Seasons of prolonged suffering produce emotional longing whose weight is too great for any of us to bear alone. Rather than turn to our idols of comfort, approval, power, and control, Scripture calls us to turn to God through lament. For he understands the depth of our pain, seeks to care for our fragile hearts, and doesn’t judge us for the messiness or intensity of our emotions. He isn’t surprised by any of it but invites us to bring it all to him.
The prayers of lament we read in Scripture provide a consistent model for how we can bring our cares before the Lord. Each prayer tends to have a similar rhythm, with the author flowing through several different movements of expression as he makes his concerns known to the Lord. While providing an intimate glimpse into the author’s anguish and despair, these prayers also provide consolation as we see the author’s words produce fruit in the form of hope and joy.
Of all the lament prayers I’ve read, David’s prayer in Psalm 13 sticks out the most for me. It serves as a beautiful example, demonstrating a three-step progression of lament, of what it looks like to embrace our pain and find hope in the midst of longing.
1. Tell Him
In Psalm 13:1–2, David expresses how he feels abandoned by God. Four times, he repeats the phrase “How long,” revealing his frustration over the extent of God’s absence. In his mind, he is overcome by his enemies while God is nowhere to be found. David’s words are honest, direct, and unhurried. It’s as if he throws his cares to the Lord, seeking to release the weight of sorrow his soul has been carrying.
Lament provides us the opportunity to “keep it real” with God. Be honest about what has happened and how you feel about it. Tell God about your hopelessness, sadness, and weariness. Share about the ways you feel abandoned or overwhelmed by your situation. Remember, the longing in our hearts represents a grief of sorts, as our hope for a specific reality has died.
In order to embrace our pain, we have to acknowledge it. Lament allows us to openly and honestly express the loss we feel to God. Whether it’s from the pain of prolonged singleness or the burden of caring for an aging parent, crying out to God allows us to process our grief in a space where we are known and loved.
2. Ask Him
The entirety of Psalm 13 is grounded in David’s beliefs about God’s character and nature. He cries out to God because he believes God can actually change his situation. He also knows that God is committed to him based on the Lord’s repeated promises to provide for his good. So in verses 3–4, we see David empowered by these truths to fearlessly ask God for deliverance.
In our lament we are reminded that what seems impossible to us is possible for our God.
Our longing represents situations in life that we wish would change—situations we’re powerless to change on our own. Yet in our lament we’re reminded that what seems impossible to us is possible for our God. Our relationship with God is one grounded in covenantal promise by which we can and should confidently petition him to intervene in our lives. We ask with open hands, believing that God will show up in our situation, even though we don’t have all the details for when and how.
3. Trust Him
David ends Psalm 13 with a declaration of praise. But his praise is not for what God will do. It’s for what God has already done. In verses 5–6, David talks about how he will sing God’s praises because the Lord has “dealt bountifully” with him in the past. He trusts God now because of how God has previously delivered him. In spite of his pain, David chooses to praise God for the many ways God has already blessed him.
If we can trust him to care for our salvation, then we can trust that he will care for all of our needs.
Grounded in the faithfulness of God, lament leads us to end our prayers remembering what God has previously done in our lives. As we recount the moments when God did bring unexpected provision in the very moment we needed it, calm comes over us. Remembering the past goodness of God helps us trust that we’ll experience his goodness in the future. We serve a God who gave his life for us that we might spend eternity with him. If we can trust him to care for our salvation, then we can trust that he will care for all of our needs.
Friends, lament helps us trust that God’s past blessings will extend into both our present and future realities. Lament helps us trust that one day our God will make all things right—even if it’s not until eternity. But simultaneously, lament stirs something in us. It births in us a small seed whose glimmering light of resilience pushes us to keep walking, fueled by the belief that someway, somehow, we “see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13, NASB).
Where does lament lead us in our longing?