/ Andrew Kerr

Why All The Grief - The Practical Use of Laments

This little piece is just me thinking out loud - with time at a premium this week, I'm going to leave you to do some of the work yourself, and fill in Psalter references that I've left blank (some or most of which I probably have in mind). I'm sure there are some other uses of the heartache lyrics of the Psalmist that we could all add to this list. Any correctives or suggestions will be most gratefully received.

1. Laments Regulate Grief

It is dishonoring to God, and harmful to our witness, to grieve in a way that is not befitting of saints but more akin to those who have no hope. Psalms enable us to weep, mourn, and pour out our hearts to God in a manner that is not wild, hysterical or unbridled but dignified, restrained and regulated by grace and truth.

2. Laments Reorientate Saints

It has long been recognized by Psalter students that one of the chief uses of lament is to allow the writer to pray through difficulty, distress and disorientation – the goal or result is renewed, refreshed, and recaptured perspective. Having regained his bearings in God, assured that he has been heard, and that its pleas will be answered, once more the soul is ready to face the world in fellowship with the LORD.

3. Laments Distract Believers

There are times when the pressures and stresses of everyday life, or living as disciples of Christ, is so great and intense, that we need to lift our gaze, momentarily, to view higher and holier things. It is not only laments that help us refocus and bring fresh, more-hopeful, perspective to the humdrum or pain of life in a fallen world: by setting our minds on glorious prospects, former works, mighty acts or great institutions of Yahweh, the heart is cheered and pain is dulled – this is flight of realism is far-to-be preferred to entertainment, activity or sports.

4. Laments Moderate Anger

We can bring our stress, complaint and indictment to the Judge of all earth and be sure He will do right. Before His august, righteous, throne, we are humbled and enabled to peer into our own heart. As we bring our case to the Lord, we start to question self, to see if we are at fault (or how and where), so that we might be more careful in crying out against a saint or uttering imprecation hastily against an enemy – instead of vengeance, laments move us to repentance.

5. Laments Counsel Self

We are able to pray through a lament to scrutinize our own conduct in the light of the Word of Christ who comes by His Spirit to diagnose our case and heal our wounds. We are able to ponder why it is we are downcast, and then to turn our eyes to God, in whom is help and hope. We leave the psych-consult of the Psalmist by going into the world, reassured God knows, unburdening ourselves, and confidently reaffirming that Yahweh cares and aids.

6. Laments Bring Petitions

The laments of the Psalmists usually commence with a cry from the heart to God to take notice, see, hear, incline and help. They help to breed reverence in our hearts, and then to attach reasons to our prayers to lend them more weight. They dwell on God’s glory, character, faithfulness and attributes. These are prayers which God delights to hear. Sadly, too often, our petitions are haphazard, ill-considered, and unstructured.

7. Laments Release Stress

The psalmist reminds us that it is often not wise, very unhelpful and potential harmful to bottle up grief or complaint – uttering these complaints is better than conventional ventilation or unbridled rage. Our heart is laid bare before One we know we can trust. Psalms catalogue tears and weep out our scroll of grief, as Hezekiah depicts and John Owen recommends. Bitterness is brutish and only injures self, so cast your care on Christ!

8. Laments Provide Answers

The characteristic of laments is to move from the cry of the plaintiff, to a description of the case, to a cause or source of the grief (often hostile assault, depth of affliction, or divine chastening), followed by an assertion of trust and confidence in the character of God who is sure, on the basis of justice and grace, to match our plea with mercy. In prospect of a result, a vow is made, which must be performed when relief is received.

9. Laments Aid Confession

There are a number of Psalms where the author concedes his sin, folly, error or guilt - there is an unpacking of the depth of wickedness, the specifics of the crime, and what iniquity deserves, with wholehearted vindication of God. The mercy and character of Yahweh is held out as the font of pardon and forgiveness, which is multiplied and abundant. This frequently terminates with an assurance of acceptance and commitment to teach others in the truth.

10. Laments Foreshadow Messiah

There are numerous Psalms were the suffering of the King, or of individual Israelites, is so great and specific, or depictions are so vivid, and mirrored in the Gospels, that it is clearly intended, in the original or later Psalter context, to be typical or directly-prophetic of the coming Son of David or Christ. Nowhere in the whole of the Bible are we given clearer insights into the horror of His mediatorial suffering for sin than here.

11. Laments Reveal Jesus

As we sing through laments, and are mindful of Messiah’s sufferings and following glories (as Jesus explained near Emmaus), the Spirit teaches us, that in praying through our own griefs, that what seemed like random events were heaven-sent trials to conform us to Christ as we commune with our Head. As His sufferings spill over into our lives, we come to sense, in a miniscule way, a tiny hint of His vast agony for us.

Andrew Kerr

Andrew Kerr

Pastor of Ridgefield Park NJ (NYC Metro Area) - Husband of Hazel, Dad to Rebekah, Paul & Andrew, Father-in-Law to Matt, Loves Skiing, Dog Walking. Passionate for Old Testament - in Deep Need of Grace

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