My attitude towards God and my words to him were not pretty.  They were raw.  Unsanitized.  They were not orthodox theology.  I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and angry.  And I realized much of my anger was directed towards God.  I was questioning God’s goodness.  His love and care for me.  After all, if he really is good, why won’t he take this trial away from us?

If you had sat down with me then and heard my thoughts, you might have been alarmed.  Perhaps you would have said, “Brad, you should never say such things.  Those are not true.  And you should know better since you’re a pastor.”

I get that.  I knew what I wrote down was not good theology.  I knew it was not actually true about God.  But it certainly FELT true.

And I want to argue this morning that God actually gives us permission to speak such things to him. 

We are in Week 6 of a 10-week series on prayer.  Specifically, our focus for this series is learning to pray from the Bible.

What I mean is that we would learn how to use the words of the Bible to teach us HOW and WHAT to pray.  I don’t mean that we have to precisely quote certain words in order to be heard by God.  I simply mean letting the truth of God’s eternal word, the Bible, show us HOW to pray.  HOW to we speak to God honestly yet honorably.  With what attitudes should we address him.

And that we learn to let the Bible teach us WHAT to pray.  What things should we ask God for?  What should we say to thank and praise him?

In the middle of this sermon series, we are focusing on the Book of Psalms.  Learning HOW and WHAT to pray from the Psalms.  And specifically this morning, we will look at what are called, “Psalms of Lament.”

What is a LAMENT?  To lament means to outwardly and visibly express sorrow or mourning or regret.  It can even mean to wail!!!   To cry.  To yell.  Even Jesus Christ lamented!

Hebrews 5:7 NIV  “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears…”

Let this sink in.  Picture Jesus out alone with His Father offering up LOUD CRIES and TEARS.   The perfect Son of God, wailing, lamenting, crying.  This astonishes me.

Here’s an important point I don’t want you to miss:  BIBLICAL lamenting is far more than the grumbling and complaining we can do so readily.  In my flesh, I’m rather good at whining. 

Rather, biblical lamenting is learning to take our pain and our complaints TO GOD….And the ultimate goal is to trust him more…even if the pain remains.

We could say that godly lamenting is to move from “Grief to Belief.”

You may ask, “In what circumstances do I need to lament to God?”  Well, there is not a finite list, but we can lament…

  • Broken relationships
  • Divorce
  • Death
  • Being laid off work
  • Disease
  • Sadness
  • Chronic pain
  • Wayward children
  • Abuse
  • Sins against us
  • In general, the darkness in this world

And not only major trials, we can lament many small things.  In many circumstances of life, we can feel sorrow, sadness, anger and aloneness.  And we may ask, “Can I really talk to God about this?”  I believe the Scriptures tell us not only CAN we talk to God about it, we MUST talk to him.  If the Lord Jesus lamented, so must we.

So how do we learn to do lament? 

We learn from the Psalms.

In dozens of the Psalms, the psalmists express in prayer a wide range of emotions:  Fears.  Anxiety.  Anger over injustices.  Aloneness, wondering where God is.  Feeling defeated.  Confused.  Disoriented.

My POINT is not to let you know that you have frustrations and anger and fear and disorientation.  You KNOW THAT already.  My point is that we need to learn to run to God with all the emotion that is brewing inside us.

So again, our goal this morning is to let the Psalms themselves show us HOW and WHAT to lament to God.

Psalm 13

I can explain this best by reading a Psalm.  Let’s read Psalm 13.  King David of Israel wrote this.  If we are ever to find someone in biblical history who had a rich, intimate walk with God, it’s David.

Psalm 13 (CSB)

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?

3 Consider me and answer, Lord my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death.

4 My enemy will say, “I have triumphed over him,” and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5 But I have trusted in your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.

6 I will sing to the Lord because he has treated me generously.

Re-read David’s words in vs. 1:  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?

David is, in a way, accusing God of abandoning him.  It’s like saying, “Lord, you simply don’t care.  You’ve forgotten me.  How could you do that?”  David’s words are bold and rash.  These are words that sound immensely disrespectful, borderline blasphemous.  This morning, I want us to wrestle over this.  Pain we can experience can be untamed and vicious.  It can be like a wild tiger that escaped from its cage.  If you have never experienced a time like this, I don’t mean to be a gloomy pessimist, but you will someday.  Life in this world….cursed since Genesis 3…will at some point bring us such pain.

So, we must learn from the Scriptures how to give voice to our pain as we talk to God.    

And this is important:  If we do not learn how to speak to God about our pain, we will end up suffering even more than we already are.  And our pain will end up pushing us away from God, and it will eat us up like that wild tiger.

Four Elements of Psalms of Lament

 I have studied them and prayed through Psalms of Lament for many years.  And one author of a book I read on lamenting did research on the Psalms of Lament and the Book of Lamentations.

From all that, one way I’ve discovered we can look at these Psalms is that the psalmists typically pray through a framework of thought. 

This framework is not a formula.  And if you know me, you know I like formulas.  I was an engineer for 15 years, and I like formulas.  I like neat, organized, clinical answers.

Lamenting to God is not like that.  It can get messy.  Yet we discover a pattern of sorts in the Psalms of Lament..

There are four common elements to many of these Psalms. 

The first element in a godly lament is that we…  

Turn to God

Address God as you come to him in prayer.  This is sometimes combined with complaint.  David prays to the Lord in vs. 1, “How long, Lord?”  This sounds so obvious, but I need to say it.  We can be quick to grumble in our hearts or complain to a friend.  But the key here is to take those heartaches and sorrows and complaints directly to God in prayer.   Please know I am NOT saying we shouldn’t talk to other people about our pain.  That is good and important.

But we must not neglect talking to God about our pain.  For who is greater than He?  Who is wiser?  Who is the best Counselor you will ever talk to?  Who has more power than the Lord?  Who loves you more than He, for remember, He sent his Son to die for you?

What we see from David and other psalmists is that they acknowledge by faith that God is real and that he hears us.  So the simple and obvious step of lamenting directly God…. needs to be a reality. 

Bring Your Complaint

After we turn to God, we move to a second element of lamenting:  COMPLAIN.  Yes, we really can complain.  But we do it towards the Lord.

Identify in blunt language the specific pain or injustice, and we tell God about it. Why or how is often part of the complaint.

Again, look at David’s words recorded in the Scriptures:

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?

We read this, and if we have any fear of God…if we regard God as holy, powerful, and eternal, we are shocked by David’s bluntness.  His words seem rude.  Arrogant.  Demanding.  One author said that David’s words aren’t very orthodox.  His words taken by themselves are not true.  Surely God has not forgotten him.  Certainly God is not unjust or uncaring.  Surely God is not powerless.

So this seems shocking that God actually encourages such language.   But a good lament begins this way because this is honesty.  This expresses what we feel at times… though we may hesitate to admit it.

Laments like Psalm 13 are in the Bible for a reason.  It is to instruct us and help us know HOW to talk to God about real pain.  Deep heartache.  True sorrow.

Now, let me be clear:  We don’t want to stop here with our complaints.  There is more.  But we must start here.

I already read to you the COMPLAINT I wrote out in my own Psalm of Lament.  “Where is my rest?  You’re not delivering me from this.  Do you care?  Are you near?  Have you forgotten me?”  It wasn’t pretty.  But it was heartfelt as I poured out my heart to the Lord. 

So first, we TURN TO GOD.

Second, we COMPLAIN TO GOD.

Then we move to a third element in lamenting:  ASK. 

Ask Boldly

Specifically call upon God to act in a manner that fits his character and that resolves our complaint.

Look at verse 3.  By faith David boldly asks God for help. 

3 Consider me and answer, Lord my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death.

David expresses a measure of faith in God by asking Him for something important.  Something heartfelt.  Something necessary.  He boldly asks the Lord to hear his prayer and answer him.  To restore “brightness to his eyes.”  Joy to his heart.  And then he essentially says,  “If the Lord doesn’t help me, I simply don’t see how I can survive.”  David feels that the pressures and the trials may simply crush him and even kill him.

We may be tempted this morning to roll our eyes at David.  “Seriously, David, you’re being dramatic.  ‘I will sleep in death?’  That’s over-reacting.”  But if we have ever endured times of intense pain and sorrow, we will say, “Yeah, I get it, David.  I understand.” 

From my own lament 20 months ago, here is what I wrote in this element called, “Ask Boldly.”

“O Lord, I need strength.  I can’t do this alone.  Be gracious to me.  Help me not to lose heart.  This burden seems too great for me;  would you carry it for me…or with me?  Help me to know you care.  Help me trust that you are good and that my life is not spinning wildly out of control…at least not wildly out of your control.  Help me fix my eyes, not on what is seen and very temporary, but what is unseen and eternal.  Help me to see you for who you really are, and to trust you… And Lord, please be merciful and forgive me when I sin by complaining and grumbling.”

I wrote more, but you get the idea.  I asked God boldly for help in my pain. 

Because remember, our laments are not simply to whine and complain, and get something off our chests.  No, in biblical lamenting, we are desperately searching for answers.  We are thirsting for God.  Somewhere deep down in our pain and confusion, we know we need the Lord.  We might barely be able to speak, but we know we need him.

And so we ASK BOLDLY. 

And then this moves us to a fourth element that we commonly see in the Psalms of Lament:  TRUST. 

Choose to Trust

We remember the Lord.  We reflect on his attributes and his deeds.  And then we affirm his worthiness to be trusted, and we commit to praise him.

Now look at the last two verses by David in Psalm 13:

5 But I have trusted in your faithful love [lovingkindness]; my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.

6 I will sing to the Lord because he has treated me generously.

This is the end goal in our laments to God:  to trust him even in our sorrow.  To believe that he is good and powerful even while we are still in the midst of our pain.  To give thanks to God for who he is even if we don’t have all our questions answered.  The goal is not necessarily to have the trial end, though we can certainly ask for that.

The Lord Jesus in the Garden just hours before his crucifixion “asked boldly,” “Father, if possible, take this cup of suffering from me.”  He is asking, “Father, this pain is too intense.  If it’s possible, take it away.”

But the beautiful end to that prayer is this fourth element:  trust.  He trusted in the Father.  He concluded, “Yet, Father, not my will but your will be done.”   In his agonizing lament—a lament deeper than any of us will ever know— Jesus entrusted himself to his loving, powerful, gracious Father in heaven.

Here is what I wrote in my own psalm of lament 20 months ago about my desire to TRUST God in the midst of my pain.

“My hope is in you, gracious Father.  You loved me enough to send your Son and forsake him, and then to raise him from the dead so that I might be adopted into your glorious family and to inherit the kingdom of God.  What hope I have in you! Thank you that you are an attentive Father who trains me for my good and with your tender care, because I am your adopted son whom you love.  And thank you, Lord Jesus, that when I am weary and burdened, you invite me to draw near to you and find rest.  For your yoke is easy and your burden is light.”

In my feeble but heartfelt way, I was seeking to TRUST God in my angst.

So to review, we find four common elements in the Psalms of Lament:  We TURN to God.  We COMPLAIN.  We ASK boldly. And we move towards TRUST.

But let me be clear again:  these four elements are not a formula.  This is not a quick solution to our pain and our troubles.  But here we see a pattern that God himself has given to us and for us.  And in extremely difficult moments, we may not get to this fourth element of TRUST quickly or easily.  We may spend days lamenting and crying out.

Real life can get very messy.    And lamenting is often not a one-time-fixes-all process, like writing out a short, 6-verse lament like Psalm 13, and everything is good and easy now.

But still, we see patterns like this that God has given to us to grow in our trust in him even in the midst of dark days. 

Remember, the goal of lamenting is to move from Grief to Belief.

When we do, does the trial change?  Maybe not.

But WE change.  Our hearts are transformed.  Our minds are calmed.  Why?  Because the Lord ministers to us through the wisdom of his Word and the power of his Spirit. 

If you would like a jumpstart on learning from the Psalms of Lament, here are a handful of them.

Psalm 10, 13, 28, 42, 43, 55, 86, 142.

And there are dozens more.  And some psalms contain elements of a lament, even if the overall focus of that psalm is much broader.

When we read these Psalms, we find the psalmists wrestling between their pain and their knowledge of God.   In their heads, they know who God is.  They know his attributes.  But in their trials, the circumstances and the emotions seem to deny such things. 

Knowing God Better

So laments like Psalm 13 are possible only if we are growing in believing and understanding who God really is.  

Growing in our confidence of key attributes of God, such as:

  1. He is Sovereign.

That God is sovereign means that he rules over all things, and nothing happens apart from his rule.  We have to know this in deeper and richer ways.

2. He is Good.

We must know and believe he is good and loving. He is kind and caring, not rough and mean.  Not sadistic and cruel. 

3. He is Wise.

We must know and believe he is indescribably wise.  He knows us inside and out, better than we know ourselves. 

So we strive to know God in deeper ways and understand Him in his fullness.

Application

Let me offer two application points for us to live out.

  1. Read the Psalms regularly. 

All of them.  Let them aid you in learning HOW and WHAT to pray. 

You may need deliverance.  Rescue, like Jerry Gong taught so well last week.  Or you may need to lament in your pain.  And you may want to learn HOW and WHAT to praise God for and give him thanks.  (That is next week’s topic, taught by Dave Lennander.). You may want to learn how to express your frustration and anger towards injustices in this world.  (I will teach on that in 2 weeks.)

So read the Psalms regularly.

I know some people read up to 5 a day.  Since there are 150 Psalms and roughly 30 days each month, they split the Psalms into 5 groups of 30:  1-30, 31-60, 61-90, and so on, and read one Psalm from each group.  So on the given date of the month, they read the Psalms that connects to that date.  For example, today is the 16th.  So they will read Psalm 16.  And then keep adding 30 to that, so Psalm 46.  Then add 30 to that, so Psalm 76, 106, and 136. 

2. Talk to God regularly about your pain.

Though we certainly need people to talk to when we are experiencing pain and sorrow—I don’t want to diminish that— we also must learn to talk to God about it.

Isaiah 9:6 describes the Lord as “Wonderful Counselor.”  You will never find a better Counselor.  A wiser Advisor.  A more powerful Helper.  A more beautiful Guide and Lord. 

So read Psalms of Lament.  Read them and try to take those words and make them your own.

And you might even consider writing your own Psalm of Lament.  When you do, at first your mind may be a jumble of conflicting emotions and dark thoughts.  

Perhaps your first step could be to occasionally interrupt those thoughts by opening to the psalms and reading.  You may find some vocabulary that sounds a little like your pain.  But if you don’t find help today, go back to the Psalms tomorrow.  And go back the day after that.  Find a way to speak some of those dark and confused thoughts to the Lord.  He is honored to hear what is on your heart.

If you want to try writing your own Psalm of Lament, on our website I have posted a link to a worksheet.  Feel free to make a copy of that, and write out your own Lament.  Find it at www.stonebrook.org   Go to the Resources tab.  Then click on Recommended Resources

Over time and with practice, we can learn to imitate Jesus, the Man of Sorrows.  He knew how to seek after his heavenly Father in worship, lament, prayer, and thanksgiving.

I appreciate this passage:

Luke 5:15–16 CSB But the news about him [Jesus] spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

We might say we’re too busy to do that.  But Jesus was carrying the weight and the needs of the entire world.  Yet he often withdrew to deserted, quiet places for prayer.   Isaiah the prophet described him in Isaiah 53 as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

May we go to Jesus who understands us more than we know.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with this.

Grief and pain can be untamed and vicious.  So we must learn how to give voice to our pain.  The Scriptures teach us how to voice it to God. 

We want to remember that lamenting leads us back to the gospel. 

We remember the pain and suffering caused by sin. 

We realize our frailty. 

We believe in Christ’s restorative work on the Cross. 

We remember that Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, can sympathize with us. 

We are reminded of his great love and mercy.

We believe his Spirit now dwells within the heart of the believer.

And importantly, we remember the promise that someday soon in the resurrected world, all things will be restored to a glorious wholeness.

This is the hope that sustains us.

Let’s pray:

Dear Father in heaven,  You and your Son understand pain.  You sympathize with us.  And you love us tenderly. We yearn for the day when all pain and sorrow and tears will be gone.  But until then, would you help us learn how we can and must talk to you in our pain?  Help us not to remain silent.  Help us not to sinfully grumble.  Help us learn the vocabulary of lamenting, and to move from Pain to Peace.  And from Grief to Belief.  Thank you for being so good to us, best proven by the love you have shown through the death and resurrection of your Son, through whom we will by faith someday soon experience everlasting joy and glory.