Look and See, O Lord!

In the midst of any prolonged suffering, we feel a natural desire for relief. We want the pain to go away, the grief to recede, the devastation to subside.

But there’s an earlier, more fundamental need we have as humans in mourning. We want to be seen.

Lamentations

The book of Lamentations in the Bible is filled with urgent cries of agony. Assumed by many to be written by Jeremiah (though never identified internally this way), Lamentations is a book of five laments about the destruction of Jerusalem. As an agent of God’s judgment on his people for their sin, the nation of Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. After destroying the temple and much of the city, the Babylonians led most of the residents away to captivity.

This was a heartbreaking, disastrous situation for all Israelites. The prayers recorded in the book of Lamentations were written by one of the people left behind, and they were used in Jewish worship services for decades afterward. These prayers are filled with loss and anguish, and they teach us as God’s people how to process grief in his presence.

Requests in Lamentations 1

lament is a genre of prayer found in the Bible which usually contains complaints, requests, and expressions of trust in the Lord. Not all of these ingredients are found in all laments, but most laments include at least two of these elements.

It’s not hard to find the complaints in the first chapter of Lamentations—they’re everywhere. This is easy to understand, as the city and temple have been leveled. All that the Jewish people knew and held dear was reduced to rubble.

The requests in this chapter are more scarce. In fact, before the last two verses, there is only one petition I see, and it appears three times.

“O Lord, behold my affliction”

In verse 9, the author writes, “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!”

The Israelites have “sinned grievously” (verse 8) and Jerusalem has fallen in a public and embarrassing way (verses 8–9). There is no one to comfort her (verse 9). The Lord “has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (verse 5).

“Look, O Lord, and see”

In Lamentations 1:11, we read, “Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.”

The nations have entered unlawfully into the Lord’s sanctuary and have taken “precious things” (verse 10). The people are starving, groaning as they search for bread (verse 11).

“Look, O Lord, for I am in distress”

In verse 20, we read, “Look, O Lord, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious.”

The Lord has “inflicted” sorrow in his “fierce anger” (verse 12). The author writes in detail of the painful physical judgment God has brought on his people (verses 13–15). There has been no one to give comfort (verses 16, 17).

A Desire to be Noticed

As painful as suffering can be, loneliness amplifies this hardship. Agony is more acute when it is held in private and not seen or acknowledged by others.

Here is the root of these requests. Before asking for relief or deliverance or restoration, the author of Lamentations wants to be seen by the Lord.

This is something we should be praying for ourselves and our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ: “Look, O Lord, and see!”

Jesus, Our Lamenter

The book of Lamentations is bleak territory. With some minor exceptions, it doesn’t feel hopeful. I’d wager no verses from Lamentations 1 appear on a Hallmark card.

And yet, when we understand how all of the Scriptures point to Jesus, there is much we can learn from this rich book.

The author of Lamentations understands the connections. God is holy and the people have rebelled. So God has brought the judgment for sin he promised. The people are lamenting because they are suffering the consequences of their sin.

This probably doesn’t sound like Jesus yet, but remember what he screamed on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)

Jesus knew the pain of judgment for sin. He knew loneliness. He knew what it was like to look in vain for comfort. Piped through the right speakers, Jesus’s cry on the cross sounds a lot like “Look, O Lord, and see!”

If you are a child of God, Jesus has suffered and lamented for you. Jesus is evidence that God has looked and seen!

Do Unto Others

We can now lament—even more fully than the author of Lamentations—because we have a lamenting Savior. Christians have the comfort of the Holy Spirit because, for a time, Jesus was without comfort.

We know how vital it is to be seen and noticed, to have our pain recognized and named. Entering into the full suffering of humanity, Jesus knew the same, so we have a sympathetic advocate in heaven when we pray.

The application for us toward our friends and neighbors here is obvious. We must learn to notice and acknowledge the suffering of others. We can lament on their behalf, asking God to look and see and comfort.

When we encounter our neighbors’ grief, it may be raw and wild. We don’t need to offer advice or platitudes; often our presence is enough.

And a lament to God for our neighbors—with our neighbors—may point more persuasively to Jesus than a sermon could.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (3/5/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Which Christian Best Portrays Christ?

Tim Challies writes a parable of sorts, comparing Jesus to the Rocky Mountains, and how it’s impossible to capture either in one snapshot (or virtue).

In the end, which of these Christians best portrays Christ? Is it the one who is as kind as Jesus or the one who is as patient? Is it the one who teaches like Jesus or the who extends his warm welcome? The truth is all of them and none of them. All of them capture the part God has assigned to them, but none of them captures the whole, for the subject is simply too vast for any one canvas, for any one person. The closest view of the whole is when the many are gathered together into one gallery, each displaying its small part.

Turning Water to Wine

Megan Taylor writes a reflection on Jesus’s first miracle.

Have you ever secretly thought that Jesus’ first miracle is a bit of a letdown? The audience is small, the master of the feast does not even know something supernatural has taken place, and it seems the main takeaway from the guests is the quality of wine. Many people fixate on ancillary details of this miracle— the way Jesus speaks to His mother, the alcoholic nature of the wine— and it’s easy to miss the glory wrapped up in this passage as Jesus bursts onto the scene as the initiator of the new covenant.

Lament Is for Little Ones, Too

I’ve been thinking a lot about lament recently, so Christina Fox’s post on teaching children to lament was very timely (and helpful!).

Our children have big emotions. Like us, they experience sadness and fear, loneliness and grief. They need to be equipped to navigate their feelings. They need to be discipled to respond to their feelings in a biblical way.

But as parents, we often have a hard enough time dealing with our emotions. We can be uncomfortable even talking about feelings, much less helping our children navigate theirs. We can also default to unhealthy practices learned in our childhood: avoiding emotions, suppressing emotions, or soothing emotions with food or other temporary comforts.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/19/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Seductive Sin We Never Talk About

The sin mentioned in the title of this article is self-pity, and Trevin Wax helps us think about sources of this sin as well as ways to fight it.

Boasting is usually obvious. But self-pity is more subtle. It arises from the wounded ego. The self-pitiful often appear as if they struggle with low self-esteem or feelings of unworthiness. In reality, people who wallow in self-pity are unhappy because their worthiness has gone unnoticed. “I haven’t received what I’m owed. I deserve better. No one treats me according to my worth.”

Those Who Weep

Here is an excerpt from a new book by Tish Harrison Warren, called Prayer in the Night. The book (and hence this excerpt) is about grief, sadness, and lament.

Lament is not only an act of self-expression or exorcising pain: it forms and heals us. The Psalms express every human emotion, but, taken up again and again, they never simply leave us as we are. They are strong medicine. They change us. The transformation they effect isn’t to turn our sadness into happiness; they don’t take grieving people and make them annoyingly peppy and optimistic. They never say “Chin up” or “It’s not so bad.” Nor do they tell us why we suffer.

10 Things You Should Know about the African Church

Here’s an informative post about how God is working in Africa, written by a pastor in Zambia.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (6/12/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

George Floyd and Me

Hip-hop artist and author Shai Linne has written a moving reflection on the death of George Floyd. This horrific incident, and the subsequent and ongoing protests demanding equal treatment and justice for Black Americans, have caused many Christians to think about racism in this country. Learning from and listening to an article like this is a great place to start.

But one of the painful things I’ve discovered over the last eight years or so since Trayvon Martin’s killing is that it’s possible to agree on those things and yet be in a completely different place when it comes to the issue of racial injustice. Just because I’ve made an intentional decision to focus on that which is “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things that need to be addressed in the church. It also doesn’t mean that being a Christian has exempted me from the reality of being a black man in America and all the stigma that comes with it.

Say Something

After listening to the concerns and experiences of our Black neighbors, what should we do next? We feel an urgency to act, but how? Ed Welch offers four brief places to begin.

We are left with a question: What can we do? Indeed, we are called to “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed” (Ps 82:3). But what does that mean for those of us who rarely see such oppression with our own eyes, and live at a distance from it?

On the News

Because of all that is going on in the country, many of us are consuming more news and information than ever. Is this wise? Andy Crouch explains why, in times of crisis, we need less news, not more.

I am not saying that it is wrong to be informed about what is happening in the world beyond our immediate view, which is what the news can provide. I am saying that we can be informed, in all the ways we need to be, in much less time and with much less damage to our souls than happens when we spend hours a day during a crisis compulsively reloading web pages in search of more “news.”

Understanding & Lamenting Racial Injustice: CAPC Staff Recommendations

It’s not hard to find reading recommendations on the internet. (You’re reading one right now!) But if you are feeling the grief of injustice deep in your soul and you’d like to see/hear/read more about it, here is a list compiled by the staff of Christ and Pop Culture. You’ll find books, videos, songs, and movies recommended there to help you “listen, lament, and contribute to a new story.”


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Learning to Lament

What should we do with our sadness?

If life was one sunny day after another, this question would hardly make sense. But in these bodies, we know grief; we feel it in our bones. We see the storms. At times we feel like opening the spigot and filling buckets with our tears.

Unfortunately, many churches don’t make it easy for Christians to admit their sadness. “How are you?” greetings have only one acceptable response: “Fine, thanks.” Beyond individual relationships, the community activities and liturgies of some churches have no space for sorrow. Every face wears a smile and every song is jubilant.

This need not be the case! There is a precious, biblical category of prayer known as lament. When we ignore this tool God has given, we miss a rich opportunity to trust the Lord and lean on him in difficult times.

Four Steps to Lament

Mark Vroegop’s book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, is an exploration of Biblical lament. Vroegop is a pastor at a church in Indiana, and he and his wife were awakened to lament when one of their children was stillborn. He writes with depth and wisdom that come only from experience.

Vroegop defines lament as “a prayer in pain that leads to trust” (page 28).

You might think lament is the opposite of praise. It isn’t. Instead, lament is a path to praise as we are led through our brokenness and disappointment. The space between brokenness and God’s mercy is where this song is sung. Think of lament as the transition between pain and promise. (Vroegop, page 28)

The first half of the book explores the four elements of lament, the first of which is turning to God. This may sound too basic to mention when it comes to a type of prayer, but Vroegop makes a compelling case.

To pray in pain, even with its messy struggle and tough questions, is an act of faith where we open up our hearts to God. Prayerful lament is better than silence. However, I’ve found that many people are afraid of lament. They find it too honest, too open, or too risky. But there’s something far worse: silent despair. Giving God the silent treatment is the ultimate manifestation of unbelief. (Vroegop, pages 31–32)

After turning to God, the second step of lament is to complain. Yes, there is a godly form of complaint! It is found throughout the Psalms of lament.

If you’re going to offer a complaint to God, it must be done with a humble heart. As I said before, I don’t think there is ever a place to be angry with God. However, I do think it’s permissible to ask pain-filled questions as long as you’re coming in humility. Proud, demanding questions from a heart that believes it is owed something from God will never lean into true lament. (Vroegop, page 52)

A complaint is never an end in itself. Indeed, “we bring our complaints to the Lord for the purpose of moving us toward him” (Vroegop, page 54). The third ingredient of lament is asking God. Specifically, we call “upon God to act in accordance with his character” (Vroegop, page 57). The question of why moves to the question of who. If we have confidence in who God is and what he has promised, we can ask him boldly to intervene and help.

After asking God to work, we come to the final step of lament. We trust. We hold onto God as we wait for deliverance.

Lament helps us to practice active patience. Trust looks like talking to God, sharing our complaints, seeking God’s help, and then recommitting ourselves to believe in who God is and what he has done—even as the trial continues. (Vroegop, page 74)

Laments in the Bible

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is packed with Scripture. Each of the first four chapters—one is devoted to each of the four steps of lament—takes a close look at a Psalm of lament. (Mark Vroegop reports that more than one third of the Psalms are laments!)

In the next part of the book, Vroegop walks his reader through the book of Lamentations. While not an exegesis or commentary, he highlights important themes from the book. Vroegop shows us that lament is thoroughly biblical and teaches us what we can learn through the practice of lamenting.

The last part of the book is dedicated to application. Vroegop suggests specific ways that lamenting might take hold for individuals and churches.

When Lament is No More

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy was a valuable book for me to read. I saw that lament is a biblical prayer category about which I’ve been ignorant, and I now understand how valuable the discipline and practice of lament can be for Christians.

Perhaps most importantly, this book has changed my prayer life. I now have some tools for mourning before the Lord and crying out to him in pain and sadness. Mark Vroegop has taught me this is a normal—even an essential—part of being a Christian.

However, lament will not last forever. Though praise and thanksgiving will continue through the ages, there will be no occasion for lament in heaven. Ultimately, lament points us to the sure, curse-free future God has in store for his children. Though lament may start in despair, because of the work of Jesus, it ends in hope.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (4/3/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

It Takes Theology to Lament

A lament is a biblical prayer that is sadly out of favor these days. But it is just the type of prayer we need when things are not right with us or in the world. Mark Vroegop writes about the theology that is needed in order to lament.

Most laments contain four elements: turn, complain, ask, and trust. Each is designed to move the weary-hearted saint toward a renewal of hope in God’s character, even when dark clouds linger. Turning to God in prayer is the first step. It refuses to allow a deadly prayerlessness to develop. Complaining lays out our hurts in blunt but humble terms. We tell God what is wrong and the depth of our struggles. Asking reclaims the promises of God’s word that seem distant, and it calls upon him to intervene. Finally, all laments end in trust. This is where biblical lament is designed to lead – a faith-filled renewal of what we know to be true.

COVID-19: Living by Probabilities or Providence?

If you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the coronavirus-related statistics in the news recently, this article might be for you. Mike Emlet encourages us to turn our gaze (and our trust) to the Lord.

Sit with these glorious realities for a minute. Read through them slowly. Let them soak into your soul. We don’t live by probabilities and chance. We live under the loving, wise, and sovereign rule of our Creator and Redeemer God. The result of that is true hope, which steers clear of both a naïve optimism or a resigned pessimism.

A Prayer for Working from Home

This is exactly what the title says. You may not think you need such a prayer, but if you’re not used to working from home, I suggest you take a look.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.