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Missed Part I? Grab it here.

I’ve been grieving some losses lately. The other day on my jog, they seemed to bottleneck inside, trickling out my eyes as my feet kept pounding, step after step. I’m not sure what God’s doing, but as I described in the last post, grief seemed… appropriate.

Though God’s given me glimpses of hope I can’t ignore–it also seems to deny Him access to all of me when I’m ignoring I feel anything, and jumping right to “It’ll be okay.”

My emotions are like indicator lights: neither good nor bad in themselves; amoral. It’s what I choose to do with them that gets sticky. They are thus opportunities for both worshipping God, and denying Him. (See this post on the necessity of both listening to our hearts—and talking to them.) I’ve quoted Peter Scazzero before:

When we do not process before God the very feelings that make us human, such as fear or sadness or anger, we leak. Our churches are filled with “leaking” Christians who have not treated their emotions as a discipleship issue.[1]

 

Recent studies on anxiety actually indicate that when we’re feeling anxious but tell ourselves we’re not anxious, we actually create more stress (duh, right?). Real Simple magazine quotes Michael Wheaton, Ph. D: “Thinking ‘something is horrible and I need to stop it right now’ only adds pressure to the situation.” Sometimes we’re creating a spiritual form of more stress as we try to get “errant” emotions to get back in their lockbox already, rather than presenting them to God and engaging with Him there.

The modern monk Thomas Merton wrote of

the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ. Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”…a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms. [2]

In his book (and well-quoted in this post), Card writes that churches can be “embarrassed, almost panicky, that there are situations to which they have no answer. We want to present Jesus as the answer man, and we don’t want Jesus to look bad. And if that’s your theology, Jesus can look very bad at funerals.”

I once attended the funeral of a young man who had passed away in a freak accident. Now, as Christians we definitely do “not grieve as others do who have no hope”–and funerals are beautiful testimonies of how Christians die differently; they are incredible demonstrations and opportunities for the Gospel. But this one, in all honesty, felt hijacked a bit by evangelism; by an agenda. If you came wrestling with the tragic loss of a young man’s life, you might have come away feeling…angry.

Compare this with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, Tim Keller points out. Even though Jesus knows the outcome, the triumph—He does not call bad good, does not jump into a sermonette on hope. He takes the time to mourn the travesty that has happened, then illuminates what resurrection is all about. As this author writes, We bring our most intense theological questions right into the sanctuary.

Our emotions are part of the image of God in us. God, too, grieves! The more I take in the decimation by poverty and what it costs the people of Uganda, I feel as if God has a hand on my shoulder, allowing me to glimpse a sliver of what He grieves every day. Blessed are those who mourn.

Jesus, the most joyful man who walked the planet, wept at times: wept at things that broke God’s heart, like His friend dying. His people turning away. On the Cross, Jesus actually walked through a formal lament, as outlined in the Psalms. Michael Card writes, “Jesus understood that lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world.” And the Psalms are where we find David and others pouring out their personal griefs to God, the ways their hearts just hurt.

In the Psalms, scholars find a general structure for lament, sometimes sequential, sometimes weaving back and forth between these elements:

  1. Address, invoking God—acknowledging this as a prayer, not just an internal struggle. It acknowledges who God is in His sovereignty, His kindness, His relationship with us.
  2. Complaint: This author writes, “A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies…it may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.”
  3. Request, begging God for action and response.
  4. Expression of trust. Generally, lament returns to an affirmation of God’s character and trustworthiness. It’s a critical restatement of our hope; of walking by faith, not by sight. To re-quote Tim Keller on this: “…all true prayer ‘pursued far enough, becomes praise.’ It may take a long time or a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.” [3]

I value this thought by Graham Cooke:

Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life… God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, ‘I will help you to will to worship God.’ The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do. [4]

 

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[1] Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life in Christ. Kindle Edition.

[2] Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), p. 66.

[3] Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/pouring-out-your-heart-in-lament-to-god.html

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