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Where Have All the Lamenting Pastors Gone?

Where Have All the Lamenting Pastors Gone?

by Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine.

  • Would you hire David as your worship pastor?
  • Would you share your pulpit with the weeping prophet Jeremiah?
  • How would your staff respond to Nehemiah’s public display of sorrow during a staff meeting?
  • Would Esther be given a seat at the church leadership table?

I don’t know how it happened to us, but somewhere along the way we lost all of our laments. We traded in our sorrow and forgot we will be sorrowful while we are rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). We have sung the happy songs in church, prayed the happy prayers, and told ourselves to always be thankful, at the expense of silencing the grief left unresolved in our hearts.

Lament is a passionate expression of grief. It’s the cry of our heart that is usually full of anguish, sadness or heartache. We know God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) yet we have forgotten how to be broken ourselves. We know that God inclines to hear our cry (Psalm 116:2) but have we let our disappointments be heard within our communities?

It’s hard to find a person in the Bible who was without grief. And from them, we learn that lament is a passionate expression of grief that God meets us in. From Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, to Esther and Mordechai, God’s children were full of laments. Sarah lamented, Jeremiah was a weeping prophet, and Habakkuk lamented even after receiving an answer from God.

What would happen if we removed laments from the Bible? We would lose powerful testimonies, we would lose an entire book (Lamentations), much of the psalms, and we would lose a powerful way of communicating with God when life does not go our way. Lamenting is an essential spiritual discipline that we cannot forsake on this side of the fall, because it offers us a way to keep the conversation going with the only One who can save us when life gets hard.

Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirt can be grieved (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Jesus let us in to his laments on several occasions, and Scripture teaches us of a God who experiences emotion and lets us know about it.

No one laments more than God, so why do we put pressure on ourselves to keep a happy face?

We begin our services with upbeat songs in the church. We attend Christian conferences where we hear a motivational message. We turn on the Christian radio to a “positive and encouraging” station and our kids attend schools where they are told they are “lights of the world,” and “conquerors.” But where are our laments?

We champion messages of joy and stories of overcoming in the church today. Yet look at the book of Psalms, or the books written by Jeremiah, or Paul’s ministry of tears—these giants of the faith weren’t afraid to get honest with God when life was falling apart. We are in good company, biblically speaking, when we lament.

It’s time to recover this lost language. And I believe to find our way back to this essential, life-giving practice, we must do it together.

The Jewish people lamented in community and I can’t help but wonder if our churches ought to look like this today. What if we opened a door to the singles in the community who are lamenting their singleness, instead of just telling them to start an online dating profile? What if we hosted support groups for the widows and widowers who are longing for heaven after losing a spouse, instead of reassuring them that everything happens for a reason and expecting them to “move on”? How about the foreigner, the orphan, and the refugee? What if, instead of outsourcing them to counseling ministries, we took the time out to hear their cries?

Can you imagine what our church would look like if we practiced lament, in addition to our expressions of joy? What if we made the decision to walk together through both tracks of life?

If David had not demonstrated lament, we might have a hard time relating to him. Most of us are not anointed to be king at a young age. When we think of David, it’s not his king-ship that we relate to…we relate to David’s laments.

Yes, David lamented his sin, but David also lamented while he was following God. While David was being obedient; and as David was doing the work of the LORD, lamenting prayers were still a part of David’s communication with God.

“I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.” Psalm 142:1-2

“I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” Psalm 142:5-6

Are we polishing our prayers from the pulpits, or are we giving ourselves permission to be a lamenting people? We know that the world around us is lamenting and all of creation is groaning out (Romans 8:22). It’s time we quit faking fine and let our laments out, too.

Because God meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be. And that’s the kind of church I long for.

– Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine.

How to Use This Book

If you’ve ever been given empty clichés during challenging times, you know how painful it can feel to be misunderstood by well-meaning people. Far too often, it seems the response we get to our hurt and disappointment is to suck it up, or pray it away. As a pastor or church leader, you set the tone for your congregation. Consider starting a small group study around No More Faking Fine or preach a sermon on the topic of lament. When one person stops faking fine it gives permission for everyone else to do the same. You, and those in your congregation, have a story, it’s time to share it!

Pick up copies of No More Faking Fine for your church or small group today.

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