Julia Butler is a retired GP who has been part of the church family here at Fulwood for 17 years, although she was originally converted here as a teenager! You may well know her as wife to Alan Butler, church warden. Over the past five years, encouraged by Sonia Crossley, Julia has done the Biblical Counselling Training Certificate through BCUK and will become an intern with them in September 2020. As she begins to engage with this key ministry in the life of the church and works out her role, we asked her to write something to help us think through the relatively under mentioned issue of “lament” as a normal part of the Christian life. This is the first of her 3 part blog series.
There is so much pain in our broken, sinful, hurting world whether it is grief, bereavement, guilt, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, stress or anger.
Many are struggling. May be that includes you. If so, how are you dealing with it?
Sometimes we try to bury it because we do not have the resources or time to deal with it and try to keep going normally. However, it inevitably will not stay buried.
Sometimes we distract ourselves or look to other things to help us at such a time; pursuing pleasures and distractions in an effort to escape reality, or putting our trust in money or relationships to pull us through. There is nothing wrong with many of these things in themselves, but it depends whether we make them into replacement gods – idols.
Or do you look to our loving merciful Father who is with us in our pain and struggling and describes himself in Exodus 34:6-7 as:
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
What do we do with the pain and the complaints that arise from it? Is our view of God big enough?
Are the complaints one dimensional in that we chunter away to ourselves with bitter or angry thoughts, with desperation, or preoccupation with our sadness? If we continue on this path it will lead to further grumpiness, discontent and self-absorption.
Is it two dimensional when we complain and grumble to others as the Israelites did in the wilderness in Numbers 14 and were punished for it? This will lead to spreading discontent and disunity.
Or is it three dimensional when we share our problems, suffering and pain with other believers, but above all we pour out our hearts to God as Psalm 62:8 suggests:
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
The Bible can give voice to our pain; its fears and frustrations, with words that we may struggle to find. It allows us to wrestle with our sorrow. A third of the Psalms do this. They Lament, calling to God either individually or corporately.
The same happens in Job and Lamentations. We are allowed to ask questions and indeed the Lord encourages it. They include questions such as “Where are you Lord?”, “How long Lord?”, “Why Lord?”. However, ultimately, we have to change the ‘Why?’ to ‘Who?’. Who is our Lord and what is his eternal unchanging character? Whatever our circumstances he is the same perfectly good, mighty, holy God of Exodus 34 and we should approach him on bended knee.
We are part of a broken, sinful world, which hurts, sometimes in ways that feel unbearable. Our Father knows and he collects our tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8 ESV). He also sent his perfect sinless son into this imperfect world to save us, through physical, mental, emotional and spiritual anguish, so we do not have a High Priest unable to sympathise with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15).
After learning Godly complaining we can learn to lament. How we do this will be discussed in the next blog. So that as we approach our Lord in lament, we will be able to find comfort, rest and peace even in the midst of the trouble.