We don’t have to go very far into our day to be reminded that we live in an imperfect world. Yes, Jesus has won the victory. Yes, Jesus is making all things new. But this side of his coming again, we still live in a world that's groaning. A world that is not yet set right. We live in the place of now, but not yet.
We see people around us suffering and we suffer ourselves; physically, emotionally, psychologically. We can ache in our soul and weep in our hearts for the injustice we see around us. Prayers of praise and thanksgiving can seem hollow and distant. We feel our indignation rising, our anger, our hurt. We can feel unable to connect with God. Where do we go with these feelings? How do we pray?
A method of prayer that has largely been lost in our churches today is the prayer of lament. This is strange, since over a third of the psalms in our bible pray this way. But often in our focus on New Testament joy and praise of the risen Jesus, we can sometimes ignore the side of us that still hurts, and is waiting for his return to set everything right. The psalms are God’s Word to us that we can pray back to him. So we can trust that they are good prayers to use! Let’s look at the nature of this style of prayer:
They are relational - Psalms of lament most often begin with a heartfelt cry to God. There is a recognition that God is our ultimate source of help, even if our complaint is about him.
They are honest - There is a brutal and shocking honesty that is throughout the psalms of lament. This is a relationship that is direct and personal. The psalmist is not worried about getting their manners, morality or theology right before they speak.
They are evocative - The psalms of lament use poetry and image that is raw and passionate. They seek to evoke and emotional response that will become action. Lament psalms expect God to act.
They are faithful - The psalms of lament are not psalms of doubt, they point to a faith that takes God seriously, even when God himself is seen as the enemy. This doesn’t mean all our questions about suffering are answered, but it does drive us towards God rather than away from him.
They are a journey - Nearly all the lament psalms conclude with expressions of trust or praise. It can seem strange that the psalmist makes such an abrupt turn around. We need to keep in mind that the psalms represent a compression of time and experience. Sometimes we will need to wrestle with God for days, weeks or years before our lament turns to praise on a certain issue.
The lament psalms are invaluable to our journey as a Christian. They can give us words when our anguished mind cannot. To continue the dialogue with God, even when he is the one we are most angry with. They take us on a journey from complaint to praise, from despair to hope, from sadness to joy. Let’s rediscover this ancient method of prayer and put words to our honest thoughts and feelings before God. He is big enough to handle them all.
Psalms of individual lament: Psalms 3; 4; 6; 7; 13; 17; 22; 25; 27; 31; 35; 38; 39; 41; 42; 43; 51; 54; 55; 56; 57; 59; 61; 64; 69; 70; 71; 77; 86; 88; 102; 109; 139; 140; 141; 142; 143.
Psalms of corporate lament: Psalms 9; 10; 12; 14; 44; 53; 58; 60; 67; 74; 79; 80; 82; 83; 85; 89; 90; 94; 106; 108; 137; 144