Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Lament in the Waiting

Preached by Ben Bechtel

I recently asked a friend here at the church who leads a young adult men’s Bible study what they are currently studying. He told me that they had just begun a study on the book of Lamentations. I asked him why exactly they chose to study Lamentations. His reply was fascinating to me. He said, “we were trying to think of things we weren’t very good at in our Christian lives and we all agreed we really don’t know how to lament. So, we chose to study Lamentations.”

This morning I have the privilege of beginning a new sermon series for us on the Psalms of lament which will carry us through this season of Lent. If we are all honest with ourselves, we don’t know how to lament. When we come to passages in our Bible where the writer is crying out to God with complaints or begging God to do something about the evil in the world, we get uncomfortable. We don’t know how to handle these passages, so we often avoid them. And yet 1/3 of the book of Psalms are lament Psalms. These psalms are for our good and we miss something vital to our life with Jesus when we ignore them. So, let’s begin our series on the psalms of the lament this morning by reading and studying Psalm 13 together:

13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
  light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.


My first day of seminary is one of those days that is tattooed into my memory. One of the things I remember most about that day was a small group that I had with a few other students and a professor. They had us break up into small groups of about 8 new incoming students and one professor, the idea being to get to know a few other new students and a professor as you begin. I remember us all going around and saying where we’re from and if we had any children. It came to my turn and I said, “my name is Ben, I’m from Harrisburg, and I don’t have any children.” And as we went around the circle we laughed, and some guys cracked a few jokes. Everybody was trying to make a good impression on their peers and have some fun.

Then it came time for my professor to share. I remember clear as day his words cut through all of the first impression jitters and the light heartedness of each of us. He told us his name, he told us where he’s from, and then he said, “I have 2 children: a son who is five years old and a daughter who is in heaven with Jesus. She was stillborn last year.” It was like somebody had dropped a 200-pound blanket on top of that group.

When these moments of life come what do you say to God? Maybe for some of you here even just hearing this story triggers memories of a similar circumstance in your life. Or maybe you have been struggling to find a job and provide for your family and the job just won’t seem to come through for you. Or maybe you have prayed for the salvation of a child or a spouse for years and they only seem to become harder towards the gospel. Or maybe you’ve been watching a parent or a spouse or a loved one or yourself struggle with an illness that has you in a stranglehold and will not let go no matter how many times you ask God for healing. It’s in these moments when words like David’s here in Psalm 13 can be the healing balm for our wounded hearts. But in these moments of waiting on God to end our suffering our tendency is to think that God doesn’t love us or that he has abandoned us. When God feels far away, we are tempted to lose hope and think that he is gone for good. However, Psalm 13 provides us with a blueprint for how we should approach God in times of waiting when it feels like God is nowhere to be found.

Psalm 13 answers for us the question: “how do we faithfully wait on God when he feels far away?” This Psalm is split into three equal parts made up of two verses each that provide the three-part answer to this question. How do we faithfully wait on God when he feels far away? In those times we are to complain (vv. 1-2), request (vv. 3-4), and trust (vv. 5-6).

1. Complain (vv. 1-2)

When you hear the word complain prescribed as something that you are to do as Christians in a sermon, it might make you a bit uncomfortable. You may say “doesn’t the Bible teach us to do everything without grumbling or disputing (Phil. 2:14) and to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4)? How can you tell us to complain and how can David complain in this Psalm without violating these commands? Is David in sin by raising these complaints?” These are helpful questions to ask in order to bring the whole Scripture to bear on this issue. What I want to put before you this morning is that the language of lament given to us in this psalm is how we give voice to our pain and move into rejoicing. Lament is the pathway to joy. But in order to lament we have to be honest about our emotions before the Lord.

In these first two verses, David asks the question “how long?” four times. We don’t know the details of David’s situation that gave rise to this Psalm, but we do know that he was in trouble on all sides and he wanted it to end. David, as the king of Israel often faced enemies coming against him. He has struggle coming at him from the outside. If you look at the beginning of verse 2, you’ll see that he is also facing inner turmoil. His heart is weighted down with sorrow. David was experiencing what we might label today as depression. His sorrows lasted all day long. Have you ever experienced sorrow like that, a sorrow which grabs you by the neck the moment you open your eyes and won’t let go?

Foundational to his struggle though, is David’s feeling that God has abandoned him. Let’s read verse 1 again together:

13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
               How long will you hide your face from me?

The root cause of David’s suffering and sorrow is that he feels like God has turned his face away from him. In the Scriptures, the face of God is the place of God’s blessing and relational favor. In the blessing which the priests would give Israel recorded for us in Numbers 6 it asks God to turn his face towards the people. The priest asked that the people might experience this face to face, friend to friend fellowship with God. And if you read the Scriptures this is what David had with God. David knew the character and promises of God better than anyone. But here, in this moment, David feels like God has turned his face of friendship aside.

So, let’s return to our original question: is David wrong to complain so boldly to God? Let’s just take the word complain out of the equation for a second and just think about what he says. Do these words of David to God make you blush? Do you find that your knee jerk reaction to these words is to wince and say, “that may be fine for David but I would never pray this way.”

I remember talking about this reality with a good friend of mine, whose family had been through some terribly difficult circumstances. My friend was talking with his dad about how he talked with God about all of these hard things. My friend’s dad’s response has stuck with me. He said something to this effect: “I just tell God honestly how I’m feeling, no matter how ugly it is. He already knows what I am thinking anyway. It is better for me to take it to him than leave it in my heart. God is bigger than me; he can handle it.”

When we neglect to honestly lament, when we neglect to honestly bring our emotions and our complaints before God, two negative results can occur. The first is that we drown in despair. We feel as if we can’t say these things to God and so these lies stay in our heart and despair and maybe even resentment at God eats us alive. On the other hand, we feel as if saying things like this are sinful and display a lack of trust in God, so we put on a happy face and “rejoice always” but never honestly deal with our complaints and emotions towards God. This type of trust runs the risk of being a shallow, surface level trust in which your whole self is not surrendered to and trusting God.

The alternative for us as Christians between despair and denial is lament.[1] The alternative for us is to turn and bring our honest complaints before God. Notice, even just raising our complaints before God is an act of faith. The faithless person doesn’t turn to God with their sorrows and hardships because they aren’t actually wrestling with how to believe that God is good and in control when life is terrible and spiraling out of control. And so, they sink either into despair or denial of their own emotions. Lamenting our complaints to God is how we are able to rejoice always as the apostle Paul says. A survey of the Psalms of lament will show you that lament is not antithetical to joy and trust in God but is precisely the means by which God’s people are to continually take joy in and trust in God when life is hard. There is a movement from complaint to praise and lament is the vehicle which gets us there.

So church, do not hide your true selves from the one who knows you way better than you. Even when he feels far away, turn to him and tell him your complaints. Ask him bold questions based upon what you know to be true about his goodness and promises toward his people. A great way to do this is to simply pray the psalms of lament. Use these words as the basis for your prayers. This is not an invitation to be mad at God. Rather, it is an invitation to work through our anger and other emotions honestly before God on the pathway to hope.

2. Request (vv. 3-4)

After he makes his complaints known to God, David moves to boldly asking God to intervene in his situation. Let’s read verses 3-4 again:

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
  light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

After turning to God and airing his grievances, David makes requests of his God. Notice, there are three commands here in this text. David asks God to consider him, which could actually be translated “pay attention,” to answer him, and to light up his eyes which is a request to restore both physical and spiritual strength to him.[2] Essentially, David is asking God, who feels far from him, to turn his face back towards him, see what is going on in his situation, and act.

Like I said earlier, we don’t know David’s historical situation or the exact nature of his suffering. But we do know that to David this suffering felt like it was the end of his life. Notice the high stakes in this for David and his bold requests of God. In verse 3 he asks God to give him his physical and spiritual strength back because he feels like he might die. In verse 4 David says that he wants God to help so that his enemies don’t think that they’ve prevailed over him. We read that as modern westerners with no real enemies and think that David is making a big deal out of some people being against him. But David was the anointed king of the people of God. Enemies conquering over him meant God’s enemies conquering God. This is a prayer not just for David’s honor but God’s.

Here’s the bottom line: God knows the stakes of our suffering. God knows that some days whether it is physical enemies chasing you down in the desert or anxiety and depression hunting you down, there are mornings where your heart is in such despair you can hardly get out of bed. God doesn’t just want us to tell him about our situation, but he wants us to ask him boldly in trust to intervene. He doesn’t get offended by big asks but wants his children to come boldly before him especially in times of trouble. Maybe you think that your situation isn’t big enough or serious enough to ask God about. If you’re a parent and your child asks for water in bed when they’re 3 or for you to come pick them up because they got in a terrible car accident when they’re 18, you want them to ask you for help.[3] In your darkest times God hears your prayers and knows the difficulty of your circumstances. He wants you to ask him for help.

3. Trust (vv. 5-6)

At this point in the psalm, the tone changes drastically. David turns and displays an active trust in God and his promises. If you look with me at verse 5, you’ll see the first two words are “but I.” That word “but” is the most important word in this entire psalm. Notice in verses 5-6 that nothing about David’s circumstances have changed. He doesn’t thank God for taking away his sorrow or vanquishing his enemies. Rather, after complaining and asking God for help he chooses to trust despite the circumstances. That word “I” is also emphatic in the Hebrew text of the psalm. David is emphasizing that no matter what his enemies do to him in verse 4, it is his choice to trust God despite his unchanged circumstances.

It’s not as if David has more information now than before he started the psalm either. God is still good and in control but his life on the surface still doesn’t reflect that. But notice how David’s prayer of lament was the vehicle that led him from a place of despair to a place of trust.

What exactly does David’s lament lead him to choose to place his confidence in? Verse 5 tells us:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

That word “steadfast love” in verse 5 is the Hebrew word that refers to God’s faithful, committed love. In our culture, it would be best for us when we read the words “steadfast love” to camp out on the word “steadfast.” You see, this is not God’s general good feeling or disposition to us. Rather, just like a husband and wife commit to loving one another on a wedding day, this word refers to God’s committed love to come through for his people and save them from sin and death no matter how hard it is. It is God’s “in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part” type of love. It refers to God’s promises to make all things new no matter what it costs him. David trusts in this love even though he doesn’t see it fully revealed in his life.

The people of God have always been a waiting people, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises of love. After they sinned, Adam and Eve received the promise of a deliverer who would defeat evil and yet all they saw in their lifetime were evil kings who violently perpetuated evil. So, they waited. God promised a great nation to Abraham and yet he and his wife Sarah waited year after year for a child. Moses and the people of Israel groaned year after year in slavery in Egypt waiting to be set free. The people of Israel, in exile in a foreign land waited for the day when God would bring them back and restore his kingdom in Jerusalem.

They all waited for the day when God’s “until death do us part” love was to be revealed in its fullness. This love was revealed at the cross of Jesus Christ. As Jesus dies on the cross, we see God’s ultimate committed love to his people, a love that lays down his life for his people. It is as Jesus is dying on the cross that we see the heart of God’s steadfast love towards each of us fully revealed. 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us…” The cross is the assurance that God’s face is shining on you in love even when you can’t see it. As we look back to the cross we can know the love of God for us in the most difficult parts of life even as we cry out like the people of God from ages past, “how long, O Lord until you fulfill your promises to us and wipe every tear from our eyes?” Look at where this all culminates in verse 6:

            I will sing to the Lord,
              because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Even in the hardest moments, when we look back to the cross and see God’s love for us assured, we can sing for joy because of his bountiful goodness towards us. And we can look forward to the day when he will come again and fulfill all of his promises to us. Because of God’s faithful love we can trust him even when he feels far away.

Let’s return to that professor I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. After that first day, because of the way my program is set up, I wouldn’t have class with him for almost two years. One day in lecture he was talking about trusting the promises of God when life is hard. And he brought up his daughter again. Every night now when he goes into his son’s room, they open the window and look up at the moon. When you look up, some nights there is a crescent moon, some nights there is a full moon, and some nights there was no moon to be seen. At first, my professor had to teach his son about the science involved with this, but after that he would ask his son every night, “son, is the moon still round?” “Yes dad, it is still round” the son would respond. “Even when we can’t see it?” “Yes dad, even when we can’t see it.” And then he would ask “Son, is God still good even when we can’t see it?” “Yes dad, God is still good even when we can’t see it.”

Church, my encouragement to you this morning is that the moon is always round. Despite how the circumstances of your life may blur the view, despite how it may feel like not only is the light not reflecting off the moon at all but that there are also thick clouds in front of it, the moon is always round. The cross of Christ proclaims the truth that God is always good even in our darkest moments. Prayers of lament are the vehicle to help us keep holding onto that truth despite the darkness of life. Lament doesn’t always bring us out into hands raised, triumphant worship. Some days it may take all your strength and trust just to utter the words of this psalm as a prayer. Our journey through sadness, grief, disillusionment, and waiting in this life is painful and every day is different. But I pray that the words of lament and the words of this psalm in particular would be a guide to help you see the love of God displayed on the cross and know that the moon is always round.

When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

Oh Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand


[1] This line comes from Mark Vroegop’s sermon on Psalm 13. This sermon can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIPcSczwdCQ

[2] Spurgeon, 36.

[3] Part of this illustration was taken from a sermon by another pastor, but I can’t recall which sermon or preacher it is from. I just know the part of it about the 3 year old is not my own idea.

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