“It was awkward,” my friend admitted. He was reflecting on his first attempt to lament with others in prayer. His church was praying about a difficult situation, so he decided to use a lament psalm as a framework. When it was his turn to pray, honest questions and pain-filled descriptions pierced the air and introduced an unfamiliar tone to the time of intercession. And he wasn’t the only one who felt odd. His pastor commented on how different it was. Both my friend and his pastor said the awkwardness they felt that day revealed something to them: It shouldn’t feel weird to pray like people in the Bible pray.
I suppose this experience would not be unique to my friend and his pastor. Lamenting with others is rare and, therefore, uncomfortable. But the Lord invites us to wrestle with him when we gather. I have shared what lament is and why we ought to do it. Now I want to offer practical ways that you can lament regularly with others. Because my focus has been on lament in corporate worship, I will focus on two areas: song and prayer. In those areas, how can we cultivate this language of lament together?
This is easier said than done. One obstacle is that leaders and worshipers may feel that lament is unnecessary, uncomfortable, or unfaithful. It might take time to help people learn the language and appreciate its need in worship. Another challenge is the fact that there is a severe shortage of songs to choose from. Wade through hymnals and the CCLI archives and you will find that lament has almost disappeared—an especially concerning fact when you recall that lament is the largest category in the Psalter.
However, there is hope! Though rare, there are still several songs to choose from. Here is a playlist I put together with songs that are great for congregational worship. My recommendation is to sing a lament every week or at least every other week. This allows it to become a common part of worship again, as it is in the Bible. So if you plan or lead worship for church services or large group meetings, try introducing songs like these into your repertoire. If you are not directly involved, reach out to whoever is and open conversation about bringing lament into the set list.
Just as it’s rare to hear people sing like the psalmists, it’s also rare to hear people pray like the psalmists, when it comes to suffering. You will usually hear earnest petitions and eventual praise, but explained pain and expressed protest are typically left out (as an example, consider lament’s absence in the popular acronym for prayer, ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).
When you pray with others about a difficult situation, slow down and think through what an honest conversation with God might look like in that moment. Don’t rush quickly to statements of assurance, and don’t cry out only in petition—explain the pain and express your protest. Psalm 13 can serve as a simple framework for your prayer. It may feel awkward at first. But remember, it shouldn’t feel weird to pray like people in the Bible pray. The more we do it, the more normal it will feel.
Another idea is to write out prayers of lament and share them with the group or person you are praying for. Here is an excellent resource of prayers you can use directly or gain inspiration from as you seek to lament regularly with others. Or use a lament psalm as a springboard to write your own.
Finally, you could set aside a specific time to prayerfully lament during corporate worship. It may be about a hardship someone is facing in the congregation, a tragedy that happened in the community, or something occurring around the world. You could read a psalm together or have someone share a written lament about the situation. Either way, help the group respond honestly and hopefully through prayer. In whatever context we pray with other people, lament can be a powerful tool to help us wrestle honestly with God, weep with those who weep, and rediscover robust hope through the process.
Whether we lament through song or through prayer, corporately or individually, my hope is that we will experience the truth of Jesus’s words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:3). Lament is our wilderness song now, but soon it won’t be necessary.
If you want to talk more, or you have any questions about this topic, I would love to hear from you. I’ve only scratched the surface in these three posts, so please don’t hesitate to reach out. Here is a list of resources to help you further explore this topic of lament.