One Christian book has spiritually helped me more than any other book during these past four months. God has used Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, by pastor Mark Vroegop, to remind me of and reteach me the biblical language of lament. I have returned repeatedly to the main ideas of this book since I first read it in January. I have mentioned the book in at least a dozen conversations. I even bought a stack to start giving away. Many of you reading this blog will know that I construct a short list of favorite Christian books at the end of each year (most recently here). Even though I read Vroegop’s book during the first few days of 2022, I am confident that Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy will make my “top seven” list at the end of 2022.
It isn’t that I learned a lot of new things from reading this book. I already knew most everything Vroegop wrote about before I started. That’s because Vroegop’s book accurately describes the biblical process of lament, a pattern that is already on full display in the Bible. Since the Bible itself contains a book packed full of laments (the Book of Psalms) — not to mention, a stand-alone book sporting the title “Lamentations” — and since I have repeatedly drawn upon biblical laments to express my pain to the Lord during past periods of pain, I already was familiar with the value and pattern of lament laid down in God’s Word.
Nevertheless, Vroegop’s book was important for me, and I still feel its impact. It is well-written, full of relevant illustrations, and both personal and provocative. Even though I already knew the ideas in the book, I found Vroegop’s effective applications to be, well, effective and applicable in my own life.
Vroegop summarizes and illustrates the process of lament in the first 86 pages. If reading an entire book about lament sounds depressing to you, you could choose to read only the first 86 pages and walk away with significant spiritual benefit. The remainder of the book, though — on the benefits of lament and on how to make lament personal — is rich and well-worth reading. I almost put the book down after the first 86 pages, but am glad I didn’t.
Unlike many purported Christian books, this book is solidly biblical. Vroegop does an admirable job of distilling the Bible’s own pattern of lament into clear and understandable steps. Nor does he leave it sitting on the page. He guides people who sometimes don’t know what to do in the midst of suffering — people like me — in how to employ the biblical pattern of lament during grief, loss and pain.
So, what is the pattern? How do you lament?
Turn to the Lord. When people suffer, they initially tend to turn their eyes in one of three directions: down, allowing the sorrow to overcome them; inside, looking for strength from within, or around, seeking help from other people before looking to the Lord. But the first place we should look is up. A lament is, above all else, a prayer.
Complain in the presence of the Lord. The Bible gives you permission to honestly express your rawest complaints to the Lord — even if the focus of your complaint is the Lord himself. God, after all, already knows your thoughts and feelings. The lament psalms permit you to openly admit your hurt, fear and anger to the Lord.
Ask God to do something. Remember that God actually answers prayer. Ask him to act on your behalf.
Trust. Most of the lament psalms (with a few exceptions) end with an affirmation of trust. Commit yourself to exercising trust, verbalizing your trust, and continuing to trust. Like Job in the midst of his suffering, we train ourselves to say from the heart — even in the midst of our darkest days: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
Vroegop helpfully notes that the four aspects of lament he identifies are not analogous to stages of grief. Lamenting is something you do over and over again. Nor should you wait until you face major suffering before you start lamenting. I experienced a small-scale suffering just as I finished reading Vroegop’s book in January. I practiced lamenting during the minor suffering so I would be prepared in the future when I face substantial suffering.
Are you suffering in some way, small or large? I encourage you to learn to lament. Turn your eyes upward in prayer, then honestly present your heart’s complaint to the Lord, asking God to act on your behalf, and expressing your trust from the heart. When the clouds are dark, God’s mercy runs deep.
This post and other resources are available at Kindle Afresh: The Blog and Website of Kenneth Berding