Lament: Prayers That Activate the Justice of God

Artwork done by Jennifer Oakley-Delaplante based on Jeremiah 9:20-21
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The problem in our world, and in our church, is that we never take time to weep…

All day long the headlines are filled with more bad news than good news. It doesn’t matter if it’s your local news station, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or even the Young Turks. More than likely, the headline features either a shooting, a robbery, a case of domestic violence, or even a natural disaster. Nationally, a broadcast is incomplete without images of brown boys and girls corralled and detained in subpar facilities. In fact, NBC news published an article yesterday entitled, “Migrant Children Face More Serious Health Risks With Longer Detentions” where they quote Dr. Julie Linton saying, “Children are not like adults. They get sick more quickly and each hour of delay can be associated with serious complications, especially in cases of infectious diseases. Delays can lead to death.”

And while our children are sick and imprisoned at the border, black women are still objectified, senior citizens are losing their homes to gentrification, and the leading cause of death in young black men is police brutality. To top it all off, many are fatigued by the cycle of a black boy dies, there’s a protest, a press conference, then we all go back to business as usual and brace for the next catastrophe. The truth is, like Mother Fannie Lou Hamer, some of us are just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The God Who Hears Our Tears

I surmise that the problem in our world, and in our church, is that we never take the time to weep. If you notice, we don’t take time to acknowledge and process pain. In fact, in January of this year, researchers at Stanford University discovered that the human brain intentionally tries to avoid the discomfort associated with pain. This is because, according to their research, pain is not a physical sensation, but an emotional one. And so we are all constantly trying to avoid the discomfort attached to emotional unpleasantness. This is why so many of us fail to empathize and sympathize with the wounds of those all over the world. We are intentionally avoiding the emotional discomfort associated with processing oppression, injustice, and devastation.

Social media doesn’t make this any easier. This scroll away feature has trained us to consume injustice and move on. We can watch Philando Castile get shot to death on Facebook Live and scroll away to watch cooking videos or clips of stand up comedians. Our society is set up to feed into our natural bent towards pain aversion. And in an age of scrollers and media watchers, men and women of faith are no different. Many of us are bombarded with images and articles addressing these issues and we too find ways to disregard them. From our places of work to our places of worship, the people of God are constantly trying to avoid the uncomfortable emotional pain of the world’s wounds because we do not know how to process them.

I believe that the first step to truly acknowledging injustice and processing the world’s pain is lament. In his book Prophetic Lamentation, Soong Chan Rah argues that until we learn how to weep for justice, there will never be any change. He goes on to declare that “lament is the language of God.” Lament is the language that gets God’s attention. Based on his pivotal text, we serve a God who hears our tears.

Lament Activates the Justice of God

For example, in Exodus 2:23-25 Moses writes that:

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.

God heard their groaning,

and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

The New Living Translation says, “that God knew that it was time to act.” In these verses we see that lament not only captures God’s attention, but it also moves Him to act. Secularism will have you believe that we serve a God who is aloof, standoffish, and hands-off in His dealings with humanity. So often the injustice and devastation of our world causes many of us to question, where is God? Why doesn’t He do something about the oppression and destruction in our world today? But these verses show that God cares about injustice. And more importantly, when He hears the cries of His people against injustice He hears and He acts.

But what if God is looking for a church that is willing to weep for others? What if the way we activate God’s justice is by weeping for injustice?

When We Weep

When we weep we employ lament in our intercessory prayers. Living in such terrible and turbulent times, there needs to be a collective lament among the people of God for the people and things of the Earth. In the same way we make room for organizing protests, writing rebukes, and campaigning for change, we must also make time for weeping and reflection. Soong Chan Rah says, “lament recognizes the struggles of life and cries out for justice against existing injustices.” Like the prophet Nehemiah we must determine in our hearts that we must lament for our cities before we can start to rebuild them. We must put our souls in the position of empathetic lamentation in order to activate the justice of God in the Earth.

How many times have we prayed for injustice in our churches? When was the last time you heard a prayer for the decisions coming from this administration? Can you say you’ve prayed over the lives of the children held at the border? How can we say we love God and have no love for one another? How are we disciples of Christ when don’t weep over the things He wept for?

When we weep for our communities, for the disproportionate numbers of African Americans behind bars, for the children unjustly separated from their parents, for the families living in food deserts, for the neighborhoods that look like war zones, that is when we participate in the kind of intercessory prayer that activates the justice of God.

The earth is groaning. The question is, as believers, will we groan with it to the God who saves? Will we lament and activate the justice of the God who hears our tears?

More from Jaime Kowlessar

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