Lamentation: Sad prayers.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 September

When Christians believe we gotta evoke some form of prayer mood before we can talk with God, y’might notice Christians try to pick a mindset which reflects how they think they gotta approach him. Not boldness, like the writer of Hebrews suggests; He 4.16 more like awe at how amazing God is, or self-loathing at how amazing we’re not. Sometimes sadness because of just how much we suck; we’re rotten sinners, and how dare we approach the holy Almighty in our unclean state.

If we had to manufacture any mood before we could pray, it’s artificial; it’s hypocrisy. Don’t do that. Don’t make yourself sad just so you can approach God repentantly.

But if you’re legitimately sad, that’s fine! There’s nothing wrong with sad prayers. God’s totally cool with them. It’s called lamentation—and yeah, there’s a book Jeremiah wrote called Lamentations in your bible, which consists entirely of his sad prayers. You wanna learn how to pray sad prayers?—you got Jeremiah’s example right there in your bible.

You also have King David ben Jesse, who was an emotional guy, and didn’t hide it at all from the LORD when he got low. Didn’t hide it from anyone, which is why his lament psalms are included in the books of Psalms. He had no qualms about writing the Bronze Age equivalent of the blues.

Psalm 38.0-9 NET
0 A psalm of David, written to get God’s attention.
1 O LORD, do not continue to rebuke me in your anger.
Do not continue to punish me in your raging fury.
2 For your arrows pierce me,
and your hand presses me down.
3 My whole body is sick because of your judgment;
I am deprived of health because of my sin.
4 For my sins overwhelm me;
like a heavy load, they are too much for me to bear.
5 My wounds are infected and starting to smell,
because of my foolish sins.
6 I am dazed and completely humiliated;
all day long I walk around mourning.
7 For I am overcome with shame,
and my whole body is sick.
8 I am numb with pain and severely battered;
I groan loudly because of the anxiety I feel.
9 O Lord, you understand my heart’s desire;
my groaning is not hidden from you.

David goes on and on like this. Y’notice he even blames God for some of it. Yeah, various Christians will leap to the conclusion that because this is infallible scripture, God literally did do this stuff to David, and literally does stuff like this to sinners nowadays. But a more accurate interpretation is that David felt like God was behind some of his misery, and said so; not that God actually was or is. As Job reveals, sometimes he’s not. Since Jesus tells us not to worry, clearly David’s stress and anxiety is generated by David himself. Not God.

Notice as well: Even though David suspected the LORD was behind some of his suffering, he still turned to God for help and relief. Because he knew—and this part is entirely true—God is our comfort. 2Co 1.3 He comforts us so we can turn round and comfort others. 2Co 1.4 So because that’s who he is, that’s why we need to turn to him when we’re sad with our sad prayers. Lament to God. He’ll comfort the sorrowing.

Don’t hide your sorrows from God.

Sometimes David blamed his suffering on God punishing him for it. (And to be fair, sometimes God totally was.) Other times, David blamed his suffering on enemies, and wanted God to smite ’em in nasty ways. In such psalms we see a lot more righteous indignation than weepy laments. But either way, David didn’t hold back what he felt. Never to God. God knew him inside and out anyway; Ps 139.1 it’d be stupid to try to hide things from him.

And God can comfort the sorrowing! He knows how our emotions work. He did after all design us to have them. He has the very same emotions too, y’know—although God’s gentleness, his emotional self-control, is absolute. Ours needs a lot more work. But part of growing in the spiritual fruit of gentleness means learning this particular form of self-control directly from God. Prayer definitely helps us learn it.

So recognize God is the perfect outlet for our emotions—and he wants to be that outlet. Whether we’re deep in sadness, anger, shame, offense, resentfulness, bitterness, loneliness, powerlessness, low self-worth, suspicion, unhealthy skepticism, sense of abandonment or neglect, God can take all of it, guide us through it, and use it to create something better in us.

When God doesn’t seem to be helping.

Sometimes lamenting to God is just the thing we need to do to snap us out of our mourning, our bad moods, our worry, our frustration, our anger. Works great for me: Someone’s really irritated me, so I vent to God, and he shows me I’m all worked up for no good reason (or for very good reason, but I need to forgive ’em just the same), and I’m good.

For other people… well this doesn’t work. At all.

That’s because when I’m talking with God about my frustrations, I’m not talking about serious life-changing, brain-altering trauma. I’m talking about the daily frustrations of life. Those times I had experienced life-changing trauma, I discovered I was so messed up by them, it was hard to hear God. I simply couldn’t quiet myself and listen to him. Too much noise in my brain. I needed other humans. I needed therapy.

Now, Christians don’t always understand psychology. Frighteningly, some Christians don’t even believe in it, or think it’s of the devil. They’ll try to get us to not seek other people for help; that all we really need is Jesus and happy thoughts. They’ll insist, “You just need to try harder.” Pray the blues away. God can fix everything, right?—so why can’t he cure post-traumatic stress disorder, or years of abuse, with just a wave of his mighty hand?

These Christians never consider the idea people physically can’t hear God. ’Cause they’ve been traumatized. It might even be medical, where they’re battling out-of-control brain chemicals.

If you suspect that’s the case, find a Christian counselor who legitimately believes in medicine. Talk to a psychiatrist. Find out whether that’s the real issue. Maybe meds can turn down the volume on your emotions so you can hear God again—and if so, fantastic! And if not, wrong medication; try another.

Yeah, God can miraculously cure medical problems. Don’t rule that out either. But just as he can miraculously fix your engine troubles when your car acts up, usually you’re gonna take it back to the dealership, or to a mechanic, or try to fix it yourself, because that’s just commonsense. Same deal with medical problems: While you’re asking God to cure you, still, go to the doctor. Don’t be foolish. Okay?