Cross Points 4.2.21

Talking to God:  Prayers of Lament

I like things to be upbeat at church, don't you?  No one wants a negative vibe at worship time, not on the surface at least.  But down deep, when things aren't going well in life for us, there are times when being upbeat just doesn't work.  If we are honest with God (and why wouldn't we be, since he knows our thoughts and desires anyway) we want times when others share in our problems, when we can realize that we are not the only one struggling, when we can cry out to God without pretense.  The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice, but also to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15).

Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament scholar) says when we look at the Psalms, which were songs written by David and others, we find they often center on the negative and struggles.  He says he finds it unsettling when he visits the typical upbeat evangelical church worship service and hears only happy songs by the praise team, especially when he knows that half of the Psalms are “songs of lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the world.  At the very least,” he says, “it is clear that a church that goes on singing 'happy songs' in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does.”
When we pray, shouldn't we pray honestly?  We'd all say yes, I am confident, but we don't always do it.  We pray in thanksgiving for our meals, without much thought, we pray when called on in church, too often more concerned about what others think of our words than what we're communicating to God.  We pray for those who are sick, because that's just what we do.  But how often do we truly pray from the heart, admitting our struggles, crying out to God for mercy, for direction?

Jeremiah griped about unfairness.  “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely” he wrote (Jer. 6:13).  He was merely praying about what he had experienced in corrupt Israel.  He would write an entire book called Lamentations.  Job questioned praying when he said, “What profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:15).  Habakkuk accuses God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?”
I mentioned the Psalms, and in them we find that the most common type of Psalm is the complaint, or lament.  “O Lord, my foes are so many!  Many are those who attack me.  Many say of me, 'There is no deliverance for him through God.'”  (Psalm 3).  Or consider Psalm 44 where they sung, “You have rejected and disgraced us.  You do not go with our armies.  You make us retreat before our foe; our enemies plunder us at will.  You disperse us among the nations... You make us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.”

Maybe it's different if we move from the Old to the New Testament time, we might be tempted to think.  But if we question such honesty with God in prayer, we need to look no further than Jesus himself.  In Gethsemane he prayed “with loud cries and tears” falling to the ground, shedding sweat like drops of blood.  Even with his Messianic knowledge, as he faced the cross, he prayed in anguish.  Should we expect to be all smiles and happiness when we face severe trials in life?  That's not being honest.  If I march through life pretending to smile while inside I bleed, I dishonor my relationship with God.
Indeed, trying our best to maintain a positive outlook is good in general, and we want to celebrate when we gather with other Christians our joy as God's children.  But there is a place for lament.  This world is messed up by sin and it touches us, often.  God gives us much to understand from his Word, but we do not understand it all.  As life deals us blows, we lean on our Savior, we rely on each other, but we should honestly express to God the strains and desires of our heart.  Don't feel guilty for doing so.
Cross Point: “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit, for the enemy has prevailed…Look, O Lord, for I am in distress” (Lamentations 1:16, 20).
Posted in
Tagged with