We gathered, about 50 of us, for 4 hours on Friday night. It was a monthly Friday Night of Prayer. Only this was not a usual gathering. Death and sadness, anger and grief, fear and frustration called for lament…with hope.
First we worshiped. A friend with his guitar led us as we sang, preparing our hearts.
Since lament is not a common practice in this western culture, I asked some of our pray-ers from other cultures to describe the importance of lament to them. A friend from a Jewish background said it was common, when someone died, to have seven days of lament. Family, friends, neighbors grieved together over those days. An Ethiopian man said they did the same for three days.
The tears of lament
Christianity Today just posted an article from a year ago about the Book of Lamentations, quoting Bible scholar Kathleen O’Connor: “Lamentations provides a bottle for the tears of the world.” When we lament we take our tears and our fears to God. We let him know what we think and how we feel about the events of our lives. And we appeal to God to act justly and demonstrate his faithfulness.
Many of the psalms are songs of lament, most of which follow a similar approach to God: a complaint, a request and, usually, an expression of trust. The concerns could be personal needs, or threats from enemies, or disappointment with God’s actions or inactions.
We read through Psalm 80, joining the psalmist in his despair at the brokenness of Jerusalem, crying out “How long, Lord God Almighty?” And then: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”
We sought to understand that lament expresses our desire, our efforts to enter into the pain and loss and grief of others as well as our own. We thought of those who have lost loved ones, who are oppressed, who don’t receive justice….
And we expressed our laments—for our own sin, for our own city of Orlando, for the hatred and killing and strife and prejudice in our nation, and for the terror and horror and poverty and injustice and oh, the fear.
Joy and Hope
Then we sang, moving into praise and adoration.
To turn to rejoicing and hope, we joined the children of Israel when the prophet Isaiah assured them of new life as the Lord released them captivity in Babylon and led them back to the Promised Land.
Beginning in Isaiah 61, we thrilled to these words spoken to Israel, but made ours as well because our Lord them used to announce the beginning of His ministry:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
The prophet gave amazing encouragements: renew the ruined cities; instead of shame and disgrace, a double portion; everlasting joy and an everlasting covenant; blessed by the Lord; clothed with garments of salvation and robes of righteousness; praise springing up before all nations.
Certainly joy arrives and hope appears.
But there is more. Isaiah said in chapter 61 that God’s people would be the display of his splendor—they—God’s children, and—we—God’s children, show His splendor to all creation. He continues in chapter 62: “you will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your Lord….I will take delight in you….”
From the shame of idolatry and the sin of pride and the offense of immorality and the guilt of murder….our God redeems and forgives and restores—and delights in us.
Then in 62:6-7, we receive an admonition and an invitation: “You who call on the Lord, give yourself no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
Do you see that?
When you cry out to the Lord, in lament, in desperation, in intercession, in need, in pain, don’t stop. Give yourself no rest. Keep praying, asking, beseeching.
Which we did, throughout the evening.
We cried out for the pain and suffering and loss and captivity of people all over the world. We cried against the evil we see all around. We asked our God to set people free, to open blind eyes and soften hard hearts. To bring salvation to a desperate world.
And the invitation:
Give God no rest. He asks us to keep asking Him, to keep seeking, to keep knocking! Don’t quit. He is a God who sees, who hears, who answers. We won’t wear Him out.
Then this: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your Savior comes!
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.’”
They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.”
We closed after midnight, thanking Him in song for the grace and freedom He offers to us.
What about you? Have you taken time to lament?
C2016 Judy Douglass