I know a secret about you. I know that you have a disturbing little voice inside your head that sometimes whispers, “Something bad is going to happen. You are all alone. You are a failure.” I also hear that voice in my own head, but I know that everyone does because, Jesus, the only perfect human who ever lived, heard it, too. “You are in danger. There is no one to help you. You have been rejected.”
Psalm 22, written 1000 years before Jesus was born, perfectly describes His crucifixion from beginning to end. But it doesn’t merely describe the circumstantial details, like His agony of thirst or His stolen clothing; it also describes His thoughts and emotions. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “I am a worm, and not a man.” “My heart has turned to wax.”
When I first became a Christian I had the unspoken assumption that I would ask God for the things I wanted, and He would give them to me. He would keep me from trouble, He would wrap Himself around me like a warm blanket, and I would be happy and successful. If I didn’t always have “that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” I thought something was wrong with me.
Not too many years later, I learned I had cancer, and I realized that life can’t possibly be about safety and happiness. People who have the impression that the Christian life is one of unending prosperity and blessing have never seriously considered the book of Job, the trials of Joseph, the laments of Jeremiah or the persecutions of the Apostle Paul. It took me many years of struggle to come to the conclusion that life is really about becoming Christlike.
So let’s consider the life of Christ. We have no record of Jesus laughing, running joyfully through a meadow or dancing like David, telling jokes with His disciples. I hope He did do those things. But He didn’t do them often enough for anyone to write them down. It wasn’t what God wanted us to know and remember about Him. According to Isaiah 53, He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He wept. He lamented. He cried out for mercy. He was the Son of God’s house who was sent to a faraway land among a people who despised and killed Him. When we walk in sorrow, that may be when we look most like Him. When we walk in sorrow, we walk in the footsteps of Christ.
Lament is an appropriate reaction to a fallen world. Grief is an appropriate response to sin, pain and brokenness. The mother who is angry when pornography is introduced to her teenage son mirrors the indignation of a holy God. The daughter who weeps at her father’s deathbed mirrors the sorrow of Christ when Lazarus died. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) The teaching that God wants us all to be happy, healthy and rich, is nothing like the picture of godliness given to us in the Bible. Godliness looks like an old man raising the knife over his only son. Godliness looks like a prostitute saved from the ruin of her decimated city. Godliness looks like a prophet drowning in the slime of a whale’s belly. Godliness looks like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.
Therefore, we have no need to fear the honesty of our hearts before God. He knows our hearts in any case. We might hide our sorrow, our anger or our despair from other people, even from ourselves sometimes, but we cannot hide it from God. When you weep in your shower or pound the steering wheel of your car, no one else may know it, but God sees. “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, Oh Lord.” To cry out to God is to be who you are and to believe that God is who He says He is. To mourn aloud and share our confusion is to reach for Him. Even our anger is less likely to be the first step away from God as it is to be the first step back toward Him.
“True worship flows out of a heart full of __________.” If you asked most believers to fill in the blank, they will come up with a lot of variations on Christian happiness. They might say “joy” or “love” or “hope.” But the lesson of lament is that you can fill in that blank with anything in your heart, even sorrow or fear or frustration. When our heart is filled with questions, it is an act of worship to present those questions before God. When our belly is knotted with fear, it is an act of worship to expose those fears before the Lord. When our eyes are filled with tears, it is an act of worship to pour out those tears on the feet of Christ.
Psalm 22 doesn’t end with the agony of the crucifixion; it ends with the hope of the glory Christ is now enjoying in heaven, and which He has promised that we will share with Him. The worst thing that ever happened – the death of God’s only Son – became the best thing that ever happened – the salvation of all God’s children. Our smaller stories of trouble are echoes of the one, big story of good versus evil that was played out on the cross. In the end, love wins, and God also promises to bring mysterious good out of everything dark and difficult that happens to us (Rom. 8:28). The fact that you hear a voice which tells you that you are not safe, that you are alone, that you are unlovable, is not a sin. It is the consequence of living as an incomplete human being in a fallen world. We have a remedy for that voice in the companionship of Christ who says, “I will take care of you,” who promises to be with us always, and whose death proves that we are infinitely valuable.
Application: Try writing your own lament as an act of worship by using a short Psalm (Psalm 13, for example), as a model.