Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Right Way to Complain

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Leslie Basham: Here’s Pastor Mark Vroegop.

Pastor Mark Vroegop: In the midst of my pain, I choose to talk to God about it. The beautiful thing that lament does is it opens our voice to talk to God again about the things we’re feeling, about the concerns of our soul.

Music: I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear.

Mark: Our world is terribly broken, and yet God is unbelievably glorious. And yet, how do those two things reconcile?

Music:
In the day of my troubles, I reach out and seek You, Lord.
I can’t feel.
In the night of my pain, darkness falls, questions rage.
I feel forsaken/
God, have You left me?

Leslie: This is the Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender, for April 17, 2019.

Music: All alone. Your ways, Oh, God, Your ways, Oh, God, are holy. You are holy.1

Leslie: Yesterday, Nancy and Pastor Mark Vroegop talked about biblical lament and why it matters to us today. They’re back to continue this conversation and explore the various components of lament as found in the book of Psalms.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Mark, the song we’ve just been listening to is an actual rendition of Psalm 77. And my guess is a lot of our listeners aren’t real familiar with that psalm or with that song because when we got to church, when we have our quiet time, or we turn on Christian radio, that’s not necessarily the kind of song we just naturally gravitate toward. We prefer something a little different usually.

Mark: Yes. We tend to like positive, encouraging music or triumphal songs on Sunday which, in and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with those.

Nancy: And certainly there’s a place for those.

Mark: Absolutely. And yet, at the same time, without understanding the other side of what it means to worship the Lord in the midst of our pain, I don’t think it’s complete. I think there’s another perspective that we need to embrace because certainly the Bible embraces that kind of language. It’s a darker, sadder language at first, but it leads to a bright light of hope at the end.

Nancy: I want to encourage you as you’re listening to this conversation, if you’re in a place where you can open your Bible or you can scroll in your Bible to Psalm 77, let me just have you turn there. We’re going to look at that in just a moment.

But, Mark, you’ve written a book on lament called, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. You don’t think of those two as necessarily going together, but as we’re going to see in the psalm today, they really do. You talk about discovering the grace of lament.

This is not just something you wrote as a theologian, though you are a theologian and a pastor. You preach God’s Word, you teach it to others, you shepherd others, but this study in lament, this discovery of the grace of lament started in a much more personal way for you and your wife Sarah.

Sarah Vroegop: Experiencing the loss of those babies was hard, for sure. You just kind of grieve what would it have been like to have this child, and just leaving that in the Lord’s hand, and that someday I’ll get to see those babies again. It’s spiritually draining just having to trust the Lord with His timing for that next child. And then after losing two, just wondering: Well, does this mean the Lord is no longer going to bless us with more children this way?

Mark: Yes. Some fifteen years ago the Lord, in His hard providence, allowed us to have a stillborn daughter just a few days before delivery. Her name was Sylvia. She counts in our family, counts in our hearts, and was the means by which God sent us on a long journey, not only through her death but also multiple miscarriages and a false/positive pregnancy. We were just wrestling through: How do we trust God? How do we walk through this season?

Believing that He is good, knowing that He intends all things for good, godly purposes, but how do we make it? And lament became a language that, at the time we didn’t even really understand. Now, looking back, I can see what a gift it is to understand this process language for our grief.

Nancy: There was a conversation you and your wife Sarah had some time after the loss of Sylvia when you thought she was pregnant again. The ultrasound gave news that day that you hadn’t expected or wanted.

Mark: Yes. That was one of the darkest moments of my life. One of the scary things about grief is daring to hope again. We had dared to hope that we were pregnant. Then going to the doctor’s office only to find out that my wife had something called a blighted ovum which meant that everything was there for a pregnancy except the baby.

I remember talking about that reality and praying, and my wife prayed this: “Lord, I know You’re not mean, but it feels like it today.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but what that is, that’s complaint. That’s the complaint of lament. It was part of her way of expressing, “Lord, I trust You, but this does not make sense.”

And Christians, of all people, should understand that because we know what God is like. When the world doesn’t fit with what He’s like, we ought to ask the question: Why is this the case?

And that’s where lament and particularly complaint language in lament really helps us.

Nancy: You find some of this language not only in the psalms, but also in the book of Job, another wisdom book in the Old Testament.

I’m thinking about how Job’s friends didn’t quite get that. They did some things right. They were there for him. They didn’t start talking right away, but once they did start talking, they were full of answers, full of pressing Job to either say, “Yes, I’ve sinned, and that’s why this is happening.” Or, “God is good, forget the pain.” And Job, the journey just wasn’t like that for him. There was this process of discovering the grace of lament.

I think sometimes, whether it’s in our own lives, we discount that, or in the lives of others. We think: Why is this so hard for them? Why is this taking them so long? Or we want to be too quick to say, “But God is good. God has good purposes for this.”

And that’s all true, but there’s a journey to take us there. You walk us through that journey on your book on lament. I want to talk today about four components of lament that you’ve unpacked for us—we’re just going to give it an overview here.

We listened just a moment ago to the first part of Psalm 77, which is where you find the first component of this journey of lament. What is that?

Mark: The first step in lament is turning to prayer, or sometimes theologians call this “the address.” Which essentially means—and this is a really important step—in the midst of my pain, I choose to talk to God about it.

It’s in contrast to where many people live, which is in this land of silence, where either they don’t know what to say, or they don’t want to talk to God about it, or it’s risky to talk to God because He hasn’t answered in the way we had hoped before.

The beautiful thing that lament does is it opens our voice to talk to God again about the things that we’re feeling, about the concerns of our soul. And lament invites us: “Whatever you do, don’t stop praying.”

Nancy: As you say that, Mark, I’m thinking about a season in my life, probably one of the lowest ever, when the founder of our ministry, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., was taken home to be with the Lord. He had a brain tumor. He was diagnosed, and five months later we were at his funeral.

In the years prior to that, I’d had a number of deaths in my family. My dad had died. I’d had a brother die and a number of relatives and people close to our family. It felt like that death of Del was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my own emotions. And, really, for the next eighteen months, I struggled in a really deep, dark place.

As I look back, I missed this first step for a long time. I didn’t know how to pray. We had prayed for his healing. We prayed for God to spare his life. He was just an amazing servant of the Lord, an amazing leader of this ministry, and we just felt God would be so honored—like we’re telling God what would honor Him!—to spare Del. We had exercised faith. We had longed. But once he was gone, I felt that I couldn’t pray. I didn’t know how to pray. I didn’t want to pray. I felt mocked and taunted when I tried to pray.

As I was reading your book, that came back to me. That was back in ’89, so it was many years ago, but I feel like my own journey in that season was way prolonged and not as healthy and helpful as it might have been if I hadn’t missed this first step.

Do you find a lot of people do that?

Mark: I find most people wrestle with what you just described. I think every Christian, if they’re honest, encounters a moment like that because our world is terribly broken, and yet God is unbelievably glorious. And yet, how do those two things reconcile in moments where they just seem to be not just in contrast, but they can’t go together in our minds. And so that then can become a bit of a crisis of faith for some. Others it can lead to a deep-seated bitterness that they have or disappointment.

Nancy: Which is what happened in my case. And the healing for that was harder, I think, than I had the wisdom and maturity to turn to God in prayer with my honest lament at the beginning of that journey.

Mark: Yes. Somehow we come to believe that God can’t handle our hard questions. And, granted, there’s a sinful questioning of God. There’s a sinful complaining. That’s possible. And yet, the psalms are filled with pretty gutsy questions.

Nancy: Yes.

Mark: Even Jesus Himself prays out of a lament: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

So there is this language that is incredibly helpful as we walk through seasons of difficulty to help us stay on a path of: “I’m going to get to a point where I can trust in God, and this language helps to move me to that position.”

Nancy: I think this is what makes a distinctive between just despair and grief and sorrow from a natural human standpoint to take it into Christian lament which is that I turn my heart, not away from the Lord, though I may feel disappointed or abandoned by Him, but I turn my heart toward Him, and I begin to tell Him what it is I’m experiencing.

Mark: Yes. There is something just uniquely refreshing about talking to God about what’s wrong. In the same way that the confession of our sins is helpful, so, too, the confession of our struggle and our complaint and even the sense of, “God, why have You abandoned me?” (even though we know He hasn’t). But those feelings, even though we know they’re not true . . . Here’s the thing: They feel true nonetheless.

What do you do with feelings that aren’t true? Do you just deny that they’re there? Well, according to lament, it’s that you deal with them by facing them and using a prayer language that leads you through a process of understanding both your pain and who God is, and eventually ending in a greater trust in His goodness.

Nancy: So it’s not that you wait until you’ve gotten through the whole grieving process before you turn back to prayer. It’s that you start the process by lifting your eyes upward, though they may be filled with tearsand though the words may get stuck in your throat.

You may not know how to get them out, but you lift your eyes up to heaven, and you say, “Oh, Lord.” And in that “Oh” there can be all kinds of pain, honesty, but it’s a prayer directed toward Him that’s the first step of Christian lament.

Mark: In fact, Psalm 77 just says something that is so refreshing. In verse 2,

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out [that’s a prayer position] without wearying . . . [But then he says this:] When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints (vv. 2–3).

Which means, what he’s doing is he’s crying out to God, even though his prayer isn’t working, but he still prays.

Nancy: Yes.

Mark: It takes faith to pray in lament. It’s a huge step to even utter the words, “God, here I am today, again, calling on You.” For some people, just the step of that faith, of praying, is the first of many steps along the progression of finding the healing and the grace that they need. That’s why I say it’s “discovering the grace of lament” because you are able to discover something that is so incredibly helpful here.

Nancy: And not hurrying the process, not saying, “I have to get to the end of this process right away.” This is a journey that you’re on, and in the midst of this lament journey, the deep mercy of God comes and meets us at the same time, those dark clouds may still be hovering overhead.

Mark: Yes.

Nancy: Mark, take us, if you would, to Psalm 10, another psalm of lament, and perhaps you could just read a couple of verses there that illustrate for us the second step in this process. The first one: Turn to God in prayer. What’s the second step, and how do we see that in Psalm 10?

Mark: The second step is complaint. So we’re to turn to God in prayer, and secondly, we’re to bring our complaints. And complaint is a part of every lament. Without complaint, there would be no lament.

Nancy: Now, for some people, that’s going to sound like: “You’re telling me I’m supposed to complain to God?”

Mark: Yes I am, but I’m saying to complain biblically, which means you come humble. You don’t come with an arrogant, demanding heart. You come biblically. In some cases, maybe even using the words that the Bible actually says and records. And you come honestly: “This is what I’m feeling and wrestling with.”

So in Psalm 10, he asks why.

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? [That’s a complaint.] Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (v. 1).

Then he talks about the wicked, and the wicked are hotly pursuing the poor. So there’s this sense of, “God, there’s injustice that’s happening, and it’s not being resolved. And I know who You are, and I know You see this.” And a Christian, of all people on earth, ought to know that’s not right, and God could do something.

Nancy: So this lament may be about circumstances we’re experiencing in our personal lives or our family or in our personal world, but it could also be lament about things we hear on the news or that are happening in our world—injustice, oppression, abuse. These can evoke personal and corporate lament among the people of God.

Mark: Yes. There’s within the lament category, laments for times that we have sinned. There’s times when the nation has sinned. There’s corporate grief, and then there’s individual griefs. So sometimes the problem is just the individual circumstances, and in other times it’s a much more broadly experienced suffering that needs to be addressed where a body of people are struggling together.

Lament not only helps individuals, but it also platforms the gospel that the Church can actually give instruction to the world: “This is how Christians process grief collectively.

Nancy: And part of that processing is to be honest about what it is we’re going through—what we’re seeing, what seems unjust, what doesn’t make sense to us. We’re not talking about stifling that or suppressing it or denying it, but being honest about it, even as you see here in Psalm 10.

And this point brings to mind another loss in my life. My, then, twenty-two-year-old brother, back in the mid-80s, was a junior at Liberty University, studying for the ministry, wanting to be a missionary, wanted to serve the Lord in some way. He was, right after that semester ended, in an automobile accident.

We were called to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital where he was legally, clinically, medically brain dead. We surrounded that bed for the next week until his heart stopped beating.

David was the favorite person of everybody who knew him, including, in our family, just a joy and a delight. And this whole thing was such an inexplicable circumstance.

But I remember at his memorial service something that one of the pastors said that has been a lifelong gift to me. He said, “It’s not wrong to ask God ‘why?’ as long as you ask not with a clenched fist, but with a searching heart.”

And that, to me, helped to say, “We can ask God why in a way that says, ‘God, You’ve sinned.’” Or we can ask God why in a way that says, “God, I don’t understand. Help me. This doesn’t make sense to me.”

Mark: Right. I think every parent understands that. When a child asks with a heartfelt, tear-filled eye, “Why?” There’s a tenderness that doesn’t push against one’s authority.

Nancy: It’s humility.

Mark: Sure. And then back to Psalm 77, there’s six questions and complaints in that psalm ask:

  • 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?

Just imagine, if somebody prayed that in a prayer meeting, what people would do. They would freak out.

  • Has God forgotten to be gracious?
  • Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

Now, surely, the psalmist doesn’t believe that any of that is true, but here’s the thing: He feels it. So what does he do with the fact that he feels it? Does he deny it? Does he let it sit in his soul?

Well, lament says, “No. Tell God what it is that you’re wrestling with as a means of addressing and dealing with it.

So, complaint is never meant to be a cul-de-sac of sorrow where we just sit in our complaint. It’s meant to be a conduit that moves us along a progression. And that’s really important. That’s what your pastor was saying at the funeral of your brother. The why questions aren’t inappropriate as long as you don’t stay in the why question and you move from why to who. And that’s what lament helps us to do.

Nancy: And the next step in that process is to ask boldly. So, we turn to God in prayer. We make our complaint. And then we ask boldly. And you see that step illustrated in Psalm 22, which is actually a Messianic psalm pointing us to the sufferings of Christ on the cross, the psalm He knew and meditated on and prayed portions of Himself as He was lamenting on the cross.

How does it illustrate asking?

Mark: Yes. The third step—turn, complaint, now ask—is to appeal to God based upon the content of His character. Who is God and how can we call upon Him to act?

So in Psalm 22, there is this appeal for God to act in a way that fits with who He is. And so the psalmist says things, like, in verse 11, Psalm 22:11, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”

He says, “Deliver me from the sword,” in verse 20.

In verse 19, “But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!”

So that’s just one example of all sorts of promises that are within the Psalms where we believe that God can act. We believe that His character is such that we can call upon Him to act. And in our asking boldly, it affirms our faith.

We don’t ask just to ask. We ask to affirm that God really is who He claims to be, and that then leads us to the fourth step, which is to trust.

Nancy: And that’s where we were wanting to get all along. We counsel our hearts according to the truth of God’s Word and His character, but not denying the pain and the complaint that is in our hearts. What happens when we get to that trust point?

Mark: At some point in time, we have to make the move or embrace the turn that every lament has, which is the word “but” in it. And so that turn says, “But I will trust in Your steadfast love.” It’s how every psalm ultimately ends. Now, not necessarily does every psalm end with those particular statements, but they’re all in there in some form or another.

For example, we started with Psalm 13, and he says,

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice . . . I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me (vv. 5–6).

And so the progression is the psalmist rests in who God is.

Psalm 77, he goes all the way back to the redemptive event of Exodus and the way in which God proved Himself to be faithful.

So lament leads me through this process:

  1. I turn to God.
  2. I lay out my complaints.
  3. I ask boldly.
  4. I remind my heart as I chose to trust and verbalize my trust that God can be trusted with my pain, and I can live another day, resting in the grace that He provides.

Nancy: And resting in the grace He provides and in His promises even when I don’t yet see how it all makes sense. It’s not that I have figured it out, because that’s what faith is. I’m trusting what I can’t see but knowing that it’s true nonetheless.

And, Mark, it’s been a journey for you and Sarah in your own lament. And then as a senior pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, you’ve shepherded a lot of people through a lot of personal and corporate pain.

It’s been a beautiful thing to see in your journey how this leads to trust as you mark the anniversary of the loss of Sylvia fifteen years ago. You mark those anniversaries in different ways. I’m sure it hits you in different ways at different times. But last year you wrote a poem that reflects both as honest, turning to God, the complaint, the asking, and the trust, and I’d love for you just to read that poem for us.

Mark: I’d be happy to.

This is the week when darkness loomed as silence fell upon a womb.
Baby girl with beauty formed, nine months conceived, yet stillborn.

A tiny casket, earth so cold, graveside leaving grief untold.
Lingering sorrow, a life that’s scarred, thirteen years, and often hard.


Through the years His promise true, ‘I will never abandon you.’
Sustained by grace, my soul is filled, amazed He’s kept me trusting still.


My heart was crushed with grief not tame, but still in pain I believed the Name.
My King has brought my faith to sight; He bought the right to make it right.

And so in memory of loss, I count it won and by the cross.
A little beat I longed to hear became a place where God drew near.


Sovereign plan mysterious, yet my path I choose to bless.
Hard is hard, hard’s not bad. I’ve clung to grace with all I’ve had.


An empty crib and painful date, death my foe, which I still hate.
But through it all I’ve seen the hand of a loving God with a sovereign plan.

Nancy: The book Pastor Mark Vroegop has written is called, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament. And perhaps you’re not experiencing that process of lament at this moment in your life, but chances are there are people around you who are. And chances are there will come a time when you will need to walk through that journey yourself, if you haven’t already.

So we want to make this book available to our listeners this week. We’ll be glad to send that to you as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. We’re helping people experience day after day the grace of Christ in the midst of their lament journey.

You can make a donation by visiting us online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. And when you make your donation, be sure and ask for a copy of Pastor Mark’s book on lament.

Tomorrow we turn to another important passage of lament in the Old Testament where we see those dark clouds and God’s deep mercy contrasted. Be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you rest in God’s grace. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

1 LAMENTS is an ongoing album of songs created to help people authentically process pain and grieve with hope. Recognizing that we all have seasons of brokenness, confusion, doubt, and pain, we also recognize that there aren’t a lot of songs that help us process this aspect of our spiritual journeys. It’s also difficult to truly lament in our large group worship settings. So, we are slowly building a library of songs to help people in those seasons. As a song of lament is written, we capture it through a simple video and add it to our LAMENTS playlist on Fellowship Worship's YouTube Channel

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.