February 4, 2021

Public Lament and Biblical Lament

In Part 2 of this two-part blog, Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence shares two examples of bridging public lament with biblical lament, and some useful suggestions in writing your own laments.

In last week’s post I explored lament in popular culture, particularly music, and compared and contrasted it to biblical lament.

What follows this week are examples of public lament used to bridge our way into biblical lament in prayer. Please note: these are specific examples that will likely need to be adapted or even completely reframed for your own cultural context and whatever conversation is going on in your church. Wise is the worship leader who uses public lament to bridge to biblical lament in order to find hope in our God who rescues (a paraphrase of the language used in “Worshiping the Triune God” article published by the World Communion of Reformed Churches, see RW 101).

Lament and Prayer Regarding Black/Police Conflicts 

The following lament bridges Lecrae’s 2020 rap “Deep End” to Psalm 4, and ends by referencing 1 Peter 2:9 and Revelation 5:10.

God, we lament with Lecrae, the 
      people found dead in the streets
And the
      . . . partners that hate the police 
So we come to you looking for peace.
—“Deep End,” 2020

We remember: all people are made in your image.
And you alone administrate true justice.

So, God, answer us when we call to you. 
Give us relief from our distress.
have mercy on us and hear our prayer.

For we see the glory of your image-bearers being turned into shame.
We are surrounded by those 
      who love delusions and seek false gods.
—Psalm 4:1–2 (adapted)

But you, God, have set us apart.
You have named us to be a kingdom and priests.
So keep your vision of the Kingdom in front of our eyes,
overwhelm our overwhelmed minds with your overwhelming presence.
Strengthen us by your Spirit to do the work you’ve given us to do,
And fill us with the Hope in Christ. Amen.
—1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10 (adapted)

Lament and Prayer Regarding Devastation of the Natural World

The following lament bridges Johnny Cash’s 1974 song “Don’t Go Near the Water” with Isaiah 24, Psalm 8, and Romans 8.

Johnny Cash laments that
We're torturin' the earth
And pourin' every kind of evil in the sea
We violated nature
And our children have to pay the penalty

—Johnny Cash, “Don’t Go Near the Water,” 1974

And Isaiah shows us the link between our own injustice and the destruction of the world.
The earth dries up and withers,
The world languishes and withers,
The heavens languish with the earth.

—Isaiah 24:4

And we confess our complicity. 
We confess that we turn aside from the pain and devastation.
And we take this lament and our confession outside, God.
And we hold it up to you as we consider your heavens,
The work of your fingers,
The moon and stars which you have set into place.

What are we? Who are we? Why do you care for us?
You have made us a little lower than the angels,
And have crowned us with glory and honor.
You have made us rulers over what you have made.
—Psalm 8:3–6

And we’ve messed some of it up. A lot up. 
We’re overwhelmed by what we’ve done. [Time of silence]
We don’t know how to undo it all. 
It’s groaning and we can hear it. [Time of silence]
How long, Jesus, until you come back 
to renew all things? [Time of waiting]
And so we pray with hope,
Come, Lord Jesus.

And while we wait,
may your Spirit empower us to live into the identity of rulers
that God gave Adam and Eve so long ago.

Structuring Prayers of Lament

If you desire to utilize popular lament, here’s a simple structure for creating a prayer for your own context.

  1. Begin by quoting the popular lament. Be sure to give source material, such as the songwriter’s name.
  2. Cite a parallel scripture text that names the same or similar lament.
  3. Utilize a theological truth or confession to bring the problem “home” for the congregation.
  4. Speak hope into the situation through scripture.
  5. Remember, this is not a strict outline (such as a sonnet’s structure) but a guide to help you adapt something for your own context.

Digging Deeper

Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence lives with her husband and two children in the western suburbs of Chicago. She serves as the associate pastor for spiritual formation at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Hinsdale, Illinois, where she preaches and leads formation and discipleship programming for children and adults. Joy holds a M.Div. from Calvin Theological Seminary and MCS from Regent College (Vancouver). She’s always on the lookout for new and old ways to tell God’s story as well as wild foods she can feed her family and friends. She has written for many organizations, including Christianity Today International.