by Kathy Beard
I’m not sure if it’s just me, or if it seems like some in the body of Christ today have lost the subject of lamenting. I’m not sure why—maybe because it feels contrary to what all Christians are supposed to experience at all times—the Joy of the Lord. I am here to say that the Joy of the Lord and the subject of Lamenting are not in opposition to each other. In fact, as Abiders in Christ, we surely cannot miss that our Messiah Jesus experienced both—simultaneously.
We cannot miss it when reading the Old Testament and seeing the stories of the men and women who experienced every emotion in the book, yet never left behind the Joy of the Lord. David, of course, is one example—if David were alive today he would be heavily medicated for bi-polar disorder—his ups and downs are legendary. He poured out his true heart to God; he lamented that things were not right with the world; he lamented over his own failures; and through it all, he came back to the same theme:
“Why are you downcast, oh my soul? Nevertheless, I will trust in the God of my salvation.”
Jeremiah is one of my favorite prophets. God told Jeremiah that He knew him before he was born, and that He had called Jeremiah while he was still in his mother’s womb to be a prophet to the nation of Israel. He was given an assignment by God that was absolutely impossible.
The call that God was putting into Jeremiah’s mouth was that he would be sent to the leaders of Israel and Judah to tell them that the sin of the nation of Israel had become so great that God was going to send all the inhabitants into exile in the evil kingdom of Babylon. They were not to fight for their country. They were to submit and go into captivity. Throughout the book, Jeremiah laments over his country; in fact, the book after the book of Jeremiah is called “Lamentations,” and recorded in it is the weeping and lamenting of the “weeping prophet.”
But listen—it records that God Himself was also lamenting.
I have read through Jeremiah and Lamentations many times, and there are some things there that resonate with me. What resonates with me is the way God deals with those upon whom He has placed an important call, and how the recipients of that call interact with God. There is what I call a holy boldness, contrasted with deep humility. This seems an oxymoron, but it isn’t.
It is a picture to me of real relationship—the kind of relationship that honors God. His prophets were not “yes” men and women parroting from a script; they were not namby-pamby men and women, telling Him what they think He wants to hear. I have found myself at times praying what I think God wants to hear instead of what is really going on in my deepest heart. Do we find ourselves avoiding our very real emotions and very real reactions to the things that God allows into our lives to fake fine? We fake praise and thanksgiving. Yet we see especially in David and many of the prophets that they didn’t back away from owning their emotions about what was happening in the world and in their lives—
“Why are you downcast O my soul?”
“Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him.”
They owned the emotion, and then they chose the hope and praise of God.
As I’ve read through the Bible over and over, I continue to marvel at these relationships. These men and women lived like men and women who knew their God, who weren’t afraid to ask Him hard questions and talk to Him like He was a real person. They weren’t afraid to cry out to Him when it felt like He was being too hard on them, was asking too much of them, or was not paying attention to their pain.
And they returned to their worship of Him.
We see it in Abraham—crying out to God, “Will not the God of all the earth do right?”
We see it in Jacob, “I will not let you go until you bless me!”
We see it in Moses, “If You don’t go with us, we will not go up!”
We see it in David.
And, in the New Testament, we see it in Martha and Mary, “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died!”
Over the last many years we have seen our country fall deeper and deeper into depravity, and at times, I have found myself lamenting as Isaiah said of Israel, “Truth is fallen in the streets and justice is turned away backwards.”
I’ve cried as Jeremiah cried,
“Oh, that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people! (Jeremiah 9:1)
I will take up a weeping and wailing for the mountains,
And for the dwelling places of the wilderness a lamentation, (Jeremiah 9:10)
And what is God’s response to Jeremiah?
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
“Consider and call for the mourning women,
That they may come;
And send for skillful wailing women,
That they may come.
Let them make haste
And take up a wailing for us,
That our eyes may run with tears,
And our eyelids gush with water.
Yet hear the word of the LORD, O women,
And let your ear receive the word of His mouth;
Teach your daughters wailing,
And everyone her neighbor a lamentation (Jer. 9:17,18,20)
Did you catch that?
God Himself called for “wailing women!” God was lamenting!
May I give a word of encouragement to the mourning women? God weeps over His creation. When our grief over events in our lives spills over into an almost wailing lament, He is weeping with us. When the children have gone astray, we hear Him tell us: “I too have many children who are in rebellion against Me and who have rejected Me. I too am weeping.”
When we suffer the loss of a dear loved one, He weeps with us. He laments with us. He calls for the wailing women to come and weep with us, and in the tears there is healing.
When all of our dreams are dashed against the rocks, and we sit alone, He sits with us and He quietly understands, enters in with us and allows us to feel the full brunt of our emotional responses.
But then He raises us up, gives us the call to “stand therefore!” He sends us back out into the battle. He goes on ahead of us and prepares the way for the next thing, the next trial, the next assignment. When it feels like He is not there at all, He is ahead of us in the pillar of fire, calling back to us, “Follow Me! Just keep following Me.”
There is the lament and then the comfort. There is the leaning down and lifting us back up and the call to mount up and go forth—to press on. We sometimes get that backwards—we want to tell people to buck up, to press on, ignoring the very real emotional pain they are experiencing.
I have had a deep sorrow in my heart for the past seven years—an unhealed soul wound. Most of the time I have been able to press on past it and push it down, but there have been times, when the sorrow and grief over this longing of my heart pushes past all of my attempts like a bully, and I would be, for a period of time, overcome with it. I am well acquainted with grief, and I understand it. I understand that it is no use to push grief out of the way, or to push it down when it rises up. For the past seven years, I have tried to do just that—just keep busy, keep pushing it out of the way—it should be getting better, shouldn’t it? Do I not have enough faith?
There is a mindset today that encourages us to always be positive and cheerful, never letting on that there is a deep, hidden place on our hearts where we feel God has not answered. We make excuses for it almost as if we need to defend God—I mean if God has left this thing unanswered for so long then there must be something He is trying to teach us—some deep hidden thing He is trying to reveal, and we are just not getting it. Volumes have been written to explain away God’s reasons for not answering a particular prayer, and most of what is written is true. But what about those prayers that we know to be His will? Those prayers that go for long years with no sign from God that He has heard, much less answered? Oswald Chambers calls it the fear that “our hero won’t come through.”
It is here that our inner struggle is sometimes waged. In that struggle, there rises up silent accusations against God—accusing Him of not caring about this deep pain in our heart. It is here that there stalks feelings of such discouragement that our prayers become paralyzed. Where feelings of abandonment and loneliness rise to the surface and steal, kill, and destroy. What gets stolen and killed and destroyed? Joy.
Since the Bible is filled with so many great men and women of God who were not always joyful—men and women who suffered and who took their grieving hearts to the only One who fully understood, to God Himself—then we have much to learn from them. What we have to learn is how to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. It is not our job to try to keep everyone cheered up all the time. When someone has faced a great loss and is still grieving that loss some years later, it is not our job to give a little lecture on how we need to just get over it and move on.
No, Jesus is saying—Weep with them.
Not long ago I made the decision to not ignore this deep pain I had been experiencing for so long. I made a decision that if God wasn’t going to answer this prayer, then please, could He at least heal this soul wound? And so I went into His secret place and started to cry it all out.
It was as though Jesus was there, saying to me, I know what you are feeling. I know, I understand, you can talk to Me, you can tell Me anything. I wasn’t asking Him why He has not answered or demanding answers, I just laid it all out, telling Him how it all felt, and that I wished I understood or had some insight into His ways. I fell asleep knowing that something had transpired between us, and the following morning I continued. I felt His presence; He was grieving with me, He was leaning in, hearing, understanding my deep pain as I laid it all before Him. He didn’t seem to be flooding me with scripture verses to fix things. He just listened—and He understood.
As often happens when I have had an encounter with the risen Christ, He will go on to confirm that it was indeed He who had been there with me. I went to church that night. The pastor spoke of examining your “soul.” He asked the question, “How is my soul?” I had just done that exact thing—examined my soul with Jesus. I came home feeling uplifted and encouraged that God had spoken through that sermon to affirm that what had happened between us was real.
The following morning I read a blog post that again, affirmed that Jesus was speaking something deep into my soul—He was examining my soul and giving me permission to grieve. The blog was written by a woman who had grown up shuffled around to various courtrooms while her parents fought over custody. She had years of grief, years of never finding joy, years of never being able to trust anyone. She had been reading Ann Voskamp’s book, “The Broken Way,” and I copied down some of the things I felt God speaking to me through this blog, here are a few:
The blog was titled, “A New Way to Pray: How To Talk to God When You’re Broken.” I’ll use some of the quotes from Ann and this blogger.
The blogger, after relating all of the pain in her life, quotes from Voskamp:
- “The broken way begins with this lost art of lament, and until we authentically lament to God, we’ll never feel authentically loved by God.” (Voskamp)
- “The wounds that never heal are always the ones mourned alone.” (Voskamp)
- “Lament’s not a meaningless rage, but a rage that finds meaning in His outrageous love.”
The blogger, realizing that she had spent years burying her pain and never sharing it for fear that other believers would tell her to “just move on,” writes:
- “In the moment I wanted to just suck it up – to be ‘stronger’– but I was unable to silence my cry.”
- “What kind of Christian silences heartache? What kind of Christian is unmoved by death? Christians ought to be the first ones crying out that this world is not as it should be.”
Real strength is letting others into our brokenness.
Jesus prayed in His High Priestly prayer that we would all be one as He and the Father are one. That we would have His joy fulfilled in us. That our joy would be “full.”
So, what is this joy that He is speaking about? Listen, this is His joy. It is not something that we pump up or try to get worked up; it is something supernatural.
What was His joy? I think Hebrews 12:2 tells us: “… looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Joy is on the other side of the cross.
The joy that is on the other side of the cross can’t be faked. Paul tells us that he longed to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Knowing Him, walking in the power of His resurrection is all wrapped up in the “fellowship of His sufferings.” It is a package deal. When we have His joy in the midst of our weeping—that is supernatural joy—that joy can’t be faked.
Here’s the deal. James tells us to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice.
Before I began this cycle of loss and grief, when someone came to me, someone who was suffering, or grieving, or out of answers, I would come up with some favorite scripture—scripture to remind them that God was in control and blah, blah, blah. I would tell them I would pray for them, and maybe even pray with them right then. I would soon forget the encounter and forget to pray. Why?
Because I had not experienced what they were experiencing and so I could not weep with those who weep.
God has seen to it that I have done a lot of weeping over the last seventeen years, and with each loss, the pain is greater and deeper. Can I now weep with those who have lost a husband? Can I now weep with those whose children have gone astray? Can I now weep with someone who is taking care of an aging parent? Do I just toss out my memorized scripture verses and say a quick prayer?
Hopefully not, because weeping with those who weep means entering into their sorrow. It means that my tears that God says He stores in His bottle get spilled out and mingled with theirs.
When God says that the trials we encounter are meant to be used to bring comfort to others who are encountering something similar—take that to heart. He means it.
Because here is the beautiful thing: In Psalm 84, a beautiful Psalm of thanksgiving to God, there is a little truth tucked into verse 6. It says, “Passing through the valley of weeping, he makes it a refreshing spring.”
He makes all of our valleys of weeping into refreshing springs—springs that will flow out of us and into others, bringing healing to their wounded souls. Our tears and weeping are not a morbid recounting of all the loss and pain we have experienced—they are refreshing springs for others to drink deeply from. But we have to let Him turn that valley of weeping into refreshing springs, or else it will be a dead sea, filled with toxic stagnant water.
A little verse jumped out at me as I was preparing a talk to a group of women in Flagstaff earlier this year. It is found in Ezekiel 11:16 where God is telling Ezekiel that terrible times are coming to Israel—and He was going to allow them to be removed from their beloved Israel and their beloved Temple. He says to Ezekiel, “Tell them this Ezekiel—“yet I will be to them a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.” Jesus Christ is our little sanctuary wherever we are sent.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from H.A. Ironside:
“God is not looking for brilliant men,
Is not depending upon eloquent men
Is not shut up to the use of talented men
in sending His gospel out into the world.
God is looking for broken men who have judged themselves
In the light of the cross of Christ.
When He wants anything done, He takes up men who have
Come to the end of themselves, and whose confidence
Is not in themselves, but in God.”
~ H.A. Ironside
About Kathy Beard:
Kathleen has taught women’s Bible studies since 1993 as well as speaking at women’s conferences in the U.S. and Honduras. She has been passionately in love with Jesus since 1989 when she returned to Him after walking away from her faith for a few years.
Now, 24 years later it is still her joy and passion to speak His truths into the lives of others who are navigating the hard paths of life as Jesus takes the “living water” that he pours into her, and pours it out into others. And the best part is He gets all the glory!
Kathleen is available to speak to women’s groups on a variety of topics including, suffering, caretaking, the overcoming life, discipleship, mentoring others, the abundant life in Christ. If you would like to have Kathleen speak at your women’s conference or to a group, you may contact her at email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.