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Recovering the Lost Practice of Lament

In recent years many churches have begun to recover the biblical practice of lament (and of course many others never lost it). Biblical lament is the practice of bringing our sorrow to God, and admitting our sense that something is wrong with this world and with our hearts. We find many laments in the psalms and prophets. The book of Revelation even records one from martyrs in heaven:

 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – Rev. 6:9-10

But should lament be a regular rhythm of worship, or should we reserve corporate expressions of lament for when there is a big loss that affects the whole church family, or a major tragedy in the community, or a headline-grabbing event that rocks the whole nation?

Think about it this way: Can you imagine that, at your church, in any given service, there might be a marriage or two in trouble? What about someone who has been struggling with sexual temptation in the workplace? Teens who are drifting away from the family and from the faith?

A man addicted to pornography. A woman addicted to pills. Grandparents who need to reenter the workforce because they can’t live on social security, yet they’re not sure they will be able to find jobs. Someone who just noticed a lump, and they think it might be cancer.

A young man, heartbroken after his first breakup. A middle-aged lady, wondering if anyone will ever marry her. Someone suffering from painful arthritis. Another, in a nasty fight with siblings over the terms of their father’s will.

Pain and sorrow are everywhere, often lurking beneath the smiles of our brothers and sisters. For these reasons, we regularly pray or sing laments in our Sunday liturgy.

Here is a brief example: we craft our Mother’s Day services to be largely celebratory, upbeat and accessible to outsiders, since we often have visitors on this day. But after the Welcome and a couple praise songs, we offer this Prayer Of Lament:

“Lord, Creator and giver of every good gift,
we thank you for family, for the gift of motherhood, for the beauty and order of this life. But we recall your creation isn’t as it should be. Sin has broken what was good and inflicted pain.

“On this day, we lift up to you the hearts that ache for healing in their family: those who long to be mothers, but mourn the absence of new life within them.

“Those who have conceived, but suffered loss through miscarriage or abortion. Those who have given birth, but endured the tragedy of burying a child.

“Their grief is often hidden from us or neglected on this day
of celebration of motherhood.
We pray that they may experience healing
in this church family.

“How long, O Lord,
must death get its way at the outset of new life?
How long must joy be deferred
or interrupted by such cruel sorrow?

“Risen Lord of life, grant them comfort and peace,
breathe in us all the breath of new life.
Through Jesus Christ, who defeated death,

We often follow this with a song of comfort that declares the good news of the gospel and reminds us that Christ is making all things new. It’s a very moving part of the service. And it is actually more sensitive – to seekers and Christians alike – than if we made the entire service into a celebratory experience.

The gospel is good news – it is a celebration of Christ’s victory over sin, hell and the grave, for the glory of God and the salvation of His people. But this good news will mean even more to God’s people if we weep with them first, and help them give voice to their heart’s cry, “How long, O Lord …” Acknowledge the pain, and the victory will be sweeter.