In “Bridging the Diversity Gap”, the author, an African-American who serves as a Pastor in a multi-ethnic congregation, sets the tone and direction of his book by making an interesting comment. He is sharing his general attitude toward life when he writes, “Learning to navigate lament defines my journey.” I was struck by that phrase. I think all of us, as adults, have had to struggle with “what is” rather than what “could be”, or perhaps “should be”. Life rarely ends up being what we imagined it to be. In the author’s case he was struggling with the reality of racism and injustice, especially in the church. I understand his frustration and disappointment. There is much to lament when it comes to those issues. But, I wonder if that is the right perspective for a leader.
Life rarely exceeds are expectations. M. Scott Peck was right when he opened his book, “The Road Less Traveled”, with the three-word statement, “Life is difficult.” There’s no getting around that. Life is difficult. But to focus one’s life on the difficulty seems to miss what God has intended for us. To define your journey by saying it is simply to “learn how to navigate lament” seems to dim one’s vision of what God is doing in our lives.
If anyone had a right to lament David would be at the top of the list. What could have been, should have been, ended up being, in many ways, a life of failure and crushing personal loss. In Psalm 69 David plaintively writes in verses 1-3, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.” I think there are times in life we can identify somewhat with David’s spiritual and emotional state. There are times, like what he goes on to say in Psalm 69, when things are very bad – times when people have attacked us, when family has disappointed us, and when our own personal moral failures have cost us more than we ever thought possible. We’ve all been there. Maybe we still are. But David doesn’t stay there. His lament becomes a statement of praise. Now, he isn’t in denial. He is very aware of the difficulties he faces. It’s just that spending one’s life focused on the problems doesn’t leave much room for hope.
In verses 29-32 David writes, “But as for me, afflicted and in pain – may your salvation, God, protect me. I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves. The poor will see and be glad – you who seek God, may your hearts live!” David, rather than spending his life navigating lament, wants to use it to praise the Lord. Notice that his desire is to sing his praise to God. I must confess that when I have been neck-deep in trouble, singing praises is not the first thing that comes to mind. And thanking Him for anything is usually replaced by complaining to Him about everything. My thoughts reflect the gripe, “Where is God when you really need Him?” But, David doesn’t spend much time on lamenting. Why? Because he knows, as a leader, there are bigger issues than having his questions answered and his problems solved. He says that when we praise and glorify we please God and make the poor glad.
We please God more when we offer a sacrifice of praise from our need than an offering given from our plenty. When we are afflicted and in pain – when we don’t have an answer – when we don’t seem to have what it takes to move on – that’s when our praise reveals our true faith and belief in a merciful and grace-filled God. But our praise does more than please God. It makes the poor glad. The poor are those who are spiritually, emotionally, or physically afflicted. The poor are those who find themselves in so much trouble they feel like David did sinking in the miry depths crying out for help. David, as a leader, was sensitive enough to realize that his approach to his own difficulties had a direct impact on others. He wanted to exhibit enough faith that it would encourage others to not give up or give in. In fact, they would not only be encouraged, they would be glad! Pleasing God and making the poor glad changed David’s perspective. Rather than try to navigate lament he focused on plotting a course of praise.
The last phrase of our passage, Psalm 69:32b, says, “…you who seek God, may your hearts live!” I love that verse! Whether you’re neck-deep in trouble, whether you’re sinking in miry depths, whether your being flooded with trials and tribulations, – “you who seek God, may your hearts live!” In our present day, when we are in the midst of a pandemic and people are afraid – when we have family and friends losing their jobs or even their lives – when we become more aware of the injustice and racism that still exists – when we see our country being torn apart because of intolerance and political partisanship – we can spend time lamenting what has become our current reality. Or we can acknowledge our own pain and the pain of others and then move on to place our focus on the One who can truly change things. As long as our focus is on navigating lament, we can never move on to praise and thanksgiving. If we spend our lives focused on what isn’t – we miss seeing what is. Isaiah recorded for posterity the words of the seraphim in chapter 6. They declared that the whole earth is full of God’s glory. Yes, problems are real. Difficulties remain. But the truth is that permeating all of life’s experiences is the glory and goodness of God.
Larry Carter, President of Great Lakes Christian College
Great Lakes Christian College is a regionally accredited Bible College whose mission is “to glorify God by preparing students to be servant leaders in the church and world.”