Corporate lament prayers model how to process a tragedy or something disturbing on the news. These prayers teach our people to watch the news not just for information but for intercession, to move from asking “what’s happening?” to “how can I pray?” Lament models a heart of concern. Lament teaches people how to pray.
Some pastoral lessons are learned the hard way.
After a morning worship service, an African-American brother asked me if we were going to pray about a racially-charged story that had been all over the news the previous two weeks. The facts were still emerging. Protests developed. The scenario was ripe with controversy—with ditches on either side. And emotions ran hot.
To be honest, I didn’t fully understand what I saw on the news. The story wasn’t clear. And I was afraid of saying the wrong thing.
And so silence seemed like the safer route. But ignoring the conflict sent an unhelpful—even painful—message.
Seeing the pain in my brother’s eyes caused me to evaluate my pastoral approach. During our Elder Prayer over the next few Sundays, we talked to God about what was on the news. Without rushing to judgment, we lamented. We prayed about the brokenness in our world, the pain in the community, the deep levels of misunderstanding and mistrust, and we asked God to help. Our sorrow-filled prayers were a good start. But looking back, they were late.
That scenario and others unrelated to racial tension taught me that there’s value in corporate lament. Let me give you three reasons why they’re helpful.
Laments are prayers in pain that lead to trust. The Bible is full of them, especially the Psalms. They reflect a variety of pain, including personal sorrow, a desire for justice, and repentance. Laments give voice to the brokenness of our humanity. That’s one of the reasons we run to the Psalms when hurting.