Prophetic Momentum

Jon Cressey writing mostly about church, prophets and prophecy...


Lament – Finding Strength in Biblical Prayers

We are about to explore the subject of lamenting in my church’s small groups. Since it is not a familiar term to many, I thought I would write a few comments about it here—perhaps it may attract your attention too.

Understanding Biblical Lament

In the darkest moments of our lives, when suffering seems to overwhelm us, the Bible offers a powerful way to connect with God through the practice of lament. It is a bit of work but worth it. Far from being a mere expression of despair, lament is actually a significant, powerful, and transformative prayer that allows us to voice our deepest sorrows and find real and meaningful peace in God’s presence. By exploring the concept of lament, particularly through Psalm 142, we can discover how this form of prayer can draw us surprisingly closer to God during our most challenging times.

Lament dissected

Let us lay it out—lament is a heartfelt expression of grief or sorrow, a type of prayer found throughout the Bible, especially in the Psalms. These prayers, born out of intense suffering, help us turn to God when all other avenues, doors (and windows!) seem closed. Lament teaches us to pour out our hearts, unleashing our emotions honestly before God, acknowledging our pain, and seeking His much-needed presence and intervention.

Jumping straight in with Psalm 142, attributed to David when he was in the cave, it serves as an exemplary lament. The psalm reads:

“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before Him my complaint; before Him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who watch over my way. In the path where I walk, people have hidden a snare for me. Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to You, Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need. Rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise Your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of Your goodness to me.”

Notice that David’s prayer encapsulates the essence of lament: turning to God, bringing our complaints, making bold requests, and ultimately choosing to trust Him.

Steps in Lament

The first step in lament is perhaps the hardest; looking away from ourselves and turning to God. David begins by crying out to the Lord, lifting his voice for mercy. In our moments of distress, it is crucial to direct our cries to God, acknowledging Him alone as our ultimate source of help and comfort. David does not shy away from expressing his raw pain. He pours out his complaint before God at length, detailing his troubles and feelings of painful abandonment. This open-hearted, vulnerable honesty is essential in lament. God invites us to share our deepest hurts with Him, without pretence or reservation. It’s genuinely worth it.

David boldly asks God for intervention and rescue, recognising that his enemies are too strong for him. In our laments, we are encouraged to make the same bold requests, trusting in God’s power to intervene in our circumstances. This act of petitioning God underscores our dependence on His strength and mercy. Despite his despair, David chooses to trust in God’s provision and faithfulness. He declares God as his absolute refuge and prays for deliverance, confident that the righteous will gather around him because of God’s goodness. Trust is the anchor of lament, holding us steady as we navigate through our pain and troublesome circumstances and bringing us to a place of maturity in God.

Lament in Worship…

Let’s take a moment to also realise that lament is not just a personal practice; it can enrich our wider worship and prayer life as the body of Christ. Reflecting on the Bible’s approach to suffering and prayer, we can find comfort and strength in these powerful words. Jesus Himself used the Psalms to pray during His most agonising moments.

On the cross, He cried out the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” This raw expression of anguish connects Jesus’ suffering with ours, showing us that it is permissible to bring our deepest pains before God. In Romans 8, Paul writes about the inseparable love of Christ amidst suffering, quoting Psalm 44:22: “For Your sake, we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” This reference to one of the lament Psalms emphasises how early Christians used these prayers to articulate their own struggles and reaffirm their faith in God’s enduring love.

Lament, practically speaking

Today, our prayer life can sometimes feel disconnected from the raw honesty of biblical lament. Yet, lament remains a vital practice for engaging with our spiritual journeys, especially during seasons of intense difficulty. We face difficulties today, which is why this is so applicable to us. If your prayer life feels stagnant or your faith seems distant, consider incorporating lament into your prayers. It’s like smelling salts for your spiritual life! Taking a different tack, as one would when sailing against the wind, involves acknowledging your pain and seeking God’s presence in your struggles—perhaps even combining it with fasting.

Incorporating lament into our joint worship can also be transformative. Encourage one another to bring personal and communal sorrows before God, fostering a deeper sense of connection and support within the body of Christ.

For those looking to delve deeper into the practice of lament, “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy” by Mark Vroegop offers profound insights into the biblical and practical aspects of lament. It’s an easy read but very well and compellingly written and is a valuable guide in learning to navigate grief and pain through prayer.

It has to be said, then, that lament is a powerful gift that allows us to bring our sorrows before God, seeking His comfort and strength. As we learn to lament, we draw closer to God, finding refuge, safety, and security in His presence, and grow in trust in His unending love.

Write Your Own! (You’re allowed!)

Again, because this is primarily for my home group, I’m including this small exercise on writing your own lament. (For greater depth, see “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy” by Mark Vroegop.)

Vroegop suggests that to write your own lament, follow these four key elements: turn, complain, ask, and trust.

  1. Turn: Direct your heart to God. Begin by addressing Him, acknowledging His presence and your desire to connect with Him. This initial step is about recognising that God is there and that you are bringing your pain to Him.
  2. Complain: Be honest about your struggles. Pour out your heart and express your grievances. Detail your troubles and feelings of sorrow, frustration, or abandonment. This is not about being disrespectful but about being truthful with God about your pain.
  3. Ask: Make bold requests for help. After laying out your complaints, ask God to intervene. Whether you seek comfort, guidance, or deliverance, be specific in your petitions. Trust that God hears your cries and is capable of addressing your needs.
  4. Trust: End with an affirmation of trust. Despite your current pain, declare your faith in God’s goodness and sovereignty. Express your hope in His promises and your confidence in His ultimate plan for your life.

Three Examples

Health Issues:

    • Turn: O Lord, my God, I come before You, seeking Your presence. In my distress, I turn to You, the only source of true comfort.
    • Complain: My heart is heavy with sorrow, and I feel overwhelmed by the trials I face. Every day seems to bring new challenges, and I am struggling to find peace. I feel abandoned and alone, and my spirit is crushed under the weight of my worries.
    • Ask: Lord, I ask for Your help. Please lift this burden from my shoulders and grant me Your peace. Provide me with the strength to endure and the wisdom to navigate these difficulties. Surround me with Your love and bring people into my life who can support and uplift me.
    • Trust: Despite my pain, I trust in Your unfailing love. I believe that You are with me, even in the darkest moments. I hold onto Your promises and trust that You will guide me through this storm. You are my refuge and my strength, and I place my hope in You.

Health Issues:

    • Turn: O Lord, my Healer, I come before You, seeking Your presence. In my illness, I turn to You, the source of all healing.
    • Complain: My body is weak, and I am weary from constant pain. Each day feels like a battle, and I am overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty. I feel helpless and frustrated, questioning why I must endure this suffering.
    • Ask: Lord, I ask for Your healing touch. Please restore my health and renew my strength. Grant me patience and courage to face this illness. Surround me with Your peace and bring caregivers and loved ones who can offer support and comfort.
    • Trust: Despite my illness, I trust in Your healing power. I believe that You are with me, even in the midst of my suffering. I hold onto Your promises and trust that You will bring me through this trial. You are my Healer and my Hope, and I place my faith in You.

War in Gaza:

    • Turn: O Lord, the God of Peace, I come before You, seeking Your presence. In the turmoil of war, I turn to You, the source of true peace.
    • Complain: The land is ravaged by conflict, and innocent lives are lost each day. The cries of the suffering and displaced echo in my heart. I am anguished by the violence and the devastation, feeling helpless in the face of such overwhelming strife.
    • Ask: Lord, I ask for Your intervention. Please bring an end to the violence and restore peace to Gaza. Protect the innocent and provide for those in need. Grant wisdom to the leaders and bring reconciliation to those in conflict.
    • Trust: Despite the chaos, I trust in Your sovereignty and Your power to bring peace. I believe that You are working, even in the darkest times. I hold onto Your promises and trust that You will bring healing to this land. You are the God of Peace, and I place my hope in You.

As we look at this important subject in the coming days and weeks, may we find new depths in our prayer lives through the practice of lament.

As David did in Psalm 142, let us cry out to God, share our complaints, make bold requests, and choose to trust in His goodness. In doing so, we will not only navigate our own sorrows but also encourage and uplift those around us, demonstrating the power and encouragement of a life rooted in honest, heartfelt prayer.

This journey of lament that we are considering is not about remaining in despair but about moving through it with God’s guidance, finding hope and strength in His unwavering love and presence.

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