Laments: Psalms from the Past and Present

Psalm 13: Lament Psalms from the Past and Present

The lament psalms are a special genre of psalm that is described as, “the psalmist’s cry when in great distress he has nowhere to turn but to God” (Longman, 26). Within these psalms there is a division of elements that are specific to the lament and describe a type of “coming to grips” for the psalmist. Beginning with a cry to the LORD and complaint but ending with confidence in God and praise the lament is the most human reaction to adversity and has definitely stood the test of time. We see laments throughout the Bible and even in today’s music and media.
Psalm 13 shows the elements within its content as follows:
v1-2: Invocation and complaint
v3-4: Plea for God to help
v5-6: Confidence in God’s response and hymn of praise
Of the seven elements within a lament I see only these five and within the verses of Psalm 13 these five elements are combined and compressed into each other. For instance, in verse one the invocation is only the first four words, “How long, O LORD?”. The rest of the verse is a complaint to God, David accuses God of forgetting him and hiding his face from him.
As we look at other laments, specifically Psalm 3, 4, and 6, we see a mirror of this same pattern for the most part. Firstly, in comparing Psalm 13 to these there is an immediate repetition of a questioning psalmist. Only Psalm 6 of the four psalms does not begin with an exclaiming question, in Psalm 3 and 4 David also asks for answers to his questions as the invocation of the psalm. One major difference I see in each of the psalms is a seemingly random order in which the first six elements of the lament are placed, all end in praise and/or confidence in God’s response.
In Psalm 3 the order appears to be: invocation(v 1), complaint(v 2), confidence in God’s response(v 3-6), plea to God for help(v 7), hymn of praise(v 8). Psalm 4 differs from this order: Invocation( v 1), plea to God for help( v 1), complaint( v 2), confidence in God’s response( v 3), complaint( v 4-6), hymn of praise (v 7-8). Finally we see Psalm 6 as an even more diverse order of elements: invocation and complaint (v 1), plea to God for help (v 2-5), complaint (v 6-7), confidence in God’s response (v 8-9), curse of enemies (v 10). While these seem random in order, aside from the first and the last elements, I believe there is a method to the madness. For one, God does nothing in confusion but everything is in His order.
While each of these psalms has a similar theme, they are all complaints about men fighting or speaking against David. They are all laments which call out to God for help in defense of David. Psalm 3 and 6 request attacks against his enemies by God (3:7b, 6:10) while the other two only asks for protection. One thing I like about my ESV Study Bible is that it titles each chapter of the Bible. These chapters are titled as Save Me, O My God (Psalm 3), Answer Me When I Call (Psalm 4), O LORD, Deliver My Life (Psalm 6), and How Long, O LORD (Psalm 13). There is an obvious pattern of distress in the psalm’s titles, but they always end with a praise hymn to God.
In looking at the way we read and examine the Psalm it is vitally important to recognize this in each lament. While some may think that the lament psalms and even the book of Job doesn’t belong in the Bible due to being written by man in a weakened state and questioning God’s existence and love for his people, I believe these books show the exact opposite. The lament psalms show man at their best, because they are at their worse. With nowhere to turn and being attacked on all sides the only option for defense is through God and his grace and in this way our weakness is his strength. Though there will always be darkness in our lives, due to the infestation of sin in the world, our end is only a bright beginning of our eternity with God.
True laments, while easy to find in the Old Testament, are hard to find in contemporary music. Johnny Cash’s “Spiritual” is one that comes to mind for me. Most modern music can only provide half of the solution though. It’s great at delivering the complaint or the curse, but the plea to God for help and the confidence in God’s response is almost always lacking. And when it comes to praising God in the midst of pain you could go blind trying to find a pop song that echoes those sentiments. The lyrics for “Spiritual” are below:
“Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus, oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
My love wasn’t true
Now all I have is you
Jesus oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus
If you hear my last breath
Don’t leave me here
Left to die a lonely death
I know I have sinned but Lord I’m
Suffering
Jesus, oh Jesus
If you hear my last breath
Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus, oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
My love wasn’t true
Now all I have is you
Jesus, oh Jesus
I don’t wanna die alone
Jesus
Jesus
All my troubles
All my pain
Will leave me
Once again
All my troubles
All my pain
It’s gonna leave me once again
All my troubles
All my pain
It’s gonna leave me once again
Gonna leave me
Once again
The lyrics alone in no way do this song justice and I encourage you to search for it on YouTube in order to get the full effect of the song. You can see though, that while many of the elements are there; the invocation, plea for God’s help, confidence in God’s response, and confession of sin, what is lacking is the hymn of praise. As with many modern songs of lament, and I believe a big reason why so many teenagers relate to music so easily, there is much complaining and blaming but very little requesting aid from God or even acknowledging Him.
As I discussed in a previous exercise on psalms in modern music, I believe that God is in everything in this world. He created everything and my theology is that he inhabits a little part of everything and everyone we encounter, after all “if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that [emphasis mine]” (Luke 6:33). God uses everything to complete his plan to reunite us with Him. He used evil empires that attacked both the Israelites and their enemies to guide His people back to him and to correct their wrong paths. Why then can’t he use what we deem as secular music to show us an area we are lacking in or a new way to view his creation. If it makes you feel better, add on your own hymn of praise to the end of a modern lament that touches you but fails to give honor to God.

Psalm 31

For this week I am taking the advice of my professor and uploading my latest close reading analysis here. I pray that this touches your heart and opens your mind to looking for new ways to experience God’s word.

The Lord is Close…

We recently lost a student at the school I work at. A loving, kind young man who was in the Special Education class that I assist in. Stephan “Jap” Thomas is known throughout Benjamin Russell High School and the town of Alexander City as a die-hard BRHS Wildcat fan. He cheered at every sporting event that he could get to. Jap graduated before this year but due to the policies for students in Special Education he was allowed to return for continued education with us, this would have been his final year under the policy.

Every student and teacher in the Alex City School System either knows or has heard of Jap. He was an honorary Wildcat football player the year he graduated and ran on the field with the football team. He is never happier than when he is at a pep rally and he has a great sense of humor that he shared with his classmates everyday. His teachers and the administration at BRHS thought of him as family and he was a beloved son or brother to all.

I have personally been struggling with the best way to support my fellow educators through this loss. I did not know Jap very well; this is my first year in the classroom and I am not a native of Alex City. I have been doing my best to offer my condolences, lead when the teachers need to mourn in their own way, and offer counseling to the students who want it.

I hope this small offering of words from Psalms will touch those who are hurting and remind them that God is always here and offers His comfort to all who ask:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”(Pslam 34:18).

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

And perhaps the most important of all, in Revelation 21:4 Jesus reminds us that soon God will take away all of our pain, “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’”.

Rest easy Jap…we will see you soon. I can’t wait to see you shoot 10 free throws, run 10 miles, and tell me how you weigh 10 pounds. We love you buddy.

…and again I say rejoice

I don’t know if it’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but, to me, it is one of the most important,  “Rejoice always.” (1 Thess ‭5:16). 

Paul is ending his letter to the church in Thessalonica and giving them final instructions that include praying, thankfulness to God, and abstaining from all evil. The verse that sticks out to me though is 5:16. In all things rejoice, at all times rejoice, “rejoice always”! When it’s rough, when you have a bad day, when nothing goes your way, “Rejoice”! 

Because no matter how bad the day is, no matter what mistake you make, no matter your plans, God loves you. God loves you so much he sent his one and only Son to Earth. He sent his perfect, sinless Son to show us how to live. God sent Jesus to be the Light and guide for our lives. Jesus came to Earth and offered himself as a sacrifice in order to end all other sacrifices. He carried His Father’s love to us in order to show us how to share it with the world.

So, rejoice always! We are set free from the legalistic rules and regulations that we could never satisfy. We are set free with God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice. Rejoice forever and always!!

Foregiveness

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12-13

“Foregiveness”, it’s easily received and rarely given. Have you forgiven someone if you never tell them? Is your heart full of forgiveness if you hold onto resentment and anger toward another? How can we be clothed in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” and not forgive? 

I have personally dealt with unforgiveness for a long time. Those that know me well know that I have had a failed marriage and two sons who live with their mother. Anger and hatred filled my heart for several years. Partially, because my children were withheld from me, but mostly the anger was directed at myself for allowing it to happen. For about 2 years I was falling deeper and deeper into a pit of depression, unchecked rage, and alcohol. I ran away from what I saw as the cause of these feelings only to find them come back again. It wasn’t until I realized that there was nothing I could do to change the external influences on my mind and soul until I changed the internal influences. I had to find freedom from myself. 

I found this freedom through forgiveness. First, I forgave myself for making mistakes and bad choices. I made a promise to my family to move forward, get better, and be the best person that God wanted me to be. Second, I forgave those who wronged me. It wasn’t important if they accepted it, I wasn’t looking for an apology or even to restore a relationship. I simply wanted them to know that there was no ill will from me. Lastly, I made a promise to myself and to God that I would do my best to keep those feelings of wrath and contempt away from my heart for the rest of my life. 

It hasn’t been easy. There have been many moments when I wanted to hang on to a “justified anger”. But then I remember, with a bit of urging from the Holy Spirit, that if Jesus could forgive the entire human race then I should be able to forgive a few people. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…keep these in your heart and forgiveness must live there too. 

The Alpha and the Omega

““I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.””‭‭Revelation‬ ‭1:8‬ MEV

“The Beginning and the End”, big words from a big man. Jesus said these words in a vision to John while he was under house arrest on the island of Patmos. Jesus is the alpha and the omega in His eternal nature, His role in creation, His sustaining of the universe, and in His fulfillment as the Messiah. Those who read the words of Jesus referring to Himself as the alpha and the omega in Revelation find One who refers to Himself as Lord who will one day make all things new as described in Revelation 22. 

There many times in our lives where something seems to last “forever”. Board meetings, classes, and commuting, all of these events can seem to stretch on for much longer than they really are. If we let the constant drudgery of our earthly existence drag us down, and therefore away from God, then we are losing sight of the true eternity. The eternity in which Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, as he has since before time began, and speaking on our behalf. During times of saddness, depression, or feeling downtrodden we must turn our eyes to God. Open your Bible, voice your concerns to God, and focus on the blessings that you have received. 

Touchdowns And Walking The Line

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).

I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend about people who are “walking the line” in Christianity. We all know, or have been, one. We hear them tell others about a book or bible study they should read about Christianity. Or they invite others to church. They go on mission trips and give to the poor, they pray before sporting events and almost always know the Lord’s Prayer by heart. But behind closed doors, among aquaintences and certain friends, or when emotions run high, another side is visible. Lewd talk, cursing, and violent actions come out. Sometimes its in the heat of the moment but many times in everyday conversation, when their guard is down, a person’s true character is revealed. Just as David says in Psalms 23 and Paul refers to in Phillipians 4, our cup overflows with what is poured in. This is true of both good and evil. If we pour into our life the elements of this world (sin, evil, anger, hate) then that is what will flow out of us.
Johnny Cash sang a song about walking the line and the lyrics paint a rather accurate picture of what happens when we do not choose a side. I have found that the illustration of a “touchdown” in football is even better. In football you either cross the line and make a touchdown, or you don’t. You have to CROSS the line. You can’t just reach it or touch it. If you are on the line then you haven’t made a touchdown. You are still on the field of play of the world until you cross the line. You can not both score a touchdown and still be on the field of play. You can not both serve God and serve the World.

Your cup will fill others…be mindful of what you are pouring. While the world offers temporary justification or a small amount of pleasure for our service, God offers eternal joy and ever-lasting peace. Fill your cup with what Jesus offers and you will never grow thirsty.