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The Christian's Call to Lament

Learning to sit on the ash heap and cry

For Christians who follow the church calendar, we have just remembered Jesus’ ascension (Acts 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11) and this Sunday we remember Pentecost, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on his people (Acts 1:8; 2:1-13). This reminds us we have both a heavenly (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 Jn. 2:1) and an earthly intercessor (Rom. 8:26-27).

We are also reminded that we live between Christ’s first and second comings. Though Christ has overcome sin, death, enmity, and the principalities and powers, triumphing over them through the cross (Col. 2:15), we live in a redeemed-not-yet-glorified world. As Christians, we long for that day, and join the church of all ages crying, “maranatha, come Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20).

The Tragedy of Sin: Death

Living between the times, and until that day when Christ returns, the world and humanity live with the effects of the fall, we live with the real implications of sin. This week we were graphically and painfully reminded of the effects of the fall.

In one instance, the United States reached 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19, which we grieve. We reached this number in four months. And this massive number consists of individual lives.

In another instance, we grieve the horrific and tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the death of one individual. We also grieve the events happening in the city of Minneapolis in the aftermath of his death. The pain, brokenness and heartache of Floyd’s death and the anger and violence that have followed are almost beyond belief.

Although there are many other glimpses of sin in the world, death, as in these two instances, is the ultimate reminder that something is amiss in the world, the brokenness due to sin.

The Christian’s Response: Lament

How do we respond to the groans of life – the pain, sorrow, abuse, racism, injustice, rioting, looting, death, and many more? As the people of God, we lament. We do not explain, we do not justify, we do not rationalize, we do not politicize, instead we pour our hearts out to God in lament. Christians are not exempt from this brokenness, and in the midst of it, and between the comings of Christ, lament is the prayer language for God’s people. In the presence of the Lord we cry with heaving sobs as we experience and observe the terrible brokenness and ugliness of sin, ravaging either self or fellow image bearers. We sit in the ash heap and cry.

We mourn. We grieve. We lament. And we trust.

Our laments are a means of expressing the reality of our present experience of suffering, while undergirded by a faith and trust in God and his promises (Ps. 13; Rom. 8). Laments interpret the world through a God-centered lens, and reflect faith-filled prayers of God’s people (Rev. 21:4). Humanity cries. Because of Christ, only Christians faithfully lament, which is the language of suffering. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is our model of lamenting with faith and trust (Matt. 26:39, 42). And in the midst of real suffering and pain, as we sit in the ash heap, we do so reaffirming our trust in our sovereign God with assurance that because of Jesus' suffering on our behalf (Heb. 4:16; 5:7; 1 Pet. 2:21), he will use it and we will be transformed by it (Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:20-21).

In light of this present moment, in between the first and second comings of Christ, this is a call to fellow believers in the EFCA to lament, both individually and corporately. We mourn. We grieve. We lament. And we trust. It is a kindness of God that leads us to repentance and lament (Rom. 2:4). It is a reflection of our weakness, of our inability to make things right, and our trust in God that he will ultimately make all things right/new (Rom. 8:31-39; Rev. 21:1-5), and our cry out to him to hear and respond.

A Prayer of Lament

We encourage you to ponder and pray through Article 8 in the EFCA Statement of Faith on “Christian Living.” Please ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your time of personal lament, and also as we, our EFCA family, lament together corporately.

Article 8. We believe that God's justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.

Our Father and our God, we are grieved beyond words as we ponder the events of this past week. With the mark of 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19 and the grievous death of George Floyd, we are shocked, angry and deeply sorrowful. And our anguish is multiplied as we see the devastating response – the rioting, burning, the looting and shooting – in the cities of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and elsewhere around the country.

We must speak because it is right to respond. This is not about politics. This is about human life, human beings created in the image of God who are fellow image bearers. We want and need to respond, but we often do not know how or in what way. Lord, we are confused and conflicted.

Our initial tendency, Lord, is often activism: to speak, to do, to engage before we prepare our hearts. There is a time and place for responding. But before we move to the response, with the deep grief and heavy sorrow we feel, we must first pause to lament, to weep and cry as we see the devastating and deadly results of sin. As we utter these prayers of lament in the midst of the suffering and pain, we do so with faith and trust in you and your promises. We seek to lament as our Lord Jesus did.

We lament that so often in our lives your justifying grace is separated from your sanctifying power and purpose, that the confession of our lips is inconsistent with our character and the manner in which we conduct our lives. Lord, hear our prayer, forgive and renew.

We lament we have not loved you supremely with our whole hearts, that we have made good gifts from you ultimate and thus engaged in idolatry. We have not loved others sacrificially, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. To the contrary, we have despised the other. Lord, hear our prayer, forgive and renew.

We lament that we have been more committed to making ourselves happy and content than dying to self.

We lament that our faith has been without works, it has not been lived out in care for others in the body of Christ. We have considered others an intrusion into our lives. We also lament that we have lacked compassion toward the poor, blaming them for their state, foregoing a life marked by the compassion we have experienced through Jesus Christ. We also care for justice for ourselves, but we care very little for justice for the oppressed, believing they get what they deserve. We have failed to reflect the gospel in word and deed, by overlooking that the God of justice cares about justice, especially for those in need. Lord, hear our prayer, forgive and renew.

We lament we have engaged in the world according to the flesh, using the world’s means and in a worldly manner. We have considered people the enemy, not the spiritual forces of evil, concluding our enemy is one who has different color skin, or one who disagrees with us, or one who has a different view on a subject, or one who is of the other political party. Lord, hear our prayer, forgive and renew.

We lament that we have been more committed to making ourselves happy and content than dying to self, and that we have desired more to retain the status quo in our churches than to obey the Lord Jesus’ command to make disciples. We also lament we have been more committed to people who look like us than we have been to a ministry among all people, which means we often reflect more of the world’s ways than we bear witness to the gospel, as God’s new community, being a reflection of the kingdom. Lord, hear our prayer, forgive and renew.

“O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Dan 9:19).

In Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.

Greg Strand

Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.

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