Lament: Biblical Prayer Makes A Comeback
Lament is the go-to biblical way to pray. It’s the one form of prayer that has a dedicated book in the Bible, “Lamentations.” There is no book of “Intercessions” or “Adorations” or “Confessions,” and yet we North American still largely ignore the Bible’s number one way to pray. Why is this? Because lamentation forces us to embrace the world as it actually is: bruised, broken, not the way it’s supposed to be.
In a recent article, Church of England Bishop NT Wright writes:
Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. It’s where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world. It’s bad enough facing a pandemic in New York City or London. What about a crowded refugee camp on a Greek island? What about Gaza? Or South Sudan?
I highly recommend his entire article on the topic, which you can read here:
Christianity doesn’t offer an answer as to WHY things like pandemics happen. We ought to be suspicious of any preachers or politicians who offer quick or easy explanations. NT Wright puts it this way, “It is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope. New wisdom for our leaders?”
Christianity doesn’t offer easy answers, but it does offer a way to recycle our pains into hope. That makes all the difference. These weeks and months are not pointless dead ends. These weeks are the early pangs that indicate that God is birthing something new into his church and into humanity. But before a birth, there is pain. And in the pain, we are called to pray. And in our prayers, we would be wise and honest to follow the Bible’s go-to pattern for prayer and lament. Lamentation begins with questions like these:
How long, O Lord? Are you forgetting us?
Why is this happening? Are you not as faithful as we believed you to be?
How long, O Lord? Must the losses mount until they reach the heavens?
How long, O Lord, ‘til our strength rises again?
Why must we wander in this wilderness? Where are you taking us?
How long ‘til we know how long this is going to last?
How long, O Lord?
These forceful prayers signal God that we are ready, waiting and listening for him. They communicate that we are strong enough to be honest, real and ready for what comes next.