Lamenting in Prayer
By Scott Stake
As many of you know, this past week was a very difficult time for the Four Oaks family. With several of our members losing loved ones, we are faced with the painful reality that we live in a fallen world filled with sin, sorrow, and suffering. And our hearts ache with them.
In these hard places, we can sometimes feel at a loss for how God wants us to respond. In fact, we might even wonder if it's okay to grieve. But if you were with us on Sunday, you know that one practice God invites us into and that we pursued corporately is lamentation. To lament is to tell the Lord about a difficult situation and to cry out honestly before Him and ask Him for help.
If you're not familiar with lament, honestly I wasn’t either until recently. While laments are regularly featured in the psalms, we often neglect this form of prayer and wonder if it’s even biblical. However, as D.A. Carson says, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 67).
So, over the past several months, I’ve begun praying and lamenting before the Lord over difficulties and pains in my life and have found great comfort, freedom, peace, and hope. I’ve carried my burdens to Him and cried out to Him and have received grace, mercy, and strength from Him in my places of brokenness. Sometimes I’ve prayed through certain psalms of lament (examples include Psalms 6, 13, 42, and 77) and other times I’ve simply lamented with no particular guide. (Note: the basic pattern of a psalm of lament is address to God & introductory cry, complaint or lament, confession of trust, prayer for deliverance, and praise.)
If you’re interested in connecting with the Lord in this way, here are a few things to consider.
- Set aside time and space. In order to lament, we must learn to slow down and get time away with God. Too often, we use busyness to hide our pain and distract ourselves from what matters most. So put aside the to-do list and allow yourself to truly engage with the Lord in a quiet, secluded place. I’ve found extended times (several hours) away have worked best for me, but even a long walk around the block or in a nearby park can provide an appropriate setting.
- Be honest. Tell Him how you really feel and how you really are doing. Don’t hide; He already knows anyway. Follow the example of the psalmists who brought their concerns, questions, longings, and fears to the Lord, entrusting it all to the only One who is perfectly wise, infinitely loving, and ever-present in our times of trouble.
- Cling to Christ and His promises. As you’re honest with the Lord, remember Christ and His love for you. Look to the cross and see your Savior who willingly gave up His life for you and me. He sympathizes with you, He knows and understands what it’s like to cry out in agony. He also suffered so that we could have a relationship with a God who is near to the broken-hearted and who promises good things to His children. Also consider holding onto a particular promise from God’s Word that relates to your circumstances and trust that it is “Yes and Amen” through Jesus (2 Cor 1:20).
- Take the next step. God wants us to not only come honestly before Him, but also to pursue righteousness and holiness. As you spend time with Him, He might also reveal a particular path forward. Maybe it’s to ask others to pray for you, maybe it’s to confess your sin to a person, maybe it’s to teach what you’ve learned with others, or maybe it’s to serve or minister to others in a similar situation. Remember that God uses us in our places of weakness and brokenness to accomplish His purposes and bring His Kingdom on earth the way that it is in heaven.
Four Oaks, I love you and am praying for you. May God draw near to us as we draw near to Him (James 4:8).