Encouragement From The Word

April Showers: Thinking About Lament

“April showers bring May flowers.”  That’s not in the Bible, but it could be, except that it doesn’t apply to folks in the southern hemisphere.  (So if you’re reading this from the southern hemisphere, add six months and read it later!)

It’s an idiom that we northerners use to try to add a little hope to what can often be a dreary month.  We understand that we need the rain in order to bring about the verdancy that comes with late spring, just as we need the sunshine.  I suppose some might appreciate a compromise where it rained only at night (when it doesn’t much matter) and the sun shone through the day, but weather systems are not always that cooperative.

If we’re honest, though, we are a spoiled people:  we want what we want when we want it.  And when we don’t get what we want when we want it, we sometimes tend to think that life isn’t fair.

But I don’t remember reading anywhere that life is supposed to be fair.

This is underlined for us when we experience inconvenience, yes, but even more so when we experience tragedy.

Perhaps a loved one dies unexpectedly, or a pink slip arrives, or sickness befalls us.

Some – even some followers of Jesus – would say that we need to cheer up, and “just praise the Lord.”

While it’s good to praise the Lord, and to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.18), we should not prevent ourselves from the practice of lament.

To lament means to feel sad, and sometimes, even mad.  And in the Bible, we see examples of both – and they are directed at God.

It’s common for Christians to think there’s something wrong with expressing anything but joy to the Lord, but Scripture demonstrates that it’s not wrong to lament before God, too.

There are some very raw laments; Psalm 137 comes to mind.  And there are others that simply express before God exactly what the writer (usually on behalf of God’s people) is feeling.  Psalm 130 is a gentle one.  Psalm 6 is more blatant.

Take some time to look up “Psalms of lament” and ponder what the Bible tells you in terms of the freedom you have to share your “rainy days” with the Lord.  Listen for how God responds as you offer these passages to him.  

And give thanks that God can handle anything you say.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind” (Psalm 38.9-10, NLT)

Encouragement From The Word

Remembering to lament

Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying.  Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow.  Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.

And we have a problem:  our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.

Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up.  But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.

As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ.  Not exactly a top 40 hit. 

But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.

So do the Scriptures.

Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments.  We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.

Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.”  But there are many other examples in Scripture.  Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.

When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort.  Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.

But for now, consider Psalm 38.  Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do.  Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me.  Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.

O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your rage!
Your arrows have struck deep,
    and your blows are crushing me.
Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
    my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
    it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
    because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
    or rejoice at my downfall.”

17 I am on the verge of collapse,
    facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
    I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
    they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
    and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
    Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
    O Lord my savior.  (NLT)

When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart.  You can do the same as you read it.  And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you.  He came to help David, and he has come to help me.

Biblical Messages

Jesus Wept

On Palm Sunday, we tend to pay a lot of attention to the story of the Triumphal Entry (the version we read was in Luke 19.28-40), but not to the part that immediately follows it.  In Luke 19.41-44, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, and he teaches us the value of lament.

In today’s message, we look at lament: how we can lament our current situation before God, and the sense in which we are facing judgment in our current circumstance.  We consider an example of lament from Psalm 42.

The message begins at 11:02.  Watch the whole gathering, or just the message if you prefer.  But if you only watch the message, watch the WHOLE message!

The Lord be with us in these challenging days!

Biblical Messages, Uncategorized

Songs in the Key of Life: 2. How Long?

No, this isn’t a sermon about sermon length…it’s about the cry of God’s people.  Lament is not a popular subject in the church, but it is part of the stuff of life.  Today, we looked at community lament from the perspective of Asaph, the writer of Psalm 79.  Listen here:

At the end of the message, I showed this video.