Recapturing the Language of Lament

by sculptor Anthony Quickle, St. Simons Island, Georgia
“Jesus Before Pilate” by sculptor Anthony Quickle, St. Simons Island, Georgia

I’ve met with a lot of folks lately who say they find it hard to pray.  These are good people who love the Lord and have strong prayer lives.  They talk with the Lord regularly.  But in seasons of difficulty, they find words hard to come by.  I think one of the reasons why we find it hard to pray when pain and difficulty come is because we have been taught that prayers only include the following: Adoration (where we praise God and let him know how awesome God is), Confession (where we confess our sins and ask God to forgive us), Thanksgiving (where we thank God for all the good things in our lives), and Supplication (where we pray for others who are struggling).  I grew up with this model called the ACTS model of prayer.

About 10 years ago, I learned that most of my prayer life was me talking all the time and never listening.  I found a love for contemplative prayer and it has changed my life and my relationship with God.  More on contemplative prayer later.

I also discovered how to recapture a biblical prayer language that many of us have either forgotten or refuse to use…the prayer of lament.  A lament is when we cry out to God from the pain of our hearts and lives.  We bear our souls – the pain, the struggle, the questions.  People of faith today don’t believe we should question God or even admit to struggle.  There are many churches that teach a prosperity gospel that says, “all you have to do is be faithful and believe and it will come to pass”.  “Don’t get caught up in the negative, defeating thoughts”, they say.  The irony?  The language of prayer in the first 10 chapters of the Bible’s prayerbook…the Psalms.

Psalm 1 – Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…

Psalm 2 – Why do the nations conspire and the people plot in vain?…

Psalm 3 – O Lord, how many are my foes!  How many rise up against me…

Psalm 4 – Answer me when I call, O God…hear my prayer…

Psalm 5 – Give ear to my words, O Lord, give heed to my sighing…

Psalm 6 – O Lord do not rebuke me in your anger…

Psalm 7 – O Lord, in you I take refuge, save me from all my pursuers…

Psalm 8 – O Lord, how majestic is your name…

Psalm 9 – I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart…

Psalm 10 – Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?…

Seven of the first ten Psalms are cries of lament.  They are real, deep, passionate cries of pain and question.  Why do we think we can’t pray in the same way?  When you are feeling you don’t have the words to pray in your difficult seasons, open the book of Psalms and just walk through until you find the words that are your words.  God is not troubled when we cry out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?…”

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