A. Back in May, during our series about hope, I opened a sermon with a story that I want to use again today as our launching point.
1. One afternoon, a man came home from work to find two young girls from the neighborhood on the steps of his building.
2. Both girls were crying very loudly, and were shedding big tears.
3. Thinking they might be hurt, the man put down his briefcase and quickly went over to them, asking, “Are you all right?”.
4. Still sobbing, one girl held up her doll and said, “My baby doll’s arm came off.”
5. The man took the doll and its dismembered arm, and after a little effort had the doll put back together again.
6. “Thank you,” came a whimper from the girl.
7. Then turning to the other little girl, the man asked, “And what’s the matter with you, young lady?”
8. The second little girl wiped her cheeks and said to the man, “Oh, nothing is the matter with me, I was just helping her cry!”
B. Learning to lament the brokenness and losses in our lives is one of the most helpful and healthy things we can do for ourselves and for others.
1. And learning how to come alongside others and lament with them, like the little girl who was “just helping her friend cry,” is part of the spiritual development that I hope all of us will experience.
2. Learning to live with lament helps us to experience the love of God and the love of others.
3. When the body of Christ is healthy and strong, then the life in Christ we share together includes: “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), and “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
C. Today’s sermon is the last in our series on grief, and I hope you have been learning a lot about how to lament and the benefits that come from the process of lament.
1. I hope that we all have come to understand how lament enables us to receive God’s mercy in the midst of dark clouds.
2. As we turn to God in prayer, and lay out our messy struggles, we can receive the help we need from our grace-giving God.
3. In our series so far, we have spent time learning how to lament and learning from lament, but today I want us to focus on learning to live with lament.
4. I want to encourage us to learn to practice lament in more ways than we might normally think of lament.
5. Growing in lament is connected to our personal spiritual growth and our view of God.
6. Esther Fleece says in her book No More Faking Fine, “Spiritual maturity does not mean living a lament-less life; rather, it means we grow into becoming good lamenters and thus grow in our need for God.”
D. So today, before we engage in some practical applications of lament, I want to share Mark Vroegop’s reasons why lament should be our prayer when grief of any kind becomes a part of our lives – this is a good review of what we have learned through this sermon series.
1. First, lament is a language for loss – lament provides a biblical vocabulary and a model for talking to God about our pain and helping those who are walking through suffering.
2. Second, lament is the solution for silence – unfortunately, far too many people either are afraid to talk with God about their suffering, or refuse to talk with God.
a. Whether their silence is the result of shame, a fear of rejection, other anxiety, or a concern of being irreverent, their suffering leads to silence and being cut off from God.
b. Lament moves us from silence to communication.
3. Third, lament is a category for expressing our complaints – lament helps us see that complaining to God is not necessarily sinful.
a. For hurting people, knowing that it is okay to express these kinds of things to God can be so freeing and life-giving.
4. Fourth, lament is a framework for feelings – lament is more than the sinful spewing of every emotion and thought, but is a God-centered structure to keep us from falling into the trap of self-centeredness and getting stuck in the mud of negativity.
5. Fifth, lament is a process for our pain – it is more than a biblical version of the stages of grief.
a. Lament invites God’s people on a journey of turning to God and trusting in God.
b. Lament is more than something that comes out of us; rather, it is part of the process happening in us.
6. Finally, lament is a way to worship – when we turn to God, pour out our pain, our questions, and disappointments, when we ask for His mercy and help, and when we express our trust in Him through praise and thanksgiving, then we find ourselves drawn to God and connected to God in worship.
E. As we think about practical applications for lament, one of the obvious and primary applications for lament comes when people experience the death of loved ones.
1. At the time of those kinds of losses, people are experiencing life-altering tragedies and gut-wrenching grief.
2. As we come along side people in these kinds of times, what they often need most from us is empathy.
3. Nicolas Woltersorff, in his book, Lament for a Son, said it this way: “What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”
4. When we come alongside those in great grief, let’s come in close and listen – let them share what is on their hearts without judgment or correction.
5. And when we pray with them prayers of lament, let’s try to vocalize their pain so they sense that we empathize.
a. Our grief-filled, candid, and messy prayer to God on their behalf can be so meaningful and refreshing for them.
b. When we lament with them it brings comfort because we come in close and refuse to pretend that “everything’s fine.”
F. I want to discourage us from thinking of lament as something to be reserved only for the times of big loss or crisis; rather, I want to encourage us to employ it in our everyday lives filled with less intense situations.
1. We can use the spiritual reorientation of turning and complaining, asking and trusting for the “everyday” griefs of life.
2. The possible “normal” or “everyday” kind of losses or predicaments could include things like: when a friend misunderstands you, a child’s behavior is embarrassing, your family finances are inadequate, or a cold or headache has knocked you down – can you see how lament could redirect your heart in the face of those kinds of things?
3. When conflict in your marriage is discouraging, or the invitation to the party doesn’t come, or your baby won’t sleep through the night, or an experience in our church is disappointing, then we can let lament do its work in these ordinary kinds of grief.
4. When we practice lament in the more common frustrations and less severe sorrows it not only brings comfort, but it also helps us develop a fluency in the language of loss.
5. If we will put lament into practice with all the pains of life, then we will discover the grace God intends to supply through lament.
6. And so, regardless of what it is that is causing us sorrow, let’s keep lamenting.
a. Let’s keep turning to God in prayer.
b. Let’s keep complaining, asking and trusting.
7. Then, just like working a muscle trains it to carry greater weight, the spiritual exercise of lament in everyday things prepares us for facing future hardship of the greatest kinds.
G. Ultimately, regardless of the source of the pain, lament is always our God-given path through grief.
1. Lament is a means of grace, no matter what trial we are facing.
2. This biblical song of sorrow can be a personal pathway toward mercy when darkness has settled in.
3. In the end, if we keep leaning into lament; then, as we have been learning, God enables us to “keep trusting the One who keeps us trusting.”
H. To conclude and complete our series about learning to lament, I want to end by putting lamenting into practice.
1. I have written two laments that I want to lead us in offering up to God.
2. One is “A Lament for Our Families” and the other is “A Lament for Our Nation.”
3. After I offer up the first, we sing a song, and then I will offer up the second lament, followed by another song.
I. “A Lament for our Families”
Oh, Lord, hear our cry. Do not be far away, but come close and listen.
Oh, Lord, our hearts are broken, as we know your heart must be broken as well. Our hearts are broken over the state of families and the state of family in general. Your perfect creation of man and woman in marriage is so diluted and destroyed. Your perfect plan for marriage and family has been torn and twisted.
We mourn over the demise of life-long biblical marriage and the legalization of same sex marriage.
We mourn over the rise of divorce and living together relationships.
We mourn over the heartache and confusion imposed upon children as they live through domestic violence, divorce, custody battles, the absence of a mother or father from their lives, or being raised in a household with two mommies or two daddies.
We mourn over suffering experienced by children who have been sexually abused by someone they trusted, like a parent, relative, minister, teacher, neighbor, or by a complete stranger.
We mourn over the extinguishing of the lives of so many babies every day through everything from the abortion pill through late term abortion.
Meanwhile, while there is all this suffering going on in troubled and broken marriages and families, and there are so many who suffer because of the absence of good things in their lives.
There are many widows and singles who suffer from the longing to have someone with whom to share life. There are many orphans who suffer from the longing to have a family. There are many couples who suffer from infertility, miscarriages, resulting in empty cribs and heavy hearts.
Oh, Father in Heaven, we know that you are aware of all this suffering.
Hasten, O God, to save us; Oh, Lord, come quickly and help us. Through your perfect wisdom and ultimate power bring a change into people’s lives and families. Let biblical marriage be upheld as good and right. And make love and peace reign in our marriages and families. Protect our healthy marriages and families from the evil one. Restore our marriages and families that are broken and harmful. Protect all children from harm and provide healthy and wholesome families for them to be nurtured in.
Oh, Lord, we put our trust in You. We will lift up Your Name, and obey Your commands. We will sing and tell others of all Your marvelous deeds, for You have been so good to us.
We thank You as we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
K. I want to begin this “Lament for Our Nation” with the reading of Psalm 42.
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God.
I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me,
“Where is your God?”
I remember this as I pour out my heart: how I walked with many,
leading the festive procession to the house of God, with joyful and thankful shouts.
Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God.
I am deeply depressed; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan
and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your billows have swept over me.
The Lord will send his faithful love by day; his song will be with me in the night—
a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression?”
My adversaries taunt me, as if crushing my bones,
while all day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”
Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God.
Oh, Lord, Our God, we long for You, and thirst for You as a deer pants for flowing streams.
We find ourselves living in a nation filled with trouble and strife. There are enormous divides between people everywhere we look and over almost every subject affecting our country. Enemies abound as family members, friends and neighbors, who once dwelt together in love and harmony are now at polar extremes and often exchange bitter words of hostility. Anger and hatred spews like erupting volcanoes, and we are being overcome and taken under by the awful flow.
Oh, Lord, protect us in the midst of this turmoil. Our souls are overwhelmed by it all and we often find our souls dejected and deeply depressed. Lift our eyes and our spirits, Oh Lord. Help us to see You, high and lifted up, sitting on Your Throne, sustaining the universe.
Oh, Lord, we pray for our nation, and even though our nation has seen brighter days in some respects, help us to realize that our nation has never been as good and as glorious as Your kingdom. Our nation has never been squeaky clean or perfect. And although our founding documents helped institute a nation with high aspirations, we have fallen far short of those high ideals.
For centuries, our nation grew and prospered under the scourge of slavery, and many continue to struggle to escape the impoverishment and oppressive effects of that slavery.
We mourn over the racial inequality and injustice that continues to be experienced by too many people in our nation.
We mourn over the rioting and looting that has erupted in our cities as people cry out for real change regarding many important things.
We mourn over the poverty and lack of good housing and education in many of our cities, including here in the city of Syracuse.
We mourn over the violence and crime that continues to run rampant in our communities.
We mourn over the drug and alcohol abuse that continues to entrap so many people, young and old, leading to irresponsibility, unproductivity, depression, and death.
We mourn over the suffering that so many experience because of sex trafficking, industrial and immigrant slavery.
We mourn over the plague of pornography, prostitution and gambling that are eroding the morality of our society.
We mourn over greed and selfishness that spring from human philosophies and false religion.
We mourn over the needless loss of life from terrorism and mass shootings.
Oh, Lord, this is just a short list of the problems facing our nation, and Lord, we know that no person or human power is going to be able to bring about the changes that need to be made in human hearts and human institutions.
Oh, Lord, we cry out to You for help. Please hear us when we cry out to You.
We pray that You, Oh Lord, will bring healing and health in our nation.
Please don’t punish us or reject us, but forgive us and transform us.
Help turn the hearts and eyes of the people of our nation to You, we know You can do it.
We put our trust in You, and You alone.
Help us to be faithful to You as we wait patiently for Your rescue.
Oh, God, there is no God like You, we put our hope in You, and we praise You, our Savior and God.
In the name of Jesus, we pray these things. Amen!
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop, Crossway, 2019.
No More Faking Fine, by Esther Fleece, Zondervan, 2017.