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Book review – It’s OK to be Not OK: The Message of the Lament Psalms

It’s OK to be Not OK: The Message of the Lament Psalms
By Rico G. Villanueva
Manila: OMF Literature, 2012

The book is available in print form in the Philippines and in digital form from most e-book providers.

Mission Round Table Vol. 12 No. 3 (Sep-Dec): 40

Reviewed by Andy Smith
Andy Smith is OMF’s International Coordinator for Evangelization. He completed an MA in missions at Columbia International University. His most recent book, The Majesty of Jesus, explores what the Gospel of John says about Jesus and about belief.

Pastor Rico Villanueva is concerned that negative experiences are rarely expressed in church activities. Rarely, if ever, do Christians mention our “bad” emotions, weaknesses, or failures. Instead, we sing happy songs and give victorious testimonies. As a result, we are ill-prepared to face difficulty and tragedy. To counter this situation, Villanueva studied the lament psalms for his PhD dissertation. His research led to It’s Ok to be Not OK, a book that shares his discoveries with lay Christians.

The titles of the book’s eight chapters give a clear idea of its message: It’s OK to be down…to be sad…to cry…to be afraid…to struggle…to be angry… to question God…and to fail. In each chapter, Villanueva names biblical characters who experienced the above. He notes times when Jesus was down, sad, and angry, cried, struggled, and questioned God. To supplement the biblical references, he includes modern examples and quotes from recent writers on these subjects.

Villanueva assures us that it is not sinful to experience these feelings. We are, after all, engaged in a serious battle. Occasionally, things do not go as we expect. God will not punish us for pouring out our emotions to him. Further, expressing our feelings could improve our witness to non- Christians by revealing a different side of our faith and hope.

Villanueva mentions the benefits of expressing our difficulties. It can give us and others more realistic expectations about the Christian life. It can help us name our struggle which can both prevent it from becoming something darker and lead to healing. It opens the doors for others to suffer with us. In addition, it grants them the permission to express their difficulties. Plus, many who face their struggles get to know God in new ways.

By urging Christians to lament, the book prepares us to respond to tragic events. Thus it can help us deal with the loss of a loved one, prodigal children, health challenges, natural disasters, manmade disasters, and crime. It can also help missionaries respond to disappointments such as lack of fruit in mobilization efforts, being under-appreciated, or, harder yet, opposed, and working towards but not yet seeing a movement of any kind.

Read this book. Preach its message. Give copies to others. Study and discuss it in groups. Learn to lament together. For lamenting will help us face hard times in healthier ways and it will make it possible for us to minister to each other in new and important ways.

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