The Laments – Cries of the Heart


Pastor Rich Knight

Central Congregational Church

March 11, 2018

Psalm 42

We’re studying the Psalms this Lent, the prayer book and hymnal of the Israelites. There are 150 psalms in the collection, and there are various types.

There are psalms of praise- “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord!”

There are psalms of faith & trust – “The Lord is my shepherd.”

There are psalms that retell the history of the Israelites and their God, teaching psalms.

There are wisdom psalms and psalms of confession.

But the largest number of psalms in the collection are called, “laments.” 60 of 150. That’s a large percentage!

Laments are cries of the heart when life is in disarray, chaos or despair. Psalm 42 is one of the move moving and beautiful of the laments.

Let’s take a look.

Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help

and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”

As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.


Rabbi Harold Kushner tells the story of the day he was leading worship on Yom Kippur in 1973. Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It’s the Day of Atonement. Most Jews spend the entire day in the synagogue, praying and fasting.

On October of 1973 on Yom Kippur, the Egyptians and Syrian armies attacked Israel, and many lives were lost, especially in the first hours of the fighting, as the Israelites weren’t ready for the attack. The news of the attack was announced in the synagogue during the time of worship and prayer. Upon hearing the news, a young man slammed his prayer book down and stormed out of the synagogue. A week later he came to see Rabbi Kushner to apologize.

“I’m so sorry, Rabbi,” he said. “I shouldn’t have slammed the book down and stormed out. I just couldn’t believe that God would allow young Jewish boys to be killed on Yom Kippur. I’m sorry for what happened.”

Kushner replied, “You have nothing to be sorry about. You slamming the prayer book down was probably the most honest, sincere prayer that was said all day.”

Kushner continued:

“The God I believe in is not so fragile that you hurt him by being angry at him, nor is he so petty that he will hold it against you for being upset with him. I believe he is just as upset about people being killed in the war as you and I are, and he respects good, clean honest anger as much as you and I do, and a lot more than he respects mumbled prayers by people going through the motions.”

That’s a pretty good answer, isn’t it? It was given by a rabbi who knows the Book of Psalms, especially the Laments. For the Laments teach us that God can handle our strongest emotions, our anger and our outrage. God is not overwhelmed by it, and God does not withdraw from us where we are expressing our anger. In fact, judging by all the Laments canonized in the Book of Psalms, God would rather have us yelling in prayer than not praying at all! That’s why they included so many Laments in collection, to underscore that simple truth.

One Old Testament scholar has said this about the Laments: “Theses psalms offer us speech when life has gone before our frail efforts to control it.”

The man in the synagogue did not know what to say to God. He knew a Psalm of Praise would have been phony and fake from him that day. So he offered up his anger to God in a gesture that was the only communication he could find to make.

There are actually a number of prayers in the Bible, in the Book of Psalms that he could have utilized, especially the Laments, the cries of the heart.

Listen to a few lines, prayers spoken to God, from the Laments:

Ps. 10 – Why, O Lord, why do you stand far off? What do you hide?

Ps. 13 – How long, O Lord, will you forget us forever?

Ps. 83 – Do not keep silent; do not be quiet; do not be still!

Ps. 22 – My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me? I cry and you do not answer.

Ps.4 – Answer me what I call, O God! 

Ps. 5 – Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing.

These are not nice, pretty prayers. They’re emotional and raw. They’re not the type of prayers we find today in most devotionals. And usually the Laments do not make it into the psalms that they sometimes put in the back of hymnals. They’re too earthy and unsettling.

Imagine if I prayed nothing but a genuine lament some Sunday. “God, have you forgotten us. Are you sleeping? When will you hear our prayers? When will you answer us?”  You might think I was losing my faith! “Hang in there, Pastor Rich! It’s gonna be okay!”

I once heard a pastor offer a pastoral prayer in worship that was mostly a Lament. I found myself being nervous for him. Was he okay? Was he depressed? And how would the congregation feel about his prayer?

But they put these Laments in the Bible!!! And they included more Laments than any other type of psalm!!! What’s up with that???

There are several things I’d like you to remember about the Laments.


  1. The Laments are a helpful resource for prayer when you’re in one of the valleys of life.

When you’re overwhelmed, upset, angry or outraged, and you don’t even know what to say to God, go looking for some Laments in the Psalms. They will give you words to say to express your heart to God’s heart.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?”   (Ps. 13:1-2)

“Yes, that’s exactly how I feel! When will you intervene, God? When will you do something? How long must I endure this?”

My tears have been my food day and night . . . I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully?’” – 42: 3 & 9 

The Laments give us words to speak to God when we’re in the valleys of life, and they can help us realize we’re not alone in those valleys. Others in our faith have been there, too, and this is what they had to say about it and pray about it. This is how they stuck close to God in their valleys.

This is one of the biggest reasons why we need the Psalms and the Old Testament. The New Testament does not include laments, and therefore doesn’t give us the language and permission that the laments do to address our strongest emotions and deepest cries for help to God.


2.Secondly, the Laments teach us that there is a lot of faith in our doubts.

We usually don’t think about it that way, do we? There’s faith in our doubts, in our anguish and in our outrage.

Think of Jesus on the Cross,  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Do you hear the faith in that?  “My God, My God! You’re My God, why are you allowing this?”

Praying the Laments is actually professing faith in a good, just and righteous God, in spite of evidence to the contrary!  Wrestling with God and praying about our doubts and disbelief is actually an act of faith. An act of unbelief would be to not pray at all!

The Laments show us there’s faith in our doubts.


3.One final thing these Laments teach us is that prayer changes us.

Prayer doesn’t always change the circumstances, but prayer can certainly change the one praying.

When you read the Laments it’s interesting to note that many of them change in tone as the prayer moves along. Often by the end of the psalm the writer is not in the same despair in which the psalm began.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

“Deep calls to deep,” said the writer of Psalm 42. And somewhere down in that Deep there is faith and hope. And in the deep cries of one’s heart, that faith and hope are found again. The Laments help us reconnect with God when we need God the most!

I’ll close with a brief story and then a song.

When I was in my 20s, one of my favorite Christian singers was a guy named David Meece (He wrote, “We are the Reason,” which our choir has performed). One night I heard David Meece in concert, and he introduced one of his songs with this story. The song was entitled, “I’ve Got to Know You’re There.”

David told the story of a teenage boy in his church youth group who lost two of his family members in a car accident. Both died instantly, and this young man’s life was turned upside-down. His youth group friends prayed for him constantly, lamenting to God, begging God to uphold him.

One evening they were gathered for Bible study when their friend came through the door. He fell into their arms and began to cry out,

“God, I’ve got to know you’re there! I’ve got to know you’re there! I’ve got to know you’re there”

And then he fell to his knees and sobbed. His friends held him tightly as he let it out. When he finally stopped crying, he said, 

“Lord, now I know you’re here.”

That’s the power of honest-to-God prayers. That’s the power of the Laments.


I want to end this sermon by singing a Lament. In Christian music there are not a lot of Laments to choose from. Twila Paris’ “Do I Trust You, Lord” is the only one I can think of. However, many years ago I wrote a Lament. Like the Laments of the Bible, it moves toward hope. It also seeks to ground us in community.

Touch Me Again with your Love                   Rich Knight

You said you’d always be with me, but where are you now?

You said you’d help fight the battles, but I’m doing it all alone.

Lift me up, O Lord, my spirit waits for you.

Where else can I go but you, Creator, Redeemer and Friend?


Touch me again with our love.

Touch me again with your love,

That I may be changed into your likeness and live as you desire.

Touch me again.

You said I’d have abundant life, with living waters in me.

But my heart is so empty, fill me and set me free,

From myself, O Lord, and the fears that tear me apart.

In my weakness be my strength, O God, I cry out to your caring arms.


Behold the King of Zion does not slumber,

Nor he will not leave his own.

He has called us to this place and his grace will lead us home.

Touch us again with your love.

Touch us again with your love.

That we may be changed into your likeness and live as you desire.

Touch us again!


I wrote this lament following the death of my mother in 1983. As an only child who had already lost his father, it was a challenging time. But God is faithful and saw me through that valley. – RK

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