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By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137:1)
Over the weekend, Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas launched an invasion against Israel. We mourn for yet another senseless war, for lives lost and survivors who will never be the same, and we pray for peace. Come quickly, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).
In light of this tragedy, I thought it would be timely to remember that God gives us a way to process our grief through a kind of prayer known as lament. Mark Vroegop defines lament in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy as “a prayer in pain which leads to trust. Laments consist of four movements: turn to God, voice your complaint, ask boldly, and choose to trust. Think of it like a decision tree: in movement one, as you experience suffering, you have a choice to either turn to God or away from Him. In movement two, you can either suck it up and pretend all is fine, or you can give full vent to all your emotions to God. In movement three, you can either accept what is happening as fate, or ask God to act, to bring justice, to show up, to move, to act according to His character. And in movement four, you can either get swallowed up by your despair, or you can choose to trust that God is good, that He is sovereign, that He loves you.
Incredibly, one third of the Psalms can be categorized as laments (see Psalm 13 for a simple example), which should tell us just how vital this kind of prayer is to our walk with God. I would like to take these four movements one at a time over this and the next three Pulse articles, encouraging you to use this method of prayer to not only pray for Israel and the Middle East but also for anything else in your life that deserves grieving.
The first movement in lament is to turn to God. When we experience suffering and tragedy in our lives, or see it happening in the world, we are faced with a decision: will we turn away from God in anger and bitterness, or will we turn to God for understanding and help? Perhaps the preeminent example of a suffering person turning to God in the Bible is Job. Despite losing just about everything that mattered to him, he refused to curse God or turn away, but clung to him, demanding understanding. As Michael Card writes in his book A Sacred Sorrow:
“In Job, we discover a person who will simply not let go of God in spite of death, disease, isolation from friends and family, and ultimately a perceived abandonment by God. Those around him, including his own wife, plead for him to let go and die. But Job, like Jacob, faithfully holds on in the wrestling match of his life. And like Jacob, he no doubt limped for the rest of his faithful and God-haunted life.”
The high volume of laments in the Psalms should assure us that God is big enough to handle our complaints, our anger, our frustrations, and our tears. The worst thing you can do is NOT to vent your pain to God, for you can not offend God by your words. No, the worst thing you can do in your pain is to turn away from God. Turn to God in your suffering and grief today and pour out your heart in lament.
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