In times of crisis, our emotions can sometimes overwhelm us — fear, peace, hope, grief, doubt, faith, disappointment, weariness, hatred, and love all fighting for supremacy in our hearts.
Is there a way to go from this inner turbulence to a deep and abiding peace?
I believe so.
Much of the Bible was written about people facing difficult, if not overwhelming, circumstances. If we study their lives, we discover that they often used a specific type of prayer during those moments: the lament (or lamentation). It is a form of prayer that consists of a cry out to God, an outpouring of our heart, a remembrance of God and his works, specific requests for our situation, an assurance that God has heard us, and an outpouring of praise, worship, and thanksgiving. The different aspects of this prayer can be offered in any order, and can also be intermingled.
Jesus uses this prayer format on the eve of his crucifixion. We can learn much about laments by reflecting on that Thursday night.
A Cry to God
This might seem obvious, but the first step of lamenting is crying out to God. As we read the story of his passion, we see that Jesus chooses to fix his eyes on his Father throughout that ordeal and invites his disciples to join him.
But his disciples don’t.
And we are more like them than we might care to admit. When we are faced with overwhelming circumstances, our first reflex is often to avoid reality by doing things like binge-watching Netflix, reading escapist literature, cleaning the whole house, using social media, or sleeping — instead of spending time with Jesus in prayer.
An Outpouring of Our Heart
In Hebrews 5:7, we discover that Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was anything but calm: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
Luke 22:44 adds that “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Jesus experiences anguish and expresses it very forcefully. Does that surprise you? Does it astonish you to see this called “reverent submission”? And yet, it is.
By following this God-given pattern of prayer, Jesus helps us discover the amazing freedom we have to come to God just as we are, holding nothing back. Our Father already knows all that we are thinking and feeling, and he invites us to get all of that out in the open, not stopping until we reach a place of silence — a silence into which he can quietly and powerfully remind us about himself.
Remembrance of God and His Works
When we study the psalms of lament, we discover that they do not follow a rigid structure. Rather, they present a multifaceted conversation with God, with steps we can follow in any order we choose.
This is the case with Jesus on this night. His prayer of lament begins way before Gethsemane, as he gathers with his disciples to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Remembrance — the Passover. He spends hours with them in that upper room, celebrating the deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt under Moses and singing psalms of rejoicing. But he goes further still: he helps his disciples see his coming suffering in the light of that ancient story and reminds himself of everything his suffering would accomplish (Mark 14).
Specific Requests for Our Situation
We don’t quite know at what time that night Jesus utters the words of his prayer in John 17. As we study that prayer, we see his passion for God’s glory and for the blessing and protection of his people. He focuses not on his coming suffering, but on all the joy and glory that suffering will produce, as we learn from Hebrews 12:2: “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Strengthened by God’s eternal perspective on his suffering, he is able to not only pray “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me”, but also “yet, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Confidence of Being Heard
Jesus is always aware of his union with the Father and the Spirit, and this fateful night is no exception. And yet, in those dark moments in Gethsemane, the Father sends an angel to strengthen him, thereby confirming that he has heard his Son’s pain (Luke 22:43).
We may not receive a visit from an angel, but we have an even greater proof that God hears us. God lives in us continuously by his Spirit, who gives us unceasing access to the very throne room of God!
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).”
Worship, Praise, and Thanksgiving
Jesus’ time of worship, praise, and thanksgiving begins during the Passover meal and continues all the way to his last breath. The words he speaks from the cross confirm that he never loses sight of his Father or of his Word. As he hangs there dying, he quotes verses from psalms of lament as he sees them accomplished.
Psalm 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?“
Psalm 31:5 “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.“
Over one third of the Psalms follow this prayer pattern either fully or partially. I have prepared a small database of those psalms that you can copy and use in the days ahead to guide your times of prayer with God, either individually or with others.
May you experience the most joyous Easter season ever as you:
- go to God freely in prayer;
- pour out your heart to him;
- remember his presence, power, and promises;
- entrust all your requests to him knowing he hears you;
- and worship, praise, and thank him with a heart freed from fear!
Go further: Explore Jesus’ lament from the cross, Psalm 22.