Prayer Changes Us – Lament

Readings for this week June 18 – 22
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Day 1 – The Prayer of Lament

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 22

One very specific type of prayer that we often pray, whether we are aware of it being a particular form of prayer or not, is the lament. We know that the word lament means a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. But lament is also the name given to a specific type of prayer that comes out of such pain, that is birthed in suffering and hardship.

Laments are very common in the Bible. Over one third of the poems in the book of Psalms (a little over fifty) are laments. Large portions of the book of Job are laments. Many times throughout the books of the prophets, the prophets themselves cry out to God through their pain and anguish, at both the stubbornness of God’s people and the persecution heaped upon the prophets’ heads by the very people they have been sent to. There is even an entire book (Lamentations) that records the pain, confusion and heartache experienced by the Israelites after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

The New Testament also contains prayers of lament. We hear blind Bartimaeus call out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” No doubt those gathered around the grieving Mary and Martha would have been offering up laments in their grief. We even find prayers of lament upon the lips of Jesus himself, firstly in the garden of Gethsemane (“remove this cup from me”), and then upon the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – itself a quote from a psalm of lament).

Questions to Consider
Why do you think there are so many lament psalms? What is the purpose of these laments?

Prayer
Lord God, in all our human experience and extremity, thank you for being there for us, no matter what we are going through. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – What is Lament?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 3

When we lament, we ask the hard, heartfelt questions, the questions that seem even more pressing and urgent because we are at the end of our tether, the end of our strength. The lament comes from a place of deepest, darkest pain. Things have become far too much for us to handle and we can no longer hold on.

It’s not that we haven’t been praying and seeking God up to this point – we most definitely have! – but that we have heard nothing in response. God seems distant or even absent. Before things got as bad as they are, God’s seeming silence was not so bad; we still had strength to carry on, and there still seemed like there was time for him to respond and intervene. But now, time has run out and we are stretched at our utmost extremity.

Like the Psalmist, along with “Why are you hiding from me?”, a key cry we often utter is “How long, O Lord? How long must I wait?” We are not asking God for information. We are not struggling with an issue that just needs a little more time to solve, or a little more knowledge to fix. We are crying out to God from a place of deep pain and hurt. Like the Psalmist, we are telling God our problems, describing in detail our afflictions, our physical ailments, our emotional distress – everything. Like the Psalmist, we can tell God anything and everything about our situation.

Questions to Consider
How have you used lament in your relationship with God? Why might this be important?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for your open ears and heart. It is good to know that no matter what we go through, and how tough things get, you will always be there. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Lament as an Act of Faith

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Lamentations 5:19-22

We should not see the lament as a failure of faith on our part, and nor should we think that God himself views our cry of pain with disappointment at our inability to ‘toughen it out’ or anything like that. Faith is an expression of our trust and hope in God; we trust our entire selves, our whole being, to him. It is only natural that, through the circumstances of our lives, that we will experience moments of doubt, instances when we question the reality of God’s love and care for us.

Lament is not sign of a failing or failed relationship with God. A truly expressed lament is a sign of how deep, how important, the relationship with God is. The relationship matters to us, and it also matters to God. In the depths of despair, he is the one we look to, he is the one we seek – he is what matters to us. In the depths of despair, he waits for us, he comforts us – we are what matters to him. God promises to be with us.

We will all have moments and passages of deep pain and sorrow; who can we turn to with the truth and depth and honesty of our sorrow if not to God? Lament helps us counter a false, overly romantic view of our lives. It is not a failure of faith but the exercise of faith, the stretching of faith. There will be times of pain and sorrow. God does not shield us from them, but neither does he abandon us to them.

Questions to Consider
How does the lament help bring you closer to God? How have you experienced your faith grow through the honest expression of pain and sorrow?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for hearing me in my pain and anguish and not turning away. Thank you that even in these times, whether I feel it or not, you are close to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Lamenting Together

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 44

Birthday cakes and presents; an anniversary party; a congratulatory toast on getting that first job; finally winning that championship – it seems we have lots of reasons to celebrate together. Any excuse for a party these days! Celebrating together is something we seem quite ready to make space for in our lives, and gathering friends and family around in order to celebrate with others is a natural part of that.

But do we know how to lament together? So many times in the Psalms, and elsewhere in the Old Testament especially, we see the people of Israel coming together to cry out in pain to God in a unified voice. They gather together to lament as a people

For us, grieving together can take several forms. Communities can join together to lament for those who have no voice of their own to cry with. People can gather to sorrow for those far away from themselves, to remember the forgotten and to show solidarity with the oppressed. We can position ourselves down beside those who are mourning and simply sit with them in their grief and pain, simply offering our presence as a reminder of the love they may not be able to see or feel at that time. Often when we lament together, we hold on to the things that others do not have the strength to hold on to. Lamenting together is an important part of being in relationship with others, but also with the world, and with God himself.

Questions to Consider
Have you experienced lamenting together at any point in your life? What was it like? How did it help you and/or others?

Prayer
Almighty Father, you share all in community, and you call us to do the same. Thank you for giving us each other. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Promise of God’s Lament

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:33-34

The Old Testament is replete with lament, in the plangent cries of the Psalmist, in the wearied, isolated complaints of the prophets, in the broken-hearted wails of the people of Jerusalem recorded in the Book of Lamentations, and in numerous places in between throughout the history of God’s people. The world around us is full of the cries of those who are broken, forgotten, tortured, marginalised. God hears the pain and anguish afflicting those who are oppressed, those who cry out from the depths of poverty and shame. He hears our cries of grief and sorrow, our cries of rage and anger, he sees our clenched fists and clenched eyes. He does not ignore us. He does not turn away, but rather turns into our pain.

In the New Testament we see God’s response. We hear God’s cry of pain and anguish and abandonment. The work of Christ on the cross is the work that shows us the unsurpassable extreme that God went to in order to answer our pain. He cries out through his son. He joins us in solidarity, holding us to himself in our pain, while at the same time showing us the promise of the defeat of pain and sorrow and sin through this same death of his son. God’s response was to join us, in his son, not to be trapped with us, but to offer us a way out, a salve for our wounds, healing for our hurts, restoration for what we have lost and suffered. He offered us hope – and his presence with us while we wait for hope’s fulfilment.

Questions to Consider
What does God’s lament mean to you? How does it answer our cries? What hope is there in the cry of Jesus?

Prayer
Lord God, you hear our cries, you lament with us, you hold us close in our pain. Thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for your love. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)