It’s strange, isn’t it, how something that is not physical can feel so physical? I experienced several losses last year and each one somehow hurt deep within my bones. My heart ached. I felt weak and worn. I could relate to the psalmist, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief (Psalm 6:6-7).
If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you too have probably found solace in the Psalms when the heartaches of life have overwhelmed you. Perhaps you’ve written down a Psalm or two to give you comfort during a trial. Maybe you’ve found great hope in the fact that the psalmist felt the same levels of despair, fear, or abandonment that you felt.
John Calvin wrote that the Psalms are “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” I think that is an appropriate description. Every emotion that we experience in this life is reflected in those 150 poems. From joy and gratitude to grief and sadness; from horrifying fear to the pit of despair; from confession over sin to crying out for help; the Psalms cover it all.
But the Psalms do more than just mirror our own heartaches. They aren’t simply there to provide catharsis or help us know that we aren’t the only ones who have suffered.
In fact, there is much more that we can learn from the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, those dark, sad, and emotion laden Psalms many of us turn to when life is hard and the future seems dark and bleak.
1. We learn how to be honest with God.
The Psalms were the songbook for God’s people. They sang the Psalms during worship to God. All of them. Even the dark and sorrow-filled songs. These songs are prayers poured out to God. In reading the Laments, we learn that we need to be honest and real with our Heavenly Father. The psalmist describes in vivid detail exactly what he is experiencing, feeling, thinking, and hoping. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast” (Psalm 22:14).
2. We learn to turn to God in our sorrow.
Another lesson we learn from the Psalms is the need to turn to God in our troubles. In our independent, self-reliant, and internet savvy culture, we often turn to other sources to help us in our trials. We rely on ourselves and our strength. We search online for answers. We find solace in temporary solutions and quick fixes. We put our hope in things rather than in God. But the Psalms show us that we need to turn to God for our help. We need to cry out to him for his grace and mercy. We need to ask him all the questions on our heart. “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8).
3. We learn that a return to joy in God is the ultimate goal.
The Psalms of the Lament are not just about venting our emotions to God. They are not just about pouring out our concerns and feeling better for having done so. Rather, there is an ultimate goal for the Laments. They follow a movement forward. Nearly all the Psalms of Lament end with a note of trust and praise. The process of learning how to Lament ultimately leads us to finding our hope in God. As the psalmist pours out his lament, he focuses on who God is and what he has done. He remembers God’s faithfulness and loving kindness. He focuses on God’s character and his goodness. As he does so, his heart is moved toward joy and gratitude. He voices his trust that God will move in his life and bring salvation. “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
4. We learn that Christ has fulfilled the cries of our heart.
The last thing we can learn when studying the Psalms of Lament is that Christ is the fulfillment of all the psalmist’s cries. Following his resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples and said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus is the fulfillment of all of Scripture. All the cries of the psalmist’s heart and the cries of our heart are met in him. When we read the Psalms and remember that Jesus is the “Man of Sorrows” who knew temptation, grief, sorrow, rejection, and loss, we know our Savior is well acquainted with the heartaches of this life. When we remember the lament that Jesus cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Psalm he quoted on the cross, we know that he suffered for us. And when we dwell on his saving work for us in his life, death, and resurrection, we know that our hope is found in him alone.
The Psalms is a book that is rich with the reality of what life is like in this fallen world. It is a book we all treasure and turn to when our lives are flipped upside down. There is much we can learn from the Psalms, but above all, it is a book that points us to our eternal hope in Christ.
To read more about the Laments, read Christina’s new book A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament.