Like many Americans this week, my sleep has been interrupted by deep anguish of the soul. Over this past year, God has directed me to study his Word by tracing the theme of sorrow and lament. Lament literally means “an expression of grief or sorrow” and is a prayer in the form of a complaint against God. It is an acknowledgement of one’s bleak situation, desperation for deliverance, and an appeal to the very character of God. A lament gives believers the rhetorical tools to grieve biblically, which leads to worship and the comfort of our Heavenly Father.
Instead of a thin veneer, biblical lament offers us something more substantial, more weighty, more enduring and less circumstantial. Our local churches need this example during this current season. God knows our thoughts, fears, and grief (Psalm 139). The Lord wants us to cast our burdens on him (Psalm 55:22). In fact, it’s the very valley of the shadow of death that he promises to walk through with us (Psalm 23). And we are promised: “Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
Life is hard, really hard. The clear story of the Bible tells us this fact. Beginning in Genesis 3, man’s sin unleashed an unceasing fury on creation that remains to this day. It will not relent until Christ returns again (Rev. 19). Unlike the popular Hallmark Channel movies that are clean and tidy, our world is messy. We see throughout the Bible, church history, and our very lives, that sadness is a constant companion (John 16:33). Our hearts get pulverized in this fallen world.
Yet, thankfully, the good news of Scripture is that a Redeemer has come to restore what sin has broken. Jesus did this by being the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross and raising victoriously from the grave, beating sin, Satan, and death.
We will get through this horrific time in our world and nation, but not by minimizing the reality of its awfulness. Christians will triumph in hope when we hold up against the backdrop of this global pandemic and national crisis a big God who is good, wise, and sovereign over all things. We give hope to our community, not by pointing them to an upcoming political election, showing them the green arrows on the stock market ticker tape, or by pacifying them with a watered-down pop psychology that claims to be truth. Instead, we point them to the suffering Savior.
So, last night I watched and researched the riots with my four sons, including our African American son. I attempted to explain honestly to them the horrors of racism in our world, the horrific, evil murder of George Floyd, and the sinful violence and destruction of our communities by rioters. When I laid my head on my pillow, I had nothing left. I did not have all of the answers, the right balance of social outcry to all that ails us, nor a summary theory that makes all of this make sense. All I had was desperation and a Heavenly Father that is sufficient in all of my weakness. I called out to God in the following prayer based on Psalm 16:
You are our refuge; do not allow us to be shaken. Preserve us in the midst of the overwhelming decay in our current circumstances. You are infinitely good and our only hope. Your name is on your people, and you promise to make our righteousness like the dawn and the justice of our cause like the noonday sun, if we delight in you. Your church is being flanked on every side. We confess that we are too often silent to injustice and to the hope of the gospel. We are often more vocal in our political and tribal allegiances. We are active in defending our own name but negligent in lifting up yours. It seems that Satan is winning and that you are being made into a mockery, our King and our God. We are worshiping at the altar of many false gods, which are no gods at all. We are often bitter, hateful, compassionless, prideful, and trouble makers. Turn our hearts to you.
Lord of Lords, for the mothers (and fathers) of black sons that cannot close their eyes for the horror. Erase from their minds the primordial scream of George Floyd that is burned into their ears, as he gasped for air and called for his mother during his final moments. Be their portion and cup. Hear their cry for help, and carry this burden for them, Sovereign Ruler of all. Cause the lines to fall for them in pleasant places, and may they that look to you in salvation receive their inheritance. Comfort them and hear the calls of sighing for all of the black community. Heal hurting hearts as only you can, Father. Break these sinful strongholds in our hearts and culture, and flood us with grace and forgiveness.
For my African American friends, sons in the faith, and faith-family members, remind them that you have not forgotten them, that you are their strong tower and Deliverer. Justice flows from you like a rushing river, and you are making all things right.
Oh King of Kings, under your providence some of our friends, current and former church members, and men that we have discipled are in law enforcement. Many of them have been summoned to protect and defend some of the very citizens that seek to bring them harm. Their spouses are waiting through the watches of the night as they call out to you, hoping upon hope that their spouses will be spared. Protect and comfort them in this terrible situation, oh Redeemer. Bring this dangerous unrest to naught, for your name’s sake.
For politicians, rulers, and authorities, give wisdom and be their delight. You say in your Word that you give counsel and wisdom, even in sleep. Do it, Lord! Give them words that heal and the spirit of peace.
For pastors and ministry leaders, help us to be peacemakers, shepherds, and healers. Be our portion, oh Father. Help us to point people to the just One who will one day make all things right.
For the business owners that have lost their livelihoods due to riots, to those that have lost loved ones at the hands of rioters, and to the multitude of people that live in the middle of these city protest zones, make their hearts to delight in you. Calm their fears, sustain them through this pain, and provide for them. Set yourself before them, and help their flesh to dwell in the security of you.
This current reality in America is horrific, heart breaking, and too much for us to bear on our own. Don’t let us see corruption or be abandoned to Sheol. Use this current calamity to take out hearts of stone and give hearts of flesh for those that do not know you. For those that do know you, draw them near.
Give us eyes of faith and show us the path of life. Make it on earth as it is in heaven. Give us your very presence and the joy that comes only from you. Help us. Hear our cries for help, for the sake of your glory!
In Jesus name,
We give hope to ourselves and the world around us when we proclaim that this earth is not our home (1 Pet. 2:11-12). We remind ourselves to count all trials as joy (James 1:2), to share in Christ’s suffering (1 Pet. 4:13), and to look forward to an eternal glory that makes this pain pale in comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). Let us lift high a resurrected King Jesus (John 11:25-26), the Man of sorrows (Isa. 53:3), who will one day return on a white horse that will tread on his enemies (Rev. 19).
The Good Shepherd loves us and walks with us through these trials (Psalm 23) and gives grace to us who desperately depend upon him (James 4:6). Jesus Christ, who has heard all of our laments as our perfect High Priest and has lamented to God the Father on our behalf (Heb. 7:25-28), is coming back. Tell the world about the Christ, who will be the very One to make all things right (Rev. 21:5) by crushing Satan under foot (Rom. 16:20). One day, he will wipe away every tear, and our sorrow shall be no more (Rev. 21:4). May this be our message in the midst of lament—a hope that is not a what, but a Who.