“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…!” (Isaiah 64:1)
I wonder, have you ever cried out to God and fervently prayed like Isaiah did? Hunched over in pain, pleading through your tears, sorrows, wounds, or doubts? Begging that God might show up, draw near, and be present with you amid the realities of your life’s circumstances? If you have, whether during the last 2 plus years of Covid, or at a different time in your life, then you have already spoken the language of lament.
The reality of lament
But what exactly is lament? While the word might conjure up images in our mind of loud wailing, weeping, and passionate expressions of grief, lament as reflected in Scripture is much more than this. It is more than talking about our sorrows, suffering and sadness. Above all, lament is a form of prayer – a prayer which persistently cries “for salvation to the God who promises to save, in a situation of suffering or sin, in the confident hope that this God hears and responds to [our] cries and acts now and in the future to make [all things] whole” (Rebekah Eklund).
The Bible is not ashamed of lament. Scripture repeatedly recounts stories of God’s children urgently, honestly, and boldly crying out to God, expressing their anguish as they seek to navigate times of national, political, social, religious, and even personal disaster. Over one third of the Psalms are laments (e.g., Psalms 3, 10, 13, 22, 56, 69, 77, and 88). Similarly, the book of Lamentations is entirely devoted to the practice as the author weeps over Jerusalem’s destruction. And even Jesus lamented: by Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:33-36), at the state of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-39), and from the cross where he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, Mark 15:34). Lament, therefore, was a defining feature of the Israelites’ everyday relationship with God.
But what about us? When the brokenness of this world inevitably invades our lives, how do we respond?
As we walk in a faith which so frequently proclaims resurrection hope, patient endurance, and ultimate victory in Christ in our worship and teaching, lament doesn’t very often feature within the life of today’s Western evangelical church. Rather than turning to God, we all too frequently turn to other things. We seem to allow our circumstances to cause us to retreat from, and ultimately ignore, the One who knows our struggles and is best equipped to help us.
Daring to Hope: Experiencing the Grace of Lament
The last 2 and a bit years have been hard on all of us. Since the emergence of Covid-19, the Church across the island of Ireland has been faced with the significant challenge of how to respond to all of humanity’s sorrow. How do we, as followers of Jesus, journey with people of faith and none, amid the avalanche of psychological, emotional, and spiritual pains exacerbated by Covid-19? How do we respond to the continuing spiral of events and crises we are witnessing and living through?
The tears, wounds, doubts, pains, and sorrows people are carrying cannot be swept away or ignored. As the Church, we need to be able to come together and deal with the realities many are experiencing in the light and grace of who God is.
To do that, The Bible Society in Northern Ireland have created Daring to Hope: Experiencing the Grace of Lament. This is an accessible, five-session small group resource aimed at helping people rediscover the prayer language in the Bible to help us travel through a broken world - lament.
Rooted in the words of David in Psalm 13, this resource combines a mix of icebreakers, video teaching, group discussion, times of Selah (for personal reflection), prayer, challenges, and more, to help us as we embark upon a journey from heartbreak to hope.
Session 1 – What is Lament?
Discussing this question, we will examine how lament is seen within Scripture and discover the formula for lament found in Psalm 13, which can be adopted in our own lives.
Session 2 – Turning to God
Exploring the first part of the lament formula, this session considers Asaph’s example in Psalm 77 and how we too can turn to God, ultimately discovering that prayerful lament before our heavenly Father is better than silent endurance.
Session 3 – Permission to Protest
Many of us find it easy to complain about things like Mondays and the weather but sense a tension when it comes to complaining before God. Digging deeper into Psalm 10, we will see how we can protest to God humbly and honestly, yet hopefully.
Session 4 – Boldly crying out, “Help!”
Having turned and expressed our complaints to God, this session encourages us to follow the example found in Psalm 22. We learn how we can boldly approach God’s throne of grace to expectantly call upon him, amid our pain and desperation, to act in accordance with his character.
Session 5 – Daring to Hope (Trust) in God
Our final Daring to Hope session sees us revisit Psalm 13 and take the first step towards the end goal of all our laments – hoping and trusting in God’s promises. This session will allow space for reflection and the opportunity for people to have a go at crafting their own laments.
Whether you’re a church or small group leader, someone involved in pastoral care, or just passionate about Bible engagement, then we want to encourage you to join us on our Daring to Hope journey as we turn in lament toward God, yet ultimately daring to hope for the day when God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of those who belong to him (Revelation 21:4).
To find out how you and your church can take the next step into (re)discovering the grace of lament, or to get your hands on this resource and begin your Daring to Hope journey, visit https://biblesocietyni.co.uk/resources/daring-to-hope/ or call 02890 326577 today.
About Bible Society NI
At The Bible Society in Northern Ireland, we are passionate about Bible Translation, Production, Distribution, Engagement, Advocacy, and Ministry because we believe the Bible is still living and active; still speaking, teaching, and transforming lives across the world today.
For more information on our resources and work in Northern Ireland and across the world visit www.biblesocietyni.co.uk or follow us on social media @biblesocietyni.