What Does a Prayer of Lament Sound Like?
Editor’s note: Last week, we posted an article entitled “Why We Added a Prayer of Lament to Our Sunday Gathering.” Below are two samples of such prayers from Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon.
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From Mark 14:
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus, the perfect Son of God, wrestled deeply and emotionally with the path set before him. He poured out his soul to the Father, asking if there is any other way, while still expressing total submission to his Father. Like Jesus, let’s go together to our Father and voice our grief and sorrow over the difficult things in our lives. Please pray with me.
Father, this morning we come to you deeply distressed and troubled. Like Jesus, our souls are overwhelmed with sorrow by the difficult circumstances that have come upon us. Circumstances that seem to have no end in sight. Lord, we think of those in our faith family who are dealing with the loss of loved ones—spouses, children, unborn babies, friends, relatives. Losses that will remain with them until they too go home to be with you. Oh God, we grieve these losses. We confess that we don’t understand. Questions fill our minds: Why did this have to happen? How could you allow it? Where are you in the midst of it?
We’re also filled with sorrow over the relational difficulties that have come into our lives. We think of the challenges of marriage or parenting. The difficulties that have overtaken marriages because of porn addiction, broken trust, rampant insecurities, outbursts of anger. The pain of a wayward children who reject you, despite everything they were raised to believe. The strains of taking care of aging parents as we watch life drain from their bodies. Oh God, these daily difficulties wear on us until we feel too exhausted to go on.
God, we’re also exhausted by the physical, mental and emotional trials you have brought upon many of us. We think of those who are battling physical and mental illness, disease, and disability. Lord, it’s such a demoralizing and dehumanizing path. The constant nausea, dizziness, fatigue, fog, tremors, the pain that shoots through our bodies, the insomnia, the loss of basic physical functions, the inability to do simple things like walk or run or play with our kids…or even have kids. We grieve the anxiety that ravages our lives, the darkness of depression that bleeds into every part of our soul, the highs and lows that destroy our relationships, all of it, makes us feel less than human. We HATE it. We hate it God. And we confess that we often struggle to see you in the midst of these trials.
But, of course, Lord, when it’s all said and done, we acknowledge that many of our trials have been brought on us through our own sin. We’ve gone after the false gods of sex or money or comfort or control or escapism and now we’re tasting the bitter consequences of those choices. Like Israel, we spurned you to go after other lovers and now those very lovers have spurned us in our greatest moment of need. Oh God, our sin makes us miserable. We hate it and yet often we keep going back to it. We feel trapped.
All of these things fill our hearts with sorrow and grief. And yet we do not grieve as those who have no hope. On this side of the cross, we know that all of our grief, sorrow, and sin has been borne by another for us. For there, on the cross, Jesus the ultimate grief-bearer, took our sins and sufferings upon himself so that we might not be consumed by your wrath or by the suffering that comes in this broken world. Because of his atoning work on our behalf, we not only experience salvation amidst sorrow, but we also have great confidence that one day all of our sorrow will be wiped away when Jesus returns to right all wrongs and cause us to walk with you in unbroken fellowship on a renewed earth. Oh Lord, we have great hope because of Jesus. And so we continue to submit ourselves to you just like Jesus did, trusting in your goodness and relying on the Holy Spirit to help us when we feel too exhausted to go on.
Strengthen us now in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Because Jesus drank the cup of wrath prepared for him, even in our most difficult circumstances, we’re able to sing praise to God. This isn’t trite triumphalism, this is the kind of resilient, steely faith that pours out our emotions and frustrations before God but then looks to the cross and in the deepest way sings, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!” Please stand as we sing that now.
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This song we just sang calling sinners to come to Jesus—that’s not a song directed at those people out there. That’s a song meant to comfort us. We are those who are “weak and wounded, sick and sore,” we are those who are “lost and ruined by the fall.”
So how did Jesus save us sinners?
Listen as I read from Mark 15:
21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Such a strange picture of salvation.
But as we see our Savior, in his suffering, in his cry, we see and hear something of our experience.
As a church, we’re going through a series in Lamentations, and in Scripture, we see a model for bringing to God, not only our praises and our thanksgiving, but also our sorrow and our grief. So would you join me in prayer now as we bring our sorrows to God?
Our heavenly Father,
Though we gather here this morning cleaned up on the outside, maintaining a cheerful exterior, Lord you know our hearts. We are those who are lost and ruined by the Fall. We represent all kinds of griefs, and sorrows, and burdens here this morning.
Oh God, you know the particular physical suffering that exists in this congregation. We are those who have been ravaged by all manners of sickness and disease—by cancers, by chronic illness, by incurable diseases, by mental illness, and much more. In our bodies, our minds, our emotions, we have felt the curse of the Fall. And God, we confess to you—this is hard. Oh God, surely You see the daily, moment by moment battles—the despair, the nausea, the pain, the loss of perspective, the endless and seemingly ineffective treatments. Oh God, surely you hear the cries and prayers of your people, in all this—as we pray for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our children.
And yet, so often those answers seem to come so slowly—or even not at all. Oh God, we know your promises to work good in our trials, but Lord we confess, oftentimes, we just don’t see it. It just doesn’t make any sense. So God, help us. Do not abandon us. See our suffering and act, in your mercy.
Oh God, we are a people who have seen death. Many here this morning grieve the death of a spouse, the death of a child, the death of a friend. We miss these loved ones. Our hearts ache. And the nights are long and lonely. Oh, Lord, we know from your Word that death was not initially a part of your creation. We know that death is your judgment on sin. But Lord, we pray, do not abandon us in your judgment. Because you more than any of us feel the wrongness of death. You are the God of life.
So even as we live in the midst of all this death, as we ourselves live in these dying bodies, oh Lord, do not forsake us. Do not leave us in our sorrow. Please show us the light of your face.
Because in the midst of all this suffering and dying, our deepest sorrow is not our physical pain. Our deepest sorrow is the distance we feel from you. Our deepest sorrow is the fact that we are separated from you, our God, our Father. We do not see you face to face. We never have! And though we know and believe that you are here and that you have entered our world—still we live by faith and not by sight. We mourn that we are not with you now. In our suffering, we are again and again reminded of that separation, reminded of our sin, of the judgment we deserve, of your wrath against our sin. So God, please be merciful to us. Do not allow Satan to use our suffering to deceive us. In the midst of our suffering, hold on to us.
Oh God, we believe that you have provided the greatest answer to our suffering in the resurrection of your Son. Impress upon our hearts the truth and hope of the gospel. Help us to hear the comfort of the gospel louder than the condemnation of our pain. Help us to see Christ, our suffering Savior, our sympathetic High Priest. Cause our hearts to be satisfied in Him.
Be merciful to us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.
In the midst of our sorrows, we have a Savior who bore our sin and our griefs upon himself, who was forsaken by God, so that we might never be forsaken. That doesn’t give us any easy answers. But it does give us hope.
Last Sunday evening, we learned a new hymn, based on Psalm 88, which is a psalm of lament. God is strong enough to bear our griefs, and so we can bring them to him. Let’s remain seated as we continue to bring our hearts before God.