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“Lament is not a display of weakness. It is a display of courageous trust and humility as we acknowledge our neediness to our all-sufficient heavenly Father.”
Lament is a healthy practice that has lost its place in modern culture. We have learned to suffer in silence isolating ourselves from help and comfort which, we often don't realize, is a goal of Satan's. Many of us find ourselves in seasons of aching from the inside out. Being exposed to trauma, loss, illness, injustice, addiction, temptations and the like hits us like a dagger doing unknowable damage to various degrees; and we try to quietly bury it. When your body is scathed, the wound can tear down your body’s ability to function. If you are taken to the hospital, medical staff will clean the wound and maybe even perform surgery to remove debris before sewing and bandaging it up, saving your body from further damage. From here, your body can begin to heal properly. When our soul is wounded, we need a proverbial cleansing and/or surgery to allow our soul to heal. God has designed this healing to begin with lament, the avenue of pouring out our spiritual anxieties from our soul into the hands of God.
We often don’t want to talk about our hurts or wrongdoings for various reasons. The pain may be too much to revisit or we may feel ashamed or fear being judged. Life seems to tell us it is the survival of the fittest, so we try to stuff ourselves into armor that either doesn't fit or creates a concrete wall around our hearts. This all leads us to keep our hurts, wrongs, and anxieties to ourselves allowing them to fester alone. What we need is a safe place to honestly talk about what hurts to someone who loves us completely and will not shame us or give us unwise counsel. This is what lament to God offers - a safe place to let out our hurts, wrongs, and anxieties into hands that heal.
It is Healthy and Godly to Lament
If you are a Christian, Christian culture has likely taught you - whether intentionally or accidentally - that there should always be a sunny side to suffering, that we should always see a silver lining. We say things like, “God is good,” or “God is at work,” but rarely allow ourselves to fully acknowledge our pain and confusion. Pastor Scott has called this, “sanctified denial”. It is absolutely true that God is always good and working, but we still hurt, we still sit confused, and the truth that we rarely hear is that, not only is it is okay to feel and express those things but it is healthy and godly to do so. When we are hurting, our first need is not to drum up a prayer listing all of God’s attributes, name all our blessings, thank Him for the work we have faith He is doing, try to "feel better," or admit that others are experiencing suffering more intense than ours. These are righteous prayers if coming from a sincere heart and they may naturally come after we’ve expressed our genuine pain and confusion to God.
Sometimes life just hurts, and we need to put away the suffering measuring stick and open ourselves up to God in a safe place to express our pain, anger, remorse, and confusion. This is the heart of biblical lament, the healthy and appropriate response to the suffering we experience. It is absolutely appropriate to draw attention to the things that are wrong in our lives and in the world and ask God to do something about it. When we turn to God, laying our concerns before Him and asking Him to take action, we will see God’s Spirit move. God always hears the cries of his children and He always responds by either changing our circumstances, changing our perspective, or comforting us in the midst. When He responds to our lack we are not only relieved but changed. This results in genuine worship of God. From here, being a witness to His majesty, goodness, mercy, and power brings sincere praise and rejoicing.
Hearty Praise Comes From Godly Lament
Praise is a celebration of who God is and what He has done. Praise is also an opportunity to share your faith and hope with other sufferers in the throes of trial. But we cannot skip over lament and go straight to praise, or our praise will be shallow, forced and insincere. Even jumping past lament to remember God's promises can be skipping healthy communion. If we continually jump to praise in the midst of suffering, we end up forfeiting a grace from God which can result in a root of bitterness that grows in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). Biblical faith doesn’t always mean having a song of praise on your tongue. Sometimes it is a song of lament, through which praise will ultimately come. Biblical faith acknowledges the evil in the world, returns to the Father for help and trusts His goodness. Biblical faith is also always forward-looking to heaven where everything sad will one day come untrue.
Lament is for Relationship
Godly lament can look different for each person and different for the same person in different stages of life. I have been through many seasons of lament in my walk with Christ. As a new believer, I wanted all the answers anyone could give me. I would lament to the Lord my need for answers and my desire for the pain to stop. Over the years I have learned that God is not interested so much in giving us answers to things that we don’t have the capacity to understand. Rather, he desires nearness. In my most recent season of lament, I was not searching for answers. I was not seeking to be made to feel better about my situation. I simply and honestly, from the scorching dregs of my soul, made my heart known to my heavenly Father and invited any who could stomach it to join me in my low position - an invitation to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15-16).
If you are currently grieving, you may desire answers and the people around you may want to come up with answers to try and help you feel better. But, friend, learning comes along the messy road. What you need most right now is to open your stricken soul to God. Cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). It is true that God already knows all - He knows our suffering better than we do. But God wants to hear from you. He wants to hear the way you express what is going on. He wants to hear your interpretation of what is happening. He wants to walk with you through it. He wants you to talk to Him! He wants you to talk to Him for your good, for His glory, and the strengthening of your relationship with Him. That is what the practice of lament is for.
Lament or Complaining?
So how can we tell if we are lamenting or complaining? It is actually pretty simple: complaining is talking about God (accusations that He isn't good or He hasn't provided you with what you need or deserve) whereas lament is honestly talking with God in firm hope and confidence that He hears, cares, and will take action. Ann Voskamp puts it this way, "Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father's heart."
Lament is not a pity party. It is not wallowing or succumbing to a situation or its consequences. Lament is not lashing out or venting. Lamenting is a form of worship that acknowledges that this world is bigger, stronger, and scarier than we can handle, while simultaneously acknowledging that God Almighty is bigger, better, and stronger than it all. Lament acknowledges that God is our Father who dearly loves his children and who wants to help us expel our festering wounds in order to fill us up with His healing love. Lament is not a display of weakness. It is a display of courageous trust and humility as we acknowledge our neediness to our all-sufficient heavenly Father.
Maintenance Lament and Acute Lament
Lament is a necessary pouring out as we are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-11), daily filling up with different experiences of which we can only hold so much of before we spill over. A season of lament is an acute mass pouring out in the midst of, or following, trauma, loss, or disaster. Daily lament is maintenance for our hearts as we recognize our daily feelings or wrongdoings. When we experience different kinds of stimuli our bodies and souls take it in, resulting in some measure of an emotional response. If there isn't a regular pouring out of the daily stressors we experience, they can, at best, give way to low-level anxiety or, at worst, result in depression and deregulation. Lament is for our health and there is no hurt in this broken world too small to lament over.
Furthermore, there is no sin too small to lament over. Martin Luther said, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." He is saying that we sin daily therefore if we are growing in faith, we are repenting daily. And repentance is not genuine without some level of lament over our sin. When we practice daily maintenance lament, we are daily acknowledging that God hears us, loves us still, and has the power to right those wrongs, helping us to turn from doing more wrongdoing (we'll talk more about this in part 3).
Lament is an Act of Belief
We are often afraid of lament because we don’t want to seem faithless. We want to be strong. We want to be people who never doubt ourselves or God. The scary reality is, when we harden our hearts to lament, we harden our hearts to God. It is either an act of unbelief that God can’t work in our weakness or an act of pride, thinking we are strong enough to deal with our suffering or sin on our own. Lament is an act of humility admitting that we cannot do life on our own. Lament is an act of submission to God's power and works. Lament is a raw act of dependence and belief that no matter the situation, God is the only One who can make it truly right. Lament is an act of belief that draws you to take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings until the disaster has passed (Psalm 57:1c). Lament is an honorable and necessary practice that keeps our soul healthy while deepening our relationship with our God.
Some of us may find it hard to give ourselves up to lament because we are afraid of sinning but it is absolutely possible to express the fullness of your anguish and still be trusting fully in God. We will talk more about this next week in Part Two: Deep Faith in Deep Darkness.
Jennifer is a member of Cornerstone WLA and serves in the Counseling Ministry.
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