There are days when it happens. When I just drop to my knees, beside my bed, and let the tears flow—silently. I cry quietly because I don’t want my messy meltdown to disturb my precious husband. But if I’m able to get outside, that meltdown is a bit louder. I don’t yell at God, but pour out the hurt to Him with buckets of tears with blunt statements and appeals. I let Him know how hard it is, how much I long to see healing come, and how very weary my mind and body are. (Click here to read a post that explains.)
And I ask Him lots of questions about what He’s doing, how this fits with His plans for our lives. He doesn’t have to answer me, but I can ask.
Maybe you’ve had a few of these conversations, too. If you’re struggling as you deal with your own crisis, and wondering whether having a meltdown like that is okay, be encouraged by knowing that there are several examples of these recorded for us in Scripture.
When meltdowns come to us through the breath of God, I feel confident in the safety of “melting down” with Him.
The book of Psalms is filled with this kind of meltdown and we refer to those as “lament” psalms. They are prayers recorded for our instruction and for our participation. More than a third of the book is filled with laments (we might refer to them as Psalms that are helpful during a meltdown). There are forty-two individual laments and sixteen corporate laments. One of those is Psalm 44—a maskil (contemplative poem) by the Sons of Korah—and it is a corporate lament.
This psalm provides a vehicle for the nation of Israel to cry out together, in anguish, for their “undeserved suffering.” Although for three millennia, God’s people have been lifting this Psalm in covenant community, it is fitting that an individual, a new covenant sufferer, might also lift up this same prayer. Someone like you and me.
When we pray through a lamenting Psalm, we are joining our voices with God’s people from ages past—but even more than that—our prayer is directed by the Spirit who breathed these very words into existence as Scripture.
This lament begins in a good place—it starts with the affirmation of God’s power and goodness:
[box]O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free; (Psalm 44:1–2)[/box]
The memory of what God has done in the past lays the groundwork for this prayer. We join the Sons of Korah in lifting praise that God drove out the nations who opposed Him by their idolatry, and in contrast to that, He planted His own people in the land. He afflicted His enemies, but He set His own people free from slavery.
The maskil goes on to acknowledge that the victories they experienced were not because of their own might or power—but it was all God. He was the One who accomplished their salvation, not as a result of their own works, but only because He delighted in them:
[box]for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them. (v. 3)[/box]
The next four verses go on to reiterate that the victories they’d experienced, and every rescue from their enemies, could be attributed to God’s merciful character and His great power. This is why they are “boasting” about God and thanking Him continually (v. 8).
But . . .
Following all of this declaration of how God has worked, a contrasting conjunction introduces the lament portion of this Psalm: But. The palmist now gets down to the business at hand. He’s poured out praise and admitted that God’s been merciful, BUT . . . now he wants God to know his complaint. Get ready for the meltdown to begin:
[box]“But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies” (v. 9).[/box]
Another translation states it this way: “But now you have tossed us aside in dishonor.”
“Tossed aside” by God. This cry comes from one who feels forgotten, like God has turned His back on those He once protected from this kind of disgrace. The psalmist laid the foundation for his complaint in the first eight verses by building his case that God has always taken care of His covenant people—so what’s up with what God is doing now?
Where has God’s hand of protection gone?
In verse 11–12, the psalmist accuses God as making them “like sheep for the slaughter” and selling them “for a trifle,” a graphic description of vulnerability and injustice.
This Psalm echoes the frustration and confusion that comes to those who faithfully follow Christ—but rather than seeming to be “blessed by God” they feel abandoned, even abused, by Him:
[box]You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death (vv. 13–19).[/box]
You can almost hear the sharp ring of injustice in the psalmist’s accusation. “We’ve been faithful to You and now we deserve Your reward of a comfortable life.” But instead of a comfortable life, God’s people were suffering. God seemed to be ignoring their need.
This description of God’s allowances, even ordering of painful events, is a violation to our American sensibilities. Our pop-culture Christianity presents a “cake and ice cream theology” where all affliction is banished and every struggle should be tied up with a nice little bow by “naming and claiming” what you want. This theology requires that God put everything in a neat little box: Good works equal a blessed life. You obey God, stay faithful to Him, and nothing bad will ever happen to you.
There is no room for godly suffering in this kind of cross-less theology, but every difficulty can be swept away by simply creating your best life now through speaking it by “faith.”
This kind of attack on the sufferer’s faith sounds much like what Job’s friends kept repeating: If you’re suffering, you must’ve committed some horrific unconfessed sin and now you’re being punished for it! In the cake and ice cream theology, the sufferer must’ve brought on their illness by some diabolical means—either unconfessed sin or demonic attack that the sufferer fails to adequately rebuke.
The Psalmist goes a step further and blames God for the attacks the nation is enduring: “Yet, for Your sake we are killed all the day long . . .” (v.22). It is God’s fault and it is not fair.
This is the conflict of God’s sovereignty and His goodness. He is powerful enough to remove the affliction, but He isn’t doing anything about it. If He is powerful enough and doesn’t remove the affliction—what does that say about His goodness? Especially if the sufferer demands justice, proving that he doesn’t deserve to suffer because he’s done everything right, he hasn’t done anything that should’ve brought on these events (kind of like Job’s argument to God).
The Psalmist says that God must be asleep, He must’ve hidden His face and forgotten their affliction (vv. 23–24). But we know that God never sleeps nor slumbers, and doesn’t forget the tears His people shed. What is happening then? Why doesn’t He stop the pain?
[box]“For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground” (v. 25).[/box]
And I join the Psalmist in tearfully confessing—our soul is bowed down to the dust . . . this is painful, this is hard, this requires grace that only He can give. And thankfully, that grace is available.
This maskil was written before the cross, before the suffering of Christ. It is God-breathed Scripture, for God’s covenant people, but it is voiced from ages past, and from those who could only look forward to the hope of the Messiah, to a new day of grace. But today, we need to read it knowing that Jesus left His followers with a warning of the suffering to come (John 16:33). His friends were persecuted, scattered, and some even put to death for their commitment to Him. That was the kind of treatment His “friends” received—think about it—if this is how He treats His friends . . .
[box]Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)[/box]
Throughout these past two thousand years, many have died for their faith; they were not rescued from a life of suffering, but they lived the theology of the cross.
What do we think that means? It is not cake and ice cream. Taking up a cross means a brutal form of suffering. It isn’t senseless suffering, but it is suffering with purpose. The cross was a work of suffering that was necessary for God’s work of redemption. And every moment of suffering that He ordains the believer to experience has within it the potential of allowing that believer to taste some of the fellowship of suffering with Christ and to display the beauty of redemption.
The fellowship of suffering with Christ is that which comes through the yielded surrender of “Not my will, but Yours . . .” (Luke 22:42).
This is the theology of the cross. This is the life of surrender in the face of suffering. The life that says, I want God’s glory, God’s goodness to be seen and known—even if it costs me my health, my finances, my comfort, my life.
We don’t easily reach that point. We have meltdowns. We have confusion and grappling with the harsh realities of a painful life. But thankfully, God included lament Psalms as a way to guide those meltdowns into truth.
God invites us to lament, but the biblical lament does not leave us without hope.
Psalm 44 closes with an appeal to God to “Redeem us for the sake of Your steadfast love!” And that request was boldly answered. Through great personal cost, the Father answered this request by sending His Son, who willingly laid down His life at the cross. His steadfast love was demonstrated at the cross and because of that love, we can join Him in taking up our cross to follow Him.
Jesus lived the theology of the cross and invites us to as well. This portion of Romans seems to work in tandem with our lament Psalm:
[box]What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31–39).[/box]
The meltdown of Psalm 44 ends with the steadfast love of God being the basis for the appeal to God. Romans 8 describes terrors we may experience: tribulation, distress, persecution, loss, danger, even a horrific death by sword—it does not say that we will be protected from these things, but if we suffer any of these painful experiences, He gives one promise that is even greater than protection from suffering: the promise of His steadfast love.
And with that promise, we can pick up our cross and follow Him.
I’m not having a meltdown today, but LeRoy is having his fifth Remicade infusion this afternoon, and we greatly appreciate your prayers for that. We’re asking God to bring healing, relief from pain, and the opportunity to continue being fruitful in ministry. But more than all of that, we are asking God to show us how to carry our cross well that we might glorify Him through this illness.
[box]Dear Friends, your prayers are a tangible means of God’s grace in our lives. If you are new to the blog, and unaware of what we’re walking through and how we need your prayers, I hope you’ll read this post from the archives. Even though I’m unable to respond to your comments, I do read every one. For those who share prayer needs, I lift those to the Father and am so grateful to be entrusted with your prayer request. I love to hear from you, so please continue to leave your comments knowing that they matter![/box]