During these turbulent times, our prayers become more urgent. Like at other times of crisis, we may wonder: Is God paying attention? Does God care? Does God help?
Our spiritual ancestors, the Israelites, knew all about facing trouble and turmoil. They felt deserted and asked similar questions.
Jesus, too, cried out in lament. Notice that, on his last night in the garden, Jesus didn’t quote the famous Psalm 23. Instead, he turned to Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Like us, Jesus knew the feeling of being deserted, forgotten and abandoned.
Once a month I do a Bible study for inmates at the Ventura County Jail. I once asked them, “Do you know where the ‘Complaint Department’ is in the Bible?” Surprised to hear that, they asked, “Where?”
I told them that the best example is in the book of Psalms. There are 150 psalms and 50 of them fit into the lament category. Laments are cries of pain and pleas for God to notice and help.
Psalm 13 is a great example of a lament:
“Long enough, God—you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough.
Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me.
Take a good look at me, God, my God; I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me or laugh when I fall on my face.
I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs, I’m so full of answered prayers” (from The Message).
Laments contain four parts:
- Expression of trust.
- Words of thanksgiving.
First, the complaint (verses 1-2 in the above example) can take on many shapes and forms depending on the crisis you’re facing. You fill in the blank. God allows and even urges us to share our deepest doubts and fears. It’s OK to cry and plead, cuss and curse in order to get it all out.
Next comes the petition: a request for help (verses 3-4). Your petition will shift in shape and tone depending on what you’re facing and the depth of your desperation.
The third section is the key to all the laments: an expression of trust (verse 5). Trust is often expressed simply, such as, “God, you’ve found ways in the past to get us through times of trials and temptation; we trust you will do it again.” The Bible is a living testimonial that God has many attributes, but the most critical may be that God can be trusted at all times and in every circumstance.
The last step is an expression of thanks (verse 6). As people of faith, we remember and give thanks for the countless times God has stepped in and rescued us from our deepest fears. The Spirit transforms insurmountable obstacles into another adventure of faith, filled with help, healing and hope.
Through our holy history, the life of the saints over the ages and our own experiences, we’ve learned to hold on to hope no matter what.
Today, facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we wonder how we’ll make it through what appears to be the greatest heath challenge in modern history. We wonder where God is amid our suffering. Perhaps you will use the book of Psalms to pray or write your own prayer of lament.
One of my favorite Bible verses over the last decade is from Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for [God] who has promised is faithful.” Through our holy history, the life of the saints over the ages and our own experiences, we’ve learned to hold on to hope no matter what.
Yes, the challenges of our present crisis are great—maybe the worst that local and global communities have faced in a century. But we aren’t left alone. We have the presence of believing and trusting friends in faith, the history of a faithful God who never leaves us alone and a promise that can take us from here to eternity. So help us God.