The Powerful Practice of Lament
Bringing raw, heartfelt prayers to God
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Romans 8:22
Words: Ian Walton Published: 31 January 2023
We come into this world crying.
We cry again, frequently, while we’re young, usually because of some temporary pain or sadness which rudely snatches us away from the simple wonder of childhood. And then, despite the richness and beauty of life, as we grow older we continue to cry, just more quietly.
We sigh and groan inwardly as we see and feel that the world we are born into is somehow infected. Pain, sickness, abuse, suffering and loneliness – we can’t really miss that although the world is miraculous, it’s also broken. Death is never distant, lying in wait as the ultimate reminder that something is seriously wrong. And so, we cry out along with the rest of creation.
Enter the powerful practice of lament.
Although this is not something I have much personal experience in, I have recently become convinced that lament is a very special, very underutilised gift, a biblical ‘language’ that the Lord has given us for our difficult journey here on earth. A third of the Psalms are laments, and many other prayers of lament are scattered all over the Bible.
Laments are basically cries of sadness and desperation. They are raw, heartfelt prayers to God expressing deep pain caused by this sin-broken world. But importantly, laments also convey a turning towards God within these prayers. They express trust in God even when He can’t be seen or felt through despair, confusion and pain.
In Psalm 13, for example, David frustratedly cries out to God, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
He continues very differently just a few lines later, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” The writer seems ambiguous in his mixed-up emotions, but also authentic and trusting. He is turning his sadness towards God.
Like the biblical writers, we lament because we are suffering, or are deeply troubled by the suffering of others. But we also lament because we know God is sovereign and good. We know His promises are true. So, we turn to Him. We reach out to Him, not necessarily for answers, but for His presence. The laments in scripture seem to mysteriously convey to us the profound truth that God is generally not rescuing people out of suffering but rather longing for them to invite Him into it.
True lament should also include sadness for sin. We should not cry out against what is wrong outside of us without simultaneously lamenting for what is wrong inside of us. Every suffering and tragedy is a reminder that this world is groaning under the weight of sin. Repentance is needed because, at least at a broad level, sin and suffering are linked. As God’s children and as Jesus followers we should grieve over sin and the related slowness of the coming Kingdom – both in the world out there and in our own inner world.
Lament is for everyone. We all need and long for God’s comfort and communion. And although these blessings seldom get rid of the pain, they always come to us through it as we turn towards Him. He can then begin to redeem that pain (as only He can) and transform it into something that can be used to bring healing to and through us – instead of more hurt.
If you are in a dark season of unanswered prayer, sad or angry or concerned because of situations in the world around you, or unsure how to express your frustration or disappointment to God… lament is for you. It is a powerful scriptural invitation for you to bring whatever is inside you to the Lord, no matter how it comes out. Will you try it? Your loving Father is sitting patiently next to you, wanting you to tell Him about it with whatever words or groans you can manage. Can you bring yourself to properly look towards him and start to express whatever it is that you’re feeling?
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18