God rarely does exactly what you want. That is part of what makes him God; he isn’t bound by our expectations. God is not so insecure as to need our approval or permission to work his perfect will.
I’ve found significant freedom in praying this lately: “God, I do not trust you to do what I want. But, I do trust you to do what you want, which I trust is ultimately better.”
So what are we supposed to do about the gap between our expectations and our experiences? Just stuff it? What do we do with our severe disappointments, letdowns, or the lingering injustice in our lives?
The scriptures are full of people who are not content with their circumstances or situation; they are suffering, oppressed, poor, needy, sick, tired, and lonely. It would be a form of insanity to call those things “good.”
They held in tension these two realities: God works all things together for good and not all things are good. This takes a tremendous amount of faith: I will trust God with the gap between my desires and my reality.
It is right to be upset when things are wrong. This discontentedness is rooted in our belief in Creation; there is a way things are supposed to be and they are not that way.
We must be grateful for the pockets of creational goodness we experience. But, it is wrong to fully contented in the midst of a broken world. True contentment accepts that our reality includes some chronic discontentment.
“Lama” in Hebrew means “why?” So, to lament is to ask God, “why?” or “what’s the deal?” or “how much longer do I have to deal with this?”
About a third of the Psalms are laments. Here are some examples:
- Psalm 10:1 // Why, O LORD do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
- Psalm 13:1 // How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
- Psalm 79:10 // Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!
- Daniel 9:8 // To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.
These are intense. They are raw. They are brutally honest. Laments are not preoccupied with theological accuracy; they are concerned with emotional accuracy. They are charged with relational tension, not cold academic reflection.
Sometimes laments are rooted in circumstances (the world is not as it should be) and sometimes they are rooted in sin (I am not the way I should be). It is one thing when the disappointment is “out there;” it is a different type of suffering when the disappointment is “in here.”
The Psalms model prayer for us. God already knows our thoughts; why try and sanitize them when we speak to him? We must take our whole selves to God; we are not “too much” for him.
Lent is the season that leads up to Easter Sunday. Lent means “springtime” and literally refers to how the days get longer in the Spring.
Historically, the Church has used lent as a time of lament that prepares us for Easter’s Resurrection. Many Christian traditions fast from various things during lent to draw attention to unfulfilled desires or expectations.
At Redemption Gateway, we are practicing lament in each of our Sunday gatherings during the Lenten season. Here are the texts and topics:
- 3/6 – Psalm 13 – lament when God seems distant
- 3/13 – Daniel 9 – lament congregational sin
- 3/20 – Psalm 79 – lament the persecution of the church
- 3/27 – Psalm 51 – lament personal sin
- 4/3 – Psalm 2 – lament political sin
- 4/10 – Psalm 38:5-11 – lament sickness
I encourage you to participate in Lent, somehow.
Perhaps its simply emotionally engaging on Sundays as we pray together; perhaps you need to fast from something and lament throughout your week; perhaps you need to keep a journal and write out laments.
Whatever you choose to do or not do, you must learn to pray honestly and deal with the ugly in the world and in you.
O Lord, hear;
O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, pay attention and act.
Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.Daniel 9:19