The Christian Prayer of Lament.

Did you know that one-third of the Psalms are laments? These honest struggles with difficult circumstances were sung by the congregation of Israel in corporate worship. We don't often pray like that today, especially in a corporate setting. What can we learn from these prayers that were inspired and preserved for us in God's Word?

Bring Your Complaint to God

If there was a formula to find peace in difficulty, it wasn’t working for the writer of Psalm 77. He persisted in crying out to God; but meditating on God further discouraged him. He felt like God was distant, and there was no hope in sight.

It’s important to realize that we have God’s permission to talk to Him this way. (See other examples in Psalm 22:1, 10:1.) These words are not spoken out of anger or shaking a fist at God, but communicating honest feelings according to what we see. Even if they are not factually true, these feelings are a real part of the human experience.

The difficulty is complicated by the fact that there are no external enemies mentioned or sin to be confessed in this Psalm. If there is a problem, it stems from God's handling of events.

A lament is something only Christians do: a cry to God out of a belief that He is both sovereign and good. His control is governed by His goodness. Pain creates a paradox with what we know of God. God does not tell us to grin and bear times of need, but encourages us to come to Him (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Not only do we call out to God, but we don’t rush through the discomfort. Sometimes God slows us down when we would rather move on. Lament reveals our addiction to busyness; we feel empowered by doing something instead of sitting and thinking. God is the one doing something. God is accomplishing His plan according to His wisdom and timeframe.

This gives us practical help when we lament with others. We feel uncomfortable because we don’t know what to say; we are tempted to rush the process because we want everyone to be happy again. Perhaps God wants us to just be there and help others bring their burden to Him, letting Him provide resolution if and when He chooses to do so.

Choose to Trust God

Christians must not remain in the complaint stage of lament. This key step involves “believing what you know to be true even though the facts of suffering may call that into question. Your present bleak circumstances do not invalidate what is true of God and how He has blessed you in the past.”

Trust in God is the destination of lament, and it has more to do with choice than with feeling.

In Psalm 77:11, the prominent pronouns change from “I” to “You.” The Psalmist focuses on his assurance that this is who God is. See the same focus in Habakkuk 3:16-19, in the context of impending judgement. Asaph’s faith was rooted in who God is and what He had done in the past, as he rehearsed God's history of acting on Israel’s behalf, showing that He was for His people.

In lament, we learn that God desires to change us more than He wants to change our circumstances. Choosing to trust may be a lifelong process.

God has not designed us to lament alone. These songs were written for Israel to sing together. In the church, we need to slow down and bear each other’s burdens, sit and listen and bring our struggles to God together. Instead of exclusively venting and listening, some times call for going directly to God, perhaps using a few psalms of lament as a guide. We don’t always need to have the answer!

Even when we lament in solitude, we are not alone. Jesus, the man of sorrows, will love and be with us always (John 13:1).

Application Points

  • How uncomfortable do you feel addressing God in the pattern of lament? Do you believe He welcomes hearing your honest feelings? Will you express these to Him and move toward trust when you are in painful circumstances?
  • Don't give up if you have to constantly battle your way back to trust. Choosing to trust may be a lifelong process. This is how God desires to change you.
  • Do you enter into lament with others? Be careful of spending too much time trying to find solutions and not enough time praying and rehearsing who God is and what He’s done for His people. How can the biblical pattern of lament help you go through lament with another person differently?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Psalm 89 – A royal song that dramatically turns to lament in verse 39.
  • Romans 8:26-27 – The ministry of the Holy Spirit when we are so distressed we cannot speak.
A Hymn to Encourage: "O Love that Will Not Let Me Go"

Read the story behind this hymn.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.