Why We Added a Prayer of Lament to Our Sunday Gathering
The world is not as it should be—and we feel it. From natural disasters to school shootings to personal tragedies, we’ve all been affected by the brokenness of a fallen world. We yearn for Jesus’ return to right all wrongs and renew our world, freeing us from the chaos and grief that accompanies deep suffering.
But until that day, what do we do with our grief? What do we do right now while we’re in the thick of it? We lament.
WHAT IS LAMENT?
Lament is a biblical way to process grief. It gives us the opportunity to face and name our pain and then to create space for future hope—all without glossing over tragedy. It allows us to cry and rage and even protest life’s difficulties to God and others without fear of judgment. It gives us permission to ask How God? Why God? It’s often raw and emotional. And that’s okay. The Bible gives space for God’s people to do this.
LAMENT IN THE BIBLE
In the Old Testament, almost a third of Israel’s songbook is devoted to psalms of lament, both corporate and individual. Israel’s wisdom literature offers the story of Job’s honest protests to the Lord amid his tragedy. Lamentations is a tear-drenched book entirely dedicated to the cries of God’s people as they process the greatest catastrophe in their history and ask for deliverance despite their sin.
In the New Testament, we witness Jesus lamenting Jerusalem’s future doom and then his own path of doom in the garden. We see missionaries like Paul crying over his lost brothers of Israel. Even in Revelation, the martyred saints cry out “How long, oh Lord?” as they await their vindication. Lament is ingrained into the culture of Jesus’ people and will be until he returns.
LAMENT IN CORPORATE GATHERINGS
That’s why we recently added a corporate prayer of lament to our public worship. It’s not a weekly dirge, but an honest, biblical cry we pray every few months to express our grief over the suffering in this world and in our lives. It’s been invaluable. Here are four reasons why.
1. Corporate lament creates space for grief.
It’s hard for the suffering soul to attend overly triumphant church services week in and week out. It’s not that he or she doesn’t believe in the triumphant work of Jesus, it’s just that those services don’t always give space for the emotions that the suffering saint is experiencing—grief, confusion, anger, hurt, shame, and fear. Rather than rushing to a resolution, a prayer of lament allows us to slow down and journey through the honest pain. It also gives us an opportunity to bring our grief to God knowing that the God who receives our praise can also handle our protests.
For example, this space gives voice to our mothers who miscarry and our members who have been abused. It tells those who struggle against mental illness, those whose new normal is anything but normal, that our church is a place for them. It protests wider tragedies like school shootings, mass refugee displacements, and destructive natural disasters. Through lament, sufferers are given a voice. They’re both seen and heard.
2. Corporate lament teaches us empathy.
It’s not just corporate worship that too often rushes past suffering; it’s the congregation as well. We aren’t sure what to do when someone voices anger at God or expresses profound sadness. It’s uncomfortable. If we haven’t gone through it we may not understand or even be okay with it. So we might tell the sufferer it’s going to be okay, repeat a pithy saying we have heard, or quote a verse, and then offer to pray without ever listening. In the moment, this might pass as helpful, but over time, it can come off as trite and even careless.
Lament teaches us how to mourn with those who mourn. It teaches us to listen and understand the depths of grief so that we can better bear one another’s burdens. It grows our compassion and patience. Lament also teaches us how to pray alongside the grieving. We can sit alongside them and say, “We see you.” This is powerful for the isolated griever.
3. Corporate lament engages our emotions.
Lament lets us voice how we feel despite what we know. And that’s okay. The poetry of Lamentations isn’t merely a historical retelling of Jerusalem’s fall and Judah’s demise. It portrays unfiltered, raw emotion that affected God’s people at every level—psychological, physical, spiritual, and relational.
If the church isn’t teaching us what to do with these emotions, then the world most certainly will. Thankfully, corporate lament teaches us to take the full range of our emotions to God. We don’t have to pull ourselves together before we come to him. Rather than letting our emotions drive us where they want, we’re using them to drive us to the Lord. God can handle our deepest emotions. After all, he “has broad enough shoulders to cry on and a big enough chest to beat against” (Christopher Wright, The Message of Lamentations, 78).
4. Corporate lament places our trust in God.
A lament is ultimately a prayer of faith. It acknowledges that God is in control and so we cry to him rather than run from him. As God’s people, we know he has heard our cries because he sent his Son to die in our place. He has already removed the stain of sin from our hearts and given us spiritual life. And one day, he will remove the consequences of sin from this world and heal our broken bodies. Faith does not minimize our grief, but helps us place our trust in him even as we suffer in the here and now.
Corporate lament teaches us to trust God amid pain, whether it’s caused by our own sin, the sin of others, or the sinfulness of this world. We know one day he will remove all pain and evil and bring justice and renewal to his world. He will wipe away every tear and heal every wound. And so we take our pain to him now even as we trust that he will take it all away then.
The end of every prayer of lament is the same: “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”