It’s difficult to recall the number of perplexed looks I’ve received over the last two-and-a-half years when explaining my doctoral project to people. Some have mused aloud that living with a topic like “lament” for this long would certainly be depressing. What I have experienced has been the complete opposite. Personally, the topic idea was born out of deep grief in my life. I was seeking to continue worshiping God while my wife and I were hurting over a miscarriage; the loss of a child that had long been prayed for. The further the project progressed, it became obvious that my trials were not unique. Indeed, most people that I serve in our church are experiencing similar hardships. So, rather than a melancholy subject, the Psalms of lament have become a life-giving source of worship for us.
Nothing is more helpful to the pastor’s soul than preaching theology that bears immediate impact. As pastors, our hearts should yearn to connect the Word of God to the hearts of His people. In a culture of consumerism and neopositivity, the Psalms of lament bring a refreshing balance of reality to our lives as we seek to worship God as things really are. I offer the following reasons to my fellow pastors to preach Psalms of lament:
Psalms of lament ground your preaching theologically
Nothing is more helpful to the pastor’s soul than preaching theology that bears immediate impact. In the Psalms of lament, we encounter life, and theology, as it really is. When the trials of life strike, there is no room for the useless theological banter of ivory towers. We must know the true realities of our situation and, even more importantly, the God who reigns as sovereign over all. Preaching the Psalms of lament is a massive theological distillation process. Everything hypothetical or wrongly held is stripped away in a moment of God’s blazing glory. You will see man as he really is and God as He really is. Too often people think theology is boring, relegated only to the halls of a musty seminary building or the minds of a few impractical bookish types. The Psalms of lament convince us that theology is real, vibrant, helpful, and above all, necessary. Preach the Psalms of lament because your people need this brand of theology coursing through their veins.
Psalms of lament make you a better shepherd
Part of my preaching project for the D.Min. program at TMS was conducting a survey among my church members. I was humbled, hurt, and convicted by the results. Sixty-five percent of my church family indicated they were currently facing a trial at some level of their life. Sixty-five percent! How could I not have known this? I was hurt by my own deficiencies as a shepherd. These are the people I love most, they are hurting, and most of their pain I know nothing about.
However, as we began to work our way through the Psalms of lament and saw there is room to use our sorrow in worship, the trials, pain, and experiences of my people started coming out. People were no longer afraid to call their struggles what they were, and many expressed an appreciation for the opportunity to speak of their struggles. At the end of the project, these same people spoke of looking to God and the joy they found in Him. Why preach the Psalms of lament? They open people’s hearts and enable us to more effectively shepherd them through their crises. Many pastors, myself included, wonder how to open these doors with people. I believe that the Psalms of lament are a natural, biblical, genuine way to not only open these doors but to fling them wide open. Preach the Psalms of lament because your stewardship demands that you faithfully shepherd your people.
Psalms of lament prepare you and your church for the inevitable
Early on in my doctoral project, I spoke about the dangers of living with an over-realized eschatology—living in a fallen world with expectations that only Heaven can fulfill. We must They ground people for the inevitable, in that which is unchanging.be careful not to underestimate the danger this poses. We live in a fallen world, and if we are not feeling its effects now, we soon will be. How can we sustain worship when life becomes difficult, if not impossible? The Psalms of lament fortify those who are momentarily whole for the moment when they become inexpressibly broken. We are unfaithful shepherds if do not prepare our people with an honest assessment of life and their needs in that hour of sorrow. Jesus Himself prepared His disciples for tribulation and trials; should we not follow His example? What better way to prepare them than the theologically rich, real-life-reflecting Psalms of lament? Preach the Psalms of lament because they ground people for the inevitable, in that which is unchanging.
Psalms of lament focus everyone solely upon God
If we as pastors could choose to have our people focus intently on one object, have one driving passion, bleed one thing, what would it be? I hope that we would all say that “thing” would be a focus on the glories and majesty of God. Certainly, all of Scripture points us to do exactly that. But there are times, if we are honest, that our expositions of long books of the Bible can lose their focus. Notice that I did not say the texts of Scripture lose their vitality, but rather our expositions of them. We struggle to find the North Star of God’s glory in our preaching.
When we circle around frequently (as I believe we should) to preaching Psalms of lament, we are forced to focus on the glory of God. Everything else is stripped away. The heart of the matter is at hand. We are given the words, the theology, the structures, and the movements with which to lock our gaze upon the glories of God like a heat-seeking missile. Lament does what few other things can do in stripping away lesser focuses, and God’s revelation of Himself does what nothing else can do in seizing our attention upon the supreme focus. These two truths are combined in every Psalm of lament. Preach the Psalms of lament because our churches need regular times of intentional, inspired, inerrant dosages of God’s inestimable glory.
To lament is human, to worship with lament is both the mandate and provision of the Divine King. Connecting the glory of God to the suffering of His people may seem to be an impossible task, but it is a task that God has provided for if we will but preach His Psalms of lament. May God be glorified and His people strengthened as we take up this task.