“How long, O Lord?” Four times in the first two verses the psalmist cries out in distress to the Lord. He is beset by enemies. He feels that God has forgotten him. His language borders on impertinence. He implies that God is not properly coming to his aid. He even dares to instruct God in verse 3, “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!”
This kind of candid and direct language is characteristic of lament psalms. Laments speak out of distress and anguish, and they lay it all out before the Lord. As modern people of faith, we are not accustomed to praying in this way. But in Psalms, there are more laments than any other type of psalm.
Our initial response might be to suggest that such language is disrespectful of God; but in the Hebrew and its descendant Jewish tradition, lament is an important expression of regard for a God who can receive and encompass even our most distressing experiences and reactions. The psalmist addresses a God willing to take on our distress, our impatience, and even our anger. The best-known lament psalm opens by crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1), which becomes Jesus’ cry from the cross.
Laments offer an example of a different and broader concept of prayer. Prayer is not confined to reserved and respectful address of God but includes an opening of heart and soul in honest offering of one's genuine experience before God. Prayers of lament are a vulnerable expression of trust that God cares about all of our lives, even the anguished and distressed aspects of our experience. Reading these laments challenges us to lay it all before God and to trust our entire lives to God in the confidence that God’s grace can receive and transform all of our experience.
Receive our prayer, O Lord. Even in our most troubled and impatient times, encompass us in your grace. We trust that your grace will be sufficient for all aspects of our life. Amen.
The passages this week highlight several different themes. Abraham is put to the ultimate test. There is no denying how terrifying God’s request must have been, yet Abraham ultimately is commended for his faith. We will not face this same challenge, but are there things dear to our hearts that God is asking us to give up? The psalmist is in deep despair and weary from awaiting God’s deliverance, yet even now there is confidence. Paul continues to instruct the Romans about the necessity of living a new life, no longer being slaves to the desires of the flesh. Jesus teaches that when we receive those doing his work, we receive him. When we interact with pastors, missionaries, and even nursery workers, do we treat these servants as Jesus himself?
Read Genesis 22:1-14. What has this familiar story meant to you in your faith? How do you embody or struggle against this type of obedience and trust?
Read Psalm 13. When has your lament allowed you to move from anger with God to praise? How long did that process take?
Read Romans 6:12-23. How does the definition of death as a life cut off from God rather than a biological reality change your understanding of this passage? How might incorporating this definition of death change your life?
Read Matthew 10:40-42. Who is in your wider community of witnesses? How does their example prompt you to turn to others in service?
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