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Psalm 13 might be the go-to psalm to pray when we need to lament. Dr. Soong Chan Rah, author of Prophetic Lament, says this of lament:
A simple, working definition of lament is the appropriate response to the reality of brokenness and suffering in the world. Lament has many expressions, including individual lament, corporate lament, and even a funeral dirge. Lament in the Old Testament requires a realistic self-perception that there is something wrong with the world.Dr. Soong-chan rah
Dr. Rah explains how Western Christianity has neglected the prayer of lament, a prayer that was central to Jewish worship throughout the Old Testament and into the time of Jesus. We sing and preach about the hope and joy psalms, while ignoring psalms and scriptures of lament.
We are in a time when lament is desperately needed in our prayer toolbox. We need corporate lament for racial injustice, police brutality, the mass deaths from COVID-19, injustice embraced by politicians and their followers, the loss of so many unborn babies, not the mention the proliferation of human trafficking and the rampant sexual immorality in our culture that nurtures it. The list could go on and on. We also have deep personal and individual reasons to lament: depression, anxiety, cancer, betrayal, unemployment, financial crisis, family relationships that have gone bad, and again, the list could go on and on.
I have heard lament described as a language of prayer. Have you ever been in a foreign country and you didn’t speak the language? If you tried venturing away from your interpreter, guide, or the comfortable confines of your English-speaking resort, you quickly find yourself baffled and bewildered. You need a common language to connect and communicate. God gave us the language of lament when we are suffering and everything is falling apart around us. A language that acknowledges the state of the world we live in. If we don’t know this language, mostly because our church tradition has neglected it in favor of products that sell better, we will be baffled and bewildered when suffering hits us.
You can pretend that the suffering won’t come. You can believe bad theology and false teaching that the suffering won’t come. But it will come.
Lament doesn’t solve things.
In Western Christianity, if there’s isn’t anything we want more than the ability to solve things. We want a 3 point alliterated sermon that solves one of our life’s problems. We don’t get that with lament.
Lament cries out to God: How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
But lament is not empty or blind screaming either. It is not purposeless or hopeless. In fact, its very purpose is to bring hope when all hope seems lost. Lament knows who it is talking to. It knows who it is crying out to.
In the midst of day after day of sorrow…with no end in sight…I trust in your unfailing love God; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
There’s a part of lament we just can’t explain. It doesn’t fix things. But it does keep us grounded in our foundation. It keeps us fixed within our shelter and refuge, while the war and storm rages on around us.
Lament shouldn’t be as foreign to us as it is. The Bible literally has an entire book that is a lament and is named lament! It is the book of Lamentations. There are approximately 42 psalms of lament.
Lament gives us personal comfort in our suffering.
Lament keeps us from leaving our faith, disillusioned, when suffering hits.
It also puts a corporate spotlight on the oppressed and marginalized. People we’ve been conditioned to not look at. Our Christian experience has become so much about improving our own lives that we have become blind to those God’s heart breaks for. They don’t even register on our Christian or church maps when we sit down to prioritize where our faith efforts, events, and activities should be pointed towards. Lament forces us to see. It breaks our heart the way God’s heart is broken.
In the midst of a broken world, God is our refuge and shelter. Lament gives us language to experience God in this way, connecting the reality and hope of the gospel with the grit of real life.
Prayer for the day: How long oh Lord? How long will this suffering continue? How long will the poor be oppressed? How long will people of color in America be burdened by racist oppression? How long will victims of sex trafficking be abused and dehumanized? How long will refugees and immigrants have to flee from death? How long will defenseless, unborn babies be killed? How long will greed, ego, and pride fuel wars and oppression? How long oh Lord, how long? When will you return Jesus? When will heaven crash into earth? When will you make all things new? How long will your Church sleep? Wake us up oh God. Wake me up oh God. How long will we forget the language of lament in favor of the language of health and wealth and self-improvement? You are my hiding place, oh Lord. You are my rest. You are my peace. You are my shelter. You are my refuge. You are Jesus. You are.
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