A Time for Lament (Psalm 77)



Personal connection to Psalm in lieu of pandemic. I would like to invite you into my life this morning. I would like to set the table and have you sit down, so that I might offer a public confession this morning – not a public confession that you need to worry about. So then, let me set the table. This pandemic stinks. Self-isolation is hard. Seminary most certainly did not offer a class in how to pastor through a pandemic. I was never offered a class in how to have online church or how to care for people when you can never see them in person. The normal routines of many – if not most – of our people is off. Our life consists of comfy loungewear, mid-day showers, potentially poor hygiene, way too much couch time, and way too little exercise.

So then – my public confession. I’ve found myself crying quite a bit lately and at random times. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Now let me be clear, I’m not balling or whimpering or full on weeping or anything. I’m not curled up in a ball – usually. After all that wouldn’t be manly, would it? I am still part of a generation raised with a John Waynesque expectation that men are brave and strong – and don’t cry. I grew up wanting to be Chuck Norris and dressing up as Rambo. We don’t show our emotion. And even better, we don’t feel emotion.

So then, the horror, as I feel what might only be described as sadness, manifesting itself with tears rolling down my face. I understand this is an uncomfortable public acknowledgment. After all, we are supposed to be happy all the time. Sadness is a condition that must be treated. In fact, we far too often, label as depression that which is really just natural or normal sadness, and we pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have some counselor or psychologists help us manage our sadness. Sadness needs a cure because it’s not supposed to be part of our lives. It is a disease that must be dealt with or medicated away.

Therefore, I conclude that if I’m sad I’m either not manly or I’m sick in some way. Yet, obviously, I’m unwilling to land on either of these two conclusions. So instead, I come to Scripture.

And in Scripture I find a genre of writing that ministers to my weary soul – that of lament. One third of the Psalms are considered lament. If I were to ungraciously describe lament, I might use terms such as public whining, socially awkward crying, or unspiritual public doubting of God. All of these are displays of emotion that I’m personally uncomfortable with and to be honest, find inappropriate at times. And yet, one-third of the Psalms consist of lament. One third of the people of God’s hymnal consist of lament.

Let’s be clear. Lament can only be truly experienced by God’s people whereas everyone experiences sadness. As we enter the world, the people crowded around us rejoice as we cry. Sadness is inherently human. Lament, however, only flows from the people of God. Mark Vroegop, in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, writes the following: “The practice of lament—the kind that is biblical, honest, and redemptive—is not as natural for us, because every lament is a prayer. A statement of faith. Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness. . . . To cry is human, but to lament is Christian.”[1]

Purpose statement. Lament is the pathway from doubt filled grief to trusting praise.[2] Let me be clear. Lament is not the pathway from sadness to happiness. Lament doesn’t change your circumstances or even the level of grief amid your suffering. Instead, lament changes your perspective on your circumstances.

Lament is the pathway to trusting praise. And for those of us who struggle reading a map, our Psalm this morning offers us four legs of a journey and three deliberate rest stops on our pathway.

Turn to Psalm 77. We’re going to read these sections as we go along this morning but let me first draw your attention to the three rest stops. As you look at the Psalm, you’ll see three verses end in selah, verse 3, 9, and 15.

Selah. The word Selah is a Hebrew word that occurs seventy-one times in the book of Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. Selah appears to be consistently, if not exclusively used, within the context of music and seems to notate the end of a thought – or what we would consider a “verse” of a song. While a great deal of uncertainty surrounds the term, many commentators agree that the word likely means to pause or reflect. Maybe this was musical notation for voices to pause and instruments to continue alone. As well, it may have been used to direct the reader to pause and consider what had been said.

It is to this end we will use the word this morning. If a lament is the pathway to trusting praise, then the selahs will act as our rest stops in which we will consider the truths of the previous section.

Therefore, let’s consider this morning the four legs of our journey from doubt filled grief to trusting praise.  

Address to God

The first leg of our journey is found in the first three verses and consists of the psalmist directly addressing God. “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah” (Ps 77:1-3).

We pause, at our first rest stop, to consider the presuppositions that accompany this lament.

  • I believe in God (“I cry aloud to God”). After all, I am praying.
  • Literally crying to God is appropriate and good. Jesus remains the ideal man and his prayers were characterized by “loud cries and tears” (Heb 5:7).
  • I believe there is value in ongoing unceasing prayer (“he will hear me,” “my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted”).
  • I believe God can and should want to do something about my situation (“in the day of my trouble I seek the Lord”).
  • My soul is in conflict. My feelings conflict with my understanding of God’s character.


We all climb back in our metaphorical coach bus to drive down the second leg of our journey, titled complaint. Let me read for you verses 4-9. “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? Selah” (Ps 77:4-9).

We pause at our second rest stop to consider the psalmists emotional state.

Emotional state. He is unable to sleep. He grieves in such a manner as to not be able to vocalize or explain it. As a result, he desires to meditate on and remember former good times. He desires to “remember my song in the night” or desires to remember songs from happier days.[3] A problem arises. His song in the night stands in stark contrast to his present suffering and only brings more pain. He then wonders if there is ever a day in which he will rejoice once again.
Leading the psalmist to ask six rhetorical questions which express his doubt. This deep grief and longing leads him to question God with a refreshing level of honesty and transparency. And with these questions, the psalmist offers a clear example of the value of expressing our doubts to God.
  • Will the Lord spurn [cast me off] forever?
  • Will the Lord never again be favorable?
  • Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
  • Are his promises at an end for all time?
  • Has God forgotten to be gracious?
  • Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

We know the answers to these rhetorical questions, but we would be premature in offering those answers now. These questions reveal honest doubt in the mind of the psalmist. We’ll answer these questions a little later.


And with that, we once again pile into our coach bus and take off on our third leg of the journey to praise which I’ve titled resolution. The psalmist continues, “Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.” [His works:] I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. [His character:] Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah” (Ps 77:10-15).

We pause at one final rest stop to consider God’s works and character. Notice on what the psalmist chooses to meditate – not his own present condition, but instead what God has done and who God is.[4] In the midst of grief and suffering, what exactly are we to focus our attention on? Let’s acknowledge a few things on which we are not to focus our attention. I think, too often, amid our grief, we attempt to cheer ourselves by either looking back to the good times of the past or comparing our level of grief to that of others. We may say things such as “well, at least I haven’t had to experience “x.” In the first leg of the journey, the psalmist did this very thing. He attempted to cheer himself by looking back at the good times, only to find that heightened and intensified his pain.

The psalmist’ point is that our attention isn’t really supposed to be on us at all. Instead, our focus is to be diverted to the works and character of God. God has done great things and God is a great God.  

Verse 10 offers some challenges which become evident as you read different versions. A few of the modern translators present this moment negatively.

NASB95 Then I said, “It is my grief, That the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

NET Then I said, “I am sickened by the thought that the sovereign One might become inactive.

NLT And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

However, the thought of this verse must be controlled by the rest of its’ section. This section “is an exultant act of worship, recalling the miracles of salvation.”[5] The NIV offers, what I would consider, a more helpful translation. “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.’”

Amid grief, instead of thinking about either my good days or my bad days, I’m going to remember God’s great work of redemption. Now, you may wonder, “isn’t this equivalent to the psalmist looking back at his good days?” No. He wasn’t around during that historical moment. He wasn’t remembering his personal past better times. He was focused on what God had done in the past, in his redemptive work, which confirmed in his own heart, that God is still a good God. These few verses outline the psalmist’ focus. He “pondered” on God’s works and on God’s holiness. He draws a conclusion, by means of a rhetorical question, “what god is great like our God?” The assumed answer is – there is no god that is as great as our God!

Expression of trust

And with that, we all, for one final time, pile back in our coach bus, leave this last rest stop, and head out on our fourth and final leg of our journey – an expression of trust. “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Ps 77:16-20).

And with that we arrive to our destination of trusting praise. The psalmist anchors his complaints and doubts in Israel’s single greatest act of redemption – God’s deliverance of his people from the mighty Egyptian empire. The Exodus was the event that established, for generations, a confident trust in God’s care of his people.

As believers, we may very well look back at the Exodus event and stand in awe of God’s deliverance of His people, but our greatest act of redemption, our greatest deliverance, is the cross of Christ. Amid our honest and transparent grief, doubt, and complaining, we divert our attention from our present circumstances or even our past glories, and we stare into the face of our Redeemer, and we leave our heartaches and our pain at the cross. “The cross shows us that God has already proven himself to be for us and not against us.”[6]


Our hope is rooted in the gospel not in our present circumstances. Our present circumstances may get worse. We may never heal . . . our relationships may never get better . . .  we may never get another job . . .  our kids may never act the way we want . . . God’s goodness is not primarily rooted in what temporal blessings he gives us today, but instead in what he has already done through Christ.

The solution to grief is not to look at our present or past circumstances, blessings, or suffering. We look to God’s works, character, and redemption of his people. God, having kept his promises in the past, reassures me that he will keep his promises in the present and the future.

[1] Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament (Crossway, 2019), 25–26.

Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach, “The Place of Lament In The Christian Life,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (2007): 387–388. “Webster. Lament need not be kept in a vault to be retrieved and dusted off for events that occur only once in a decade or century. Lament in the Bible speaks of betrayal and abandonment, disappointment with God, injustice and enemy attacks, illness and death. It is both personal and corporate. Lament psalms are the most common type of psalms, which indicates that lament was voiced regularly.”

[2] Vroegop. You might think lament is the opposite of praise. It isn’t. Instead, lament is a path to praise as we are led through our brokenness and disappointment. The space between brokenness and God’s mercy is where this song is sung. Think of lament as the transition between pain and promise.

[3] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 308. “‘My song’ is probably not a ‘song in the night’ like that of 42:8, but one remembered in the night from happier days—making the contrast all the sharper, but the homeward pull so much the stronger.”

Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 286. “He then thought about the past, and especially his songs in the night. Presumably these are hymns of joy, in stark contrast to the laments he now utters in the evening hours. The contrast between the happy past and the agonizing present just heightens his sadness.”

[4] Longman, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 287. “Rather than concentrating and obsessing on his present condition, he resolves to look to the past when God worked his miracles of rescue.”

[5] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 308.

[6] Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, 37.