Learning the Prayer of Lament – Using Psalms as the Foundation for Prayer

{Thank you to Susanna L. for this post! }

Suffering in Sorrow? 

Learn the Prayer of Lament – Turning Pain into Praise.

Feelings of heartbreaking sorrow once ruled my heart.  More than anything I wanted to feel hope and joy again.  Shockingly, I sincerely believed that I never would. God has shown me otherwise.  Joy and praise now have a big space in my heart and God is enthroned once again.

How was this possible?

What was the power for this transformation?

A big part of the answer for me was learning to pray Prayers of Lament and the spiritual turning that they bring.  Psalm 61v1-2. “Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer.  From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

I certainly was overwhelmed and I also knew that I needed leading to that Higher Rock, to abide in His tabernacle and to trust in the covert of his wings.  Technically, I knew all this to be true from scripture, but what I didn’t have was the knowledge that God actually wanted me to do this and on a practical level I didn’t know how to do it.   I have always known how to complain to others, but how to bring my complaint to God in a prayer of lament was, for me, the beginning of something new and wonderful. Once I was aware that I could pour my tears into God’s bottle this became a transforming power.

In the past I had wondered what difference would it make anyway when my heart was so full of sorrows?  Would anything really change just because I told God what he already knows? I had also worried, was what I wanted to say disrespectful, or inappropriate?  These were all real fears that have been set aside by following the biblical pattern for prayers of Lament.  Now even in my deepest sorrows I know how to turn and face the LORD and its made an immeasurable difference both in and around me.

Lament is a pretty major theme in the Bible.  Obviously we see it a lot in the Psalms, where the psalmists pour out their hearts to God.  But there are also many others down through time who have faithfully laid out their complaint before Yahweh expressing deep feelings of sorrow, grief, or regret.  Human struggles. Men and women of the Bible were as real as we are today. They expressed their joys and sorrows to God just as we should today. There is no attempt in scripture to hide the sorrows and sufferings of God’s people.  His people learn obedience by the things that they suffer. God’s people weep, argue, complain, wrestle and they do it all in His presence. Their faith is not one that suffers and then gives up. It is robust and determined taking everything to the Lord in prayer.  Following the biblical pattern, they begin with suffering and end in glory. Convinced of His sovereignty and His power, they confidently bring all things to him.

Our God is the same God, our prayers and our faith can be the same to.  Surely using His word as the framework for our prayer gives us this confidence.

Psalm 13 has been the foundation for many of my prayers of lament.  It very simply shows the biblical pattern and how this Prayer of Lament is the turning point between grief and gladness

Problem – Firstly we lay out what is troubling us, casting our burden on the Lord. (v1-2)

“How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?

How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?”

Petition – Secondly we make our request known. (v3-4)

“Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;  Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.”

Praise – Thirdly we praise God and express our confidence in Him. (v5-6)

But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.

I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.”

{Thank you to Bailey M. for the graphic design on the templates!}

Write Out Psalm 13 PDF

Your Own Prayer from Psalm 13

In this simple structure, we are lead from “sorrow in our hearts daily” to “singing unto the LORD”!  We make a conscious decision to turn from turmoil to trust, and we do it out loud and with Him. With our backs to God our own shadows stretch ahead of us, but when we turn and face him, we can bask in the sunshine of his glory.  God begins doing for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Using this ancient biblical structure we can express honest emotion to God when life is hard.  No longer pretending I’m ok, when I am not. The prayer of lament converts my pain into praise.

Biblical prayers of lament lead us to praise – which is the antidote to our heaviness.  When we choose to praise God for who He is, what He has done, and all He has promised to do… God gives us a “garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness” (Isa 61v3). Prayers of praise focus our minds away from self and entirely on God.  Praise communicates to God our love, devotion, reverence and thanksgiving, reminding us of the power of the atonement in Christ Jesus. It communicates our dependence upon God and draws us closer to him.

It is when I actively choose to praise God in my heart and on my lips that the negative thoughts in my mind are put to silence.  Then God is glorified even amidst my human struggles. Is this not what our Creator desires of us?

What earthly sorrow will bring you to lament and praise our Heavenly Father today?

What other prayers of lament do you find as you read God’s word?

Here are some practical examples using Psalm 13 that have been valuable as I have learnt to lament alone, for others and together with others.  

  1. Read Psalm 13 in several versions.  Copy out Psalm 13 in your prayer journal.   Re-write the Psalm in your own words expressing what is causing you sorrow.  (I find this is often not as succinct as the psalmist, but that is ok, the Psalm is our springboard into further prayer and meditation).  When this process is finished, I am in awe of what prayer and meditation has done to my heart.
  2. Are you uncertain of how to help someone who is suffering, sick, or struggling?  We would do well to practice offering our own personal prayers of Lament so that we can faithfully sit with hurting brethren and comfort them in their sorrows and grief with prayers of Lament.  Can you bring your lamentation to God on their behalf? Why not follow Paul’s example and write your prayer down and pray with them or send your prayers to them.
  3. Organize a lament prayer meeting.   This takes spiritual vulnerability. You can choose the topic for your prayer meeting, or each person can pray about anything that is causing them sorrow in their heart daily.  There are many things we can lament and turn toward the LORD together with. Each person writes out their personal prayer based on the structure and words of Psalm 13. When everyone is finished offer your personal prayers out loud together in a circle.  Try finishing all together reciting Psalm 13 as it is written in scripture. It is a humbling and powerful experience to hear our God’s praises poured out of different hearts in different words, but all based on the ancient pattern of a Psalm.

 

You can use other sections of Scripture as a foundation for prayer, as well.  For example, see below for using Paul’s prayer in Ephesians and Jehoshaphat’s prayer as foundations for your own.

Write Paul’s Prayer in Ephesians 3 Write Your Own Prayer based on Paul’s Prayer in Ephesians 3 PDF
Write the Prayer of Jehoshaphat

Write Your Own Prayer based on Jehoshaphat’s Prayer

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