A Call to Pray; An Invitation to Lament
– June 10, 2020
In our statement last week, we said that we would spend time in the coming weeks to lament racial injustice, repent, dig deeper to learn about underlying issues, and recommend actions that show how the transforming power of Christ’s death and resurrection provide us with hope for the present and a path forward.
With that in mind, we want to begin with Prayer. The work of transformation is Christ’s work—Jesus is reconciling all things to Himself by the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20) and making all things new (Rev. 21:5)—so prayer is our first and best work as we seek to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We pray for justice, for peace, for the church to be strengthened with boldness to live out Christ’s love toward all her neighbors, for those families who are victims of violence to be healed, for those who perpetrate violence to be brought to justice and repentance, for the leaders of our cities, states, and nation to pursue righteousness and equal justice for all people, for the dignity and value of human life to be proclaimed and protected, for wisdom in all our actions—our list of requests goes on and on, and each one is heard by God. The work of prayer is not instead of other forms of action, but it is an integral part of all our actions as Christ-followers. And it is real work—theologian and Chalmers Center board member Karen Ellis writes: “People will mock those who prioritize prayer. Gather and pray anyway. Gathering to pray with people of peace is life-giving.” In prayer, we ask God to do what only He can do, but also that He would shape our hearts to desire and pursue what He desires.
And prayer is the work even when we are so pressed down by the weight of sin and brokenness in the world that we struggle to see God’s promises coming true. This is the critical role of Lament.
Theologian and Chalmers Center author Kelly Kapic writes, “Biblically, we discover that lament is a legitimate, even necessary form of fellowship with God when we are in a place of pain…an honest and expected expression of our battle with the brokenness of ourselves and the rest of the world.”1 God, in His goodness and kindness has given us both the desire to bring our deepest emotions to Him and a pattern of how to do this through Scripture.
Moreover, when we feel the pain of injustice perpetrated against other image-bearers, we also have lament as a God-given tool: “Lament recognizes the struggles of life and cries out for justice against existing injustices,”2 challenging the status quo of our economic, political, social and religious systems when it is in conflict with the heart of God as revealed in Scripture. God holds space for our pain, fear, and anger, inviting us to carry it to Him. He is not ashamed to feel our raw, honest emotion. He does not minimize our hurts or the scope of injustice, but draws it into Himself at the cross.
How Do We Lament?
Often in American culture, our “spiritual muscles” of lament are not well formed. We rightly emphasize God’s glory and righteousness, praising Him for our salvation and for the tangible blessings He pours out on us, but we are less practiced at crying out to God together in our pain. And this can leave us weak and unprepared for seasons of suffering: “Without space for genuine lament, false veneers and bitterness easily take root, eventually bringing destruction in their wake…. A hurting family no longer fits the American Christian model of growth, happiness, and victory. When the church is robbed of its regular pronouncements, prayers, and songs of lament, then, like a shepherd distracted by the stars in the sky, it fails to protect and nourish the vulnerable sheep entrusted to its care.”3
So, how do we put the gift of lament into practice? God, abounding in mercy, provides us with many prayers of lament in Scripture. The best place to begin is in the Psalms, a huge portion of which are dedicated to lament. These were composed by individuals or groups in the midst of great trials, but inspired by God and included in the book of corporate worship for Israel (and by extension the church). Take them up and read. Psalms 42, 73, 82, and 85 are excellent places to begin. Laments often appear in the histories and prophetic books as well (Isa. 6, Hab. 1, etc.) and are also well-suited to guide our prayer in a time of anguish.
Churches can also strengthen hearts for lament through how we chose to sing in our worship services. Make sure that we do not fail to incorporate songs of lament in our regular rotation of music. It is probably the case that there are those in our local fellowship every Sunday who are in deep pain and will be encouraged to see the church mourn with them, and the regular practice of lament will prepare us to weep with those who weep whenever tragedy or injustice is weighing down our sisters and brothers.
In times when brokenness in the world is particularly felt, consider writing out prayers of lament—take the time to give deep thought and reflection to exactly what is troubling you, and put words to your emotions. Share these prayers with others at your church and invite them to pray with you.
What Do We Lament when We Lament?
The beauty of lament is that we can bring all our griefs and feelings of pain and loss to the Lord. In times when we are processing the weight of injustice in our world, as at present, it can be helpful to structure our lament around particular themes. At the Chalmers Center, we talk about how material poverty (indeed, much of the brokenness and injustice of the world) is complex, rooted in five main causes: false gods and false stories of change, broken and destructive formative practices, broken systems, broken people, and demonic forces.4 A lament for your church or ministry structured around these concepts might look like this:
- Our Father, we mourn that our world is caught up in pursuit of false stories, looking for meaning in material wealth, elevating some ethnic groups over others, and allowing political positions to shape our interpretation of Scripture rather than the other way around. We confess that we have longed for salvation from other sources, failing to seek Your heart. We confess that we have too often feared man and not You, Lord, in how we have sought to address the problems we see in the world. Give us wisdom and faithfulness.
- Lord Jesus, we have reinforced these stories with broken practices that shape us into the image of this world rather than conforming us to Your character. We have busied ourselves with prosperity and comfort, and too often ignored the affliction of our neighbors. Fill us with Your desires that we would do Your will.
- God, our righteous Judge, we participate (often without knowledge) in social, economic, and political systems that benefit some and not others. We have not mourned when the systems that serve to provide for our comfort discomfort others, and we have not often listened well when the materially poor, marginalized and oppressed point out our blind spots. Give us eyes to see how we are connected to others. Lift the veil that separates us by ethnicity and income to let us see injustice as the spiritual separation that it is, and the brokenness that it causes. Teach us to walk toward, and not away from, the wounds of others.
- O, Holy Spirit, we are broken people, acknowledging our sin and our blindness to it, and our desperate need for Your salvation and Your sanctifying work in our hearts. We confess that we do not take our brokenness and that of others into account in our ministries. We heap burdens on people, asking them to change their behaviors without showing compassion and addressing spiritual roots of brokenness. Heal us, and grant us grace to repent and proclaim Your gospel of mercy. Give us the gift of reconciliation. Give us that gift through listening, through learning and through relationships with those who may be outside of our immediate circles.
- Jesus, we know that we are in a fight not against flesh and blood but against Satan and his legions. We know that he does not want Your name to be glorified or Your church to do justice and love mercy, showing Your character to the world. We need You, Lord, to rise up and defend us. We need You to remove the deception of the evil one from our hearts and the hearts of all people. We need You to go before us in all we do together.
- May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as we humble ourselves to see others, ourselves, and Your creation through Your eyes, God. Lord, hear our prayer.
Where Does Lament Take Us?
The laments of Scripture ultimately call us back to hope. In nearly all of the Psalms and prayers of lament, there is a poetic “turn” that brings mourning back to praise. It is precisely through the valley of pain, given full expression through lament, that we are able again to remember God’s promises and fix our hope on His faithfulness.
As the prophet cries out in Lamentations: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:19-26 NIV, emphasis added).
Will you pray with us this week and beyond?
The Chalmers Team
- Kapic, Kelly M., Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, 2017 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 29.
- Rah, Soong Chan, Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, 2015 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 23.
- Kapic, Embodied Hope, 38.
- These five causes are outlined in Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic, Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream, 2019(Chicago: Moody Publishers).
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