How to Lament4 min read

Lent is a time to focus on many things: repentance, fasting, sacrifice, and prayer. Yet what is often excluded from this list is a form of prayer called lament. What does it mean to lament? Should Christians lament? To answer the second question—should Christians lament—the answer is yes. The Psalms are filled with laments. Jesus Himself lamented over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). The answer to the first question of what it means to lament is best given by examining the Scriptures, especially the Psalms.

The Psalms of lament follow this threefold pattern: complaint, reason, and trust in God. The palmist begins with his complaint to God (“Why, God?”), then he states his reason for his complaint (“This is what’s happening to me”), and lastly but most importantly: he trusts in Yahweh (“Nevertheless, I will trust in You”). All Psalms of lament follow this pattern.[1]

There are many Psalms we can examine to learn how to lament. For now, we’ll just look at Psalm 10. The psalmist begins with his complaint, “Why, O LORD, do You stand far away? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (v. 1). The Lord is apparently absent. Why does the psalmist feel this way? He states his reason, “In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor… For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD” (vv. 2–3), and he continues with many other reasons. His reason can be summarized as an increase in evil. Later on, he beseeches the Lord to “arise” and “lift up Your hand; forget not the afflicted” (v. 12).

Then comes the key of a lament: he remembers who Yahweh is and he trusts in Him. “The LORD is King forever and ever; the nations perish from His land. O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; You will strength their heart; You will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” (vv. 16-18). Whereas he started his lament with questioning the Lord’s presence, he remembers the Lord reigns as King forever. He trusts that Yahweh is a King who hears his prayer. When he had earlier beseeched the Lord not to forget the afflicted (v. 12), here at the end he says with certainty that the Lord hears the desires of the afflicted, will strengthen their heart, and for extra emphasis on His hearing, He will incline His ear toward them, bringing to mind the image that God physically turns His head toward them so that He can more easily hear their prayers. These afflicted are specifically orphans and all who are oppressed. Therefore, such people can pray fervently with confidence that God hears their prayers. Like a radio is tuned to a specific station, the Lord’s ear is tuned specifically to them.

So then, how do you lament? (1) State your complaint, (2) state your reason, and (3) trust in the Lord. Is there something that weighs heavy on your soul? Maybe take time during this season of Lent to lament to your King whose ear is inclined toward you (and maybe even fast at the same time, just as God’s people have also historically done). Yes, it is okay to complain to Him. Complaining to God has a negative stigma on it. We think we are sinning, or are ungrateful, when we complain to God. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Scriptures are filled with the laments of God’s people. That’s why the Psalms are so wonderful and of tremendous comfort, because they are realistic about the human condition. They don’t downplay suffering and they don’t pretend it can all go away if you just “have more faith” or “pray harder.”

The most important lament in Scripture is Jesus’ lament on the cross. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He cried out (Matthew 27:46). This is how Psalm 22 begins David’s lament. By crying out this prayer, Jesus prayed the entire psalm, and He prayed it for you. Jesus was forsaken by God the Father so that you would not be, both in prayer and in this vale of tears we call life. As Christians we suffer; this is true. But the promise is that He is not absent in our suffering. Like the psalmist of Psalm 10, though it may feel the Lord is absent, in the end you can cry out in trust, knowing Christ reigns on the throne in His ascension forever and ever. We know nothing happens to us that hasn’t passed through His hands, and we also know we remain in His hands, from whom nothing can ever snatch us (John 10:28–30).

[1] The only exception is Psalm 88. However, this Psalm still fits within the pattern when one borrows the ancient practice of coupling two Psalms to make one. Psalms 88 and 89 would be one of these couplets (Psalms 50 and 51 being another). While Psalm 88 ends with a complaint to God, it picks up with praising the Lord in verse 1 of Psalm 89 and ends with trust in Him.

Photo © Ruby-Rose/Lightstock

Subscribe to Blog Button

About the Author

Rev. Garrick S. Beckett is Associate Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant and campus ministry pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Chapel at Central Michigan University. Pastor Beckett served 3 years in the Army before attending CUAA and Concordia Seminary. He is married to Emilia, who emigrated from Finland. He enjoys writing poetry, short stories, reading, and photography.

More by This Author