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How Can Miserable Christians Pray?

Does your prayer life have a place it in for sadness before God? Does it have a place for rage?

Last Sunday in the Hinsdale congregation, I mentioned an article I had read entitled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” Its point was that our corporate worship should contain more than a “diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns,” because of course the Christian life is not just “one long triumphalist street party.” There is grief. There is confusion. There is anger. And when we gather together before God, there needs to be a place for us to express those emotions.
Recently I’ve been reading a truly excellent book entitled Rejoicing in Lament. In it Todd Billings, a theologian diagnosed a few years ago with incurable cancer, argues that it is incredibly important that we follow the example of the Psalms in expressing before God the entire gamut of emotions we experience when encountering suffering and evil. The goal in this is not simply to “vent” our feelings therapeutically, but rather to turn our hearts toward God with faith and hope when there are no answers.
Often, when we face intense suffering, we mistakenly try either to fix ourselves or to fix God. Sometimes, we try to pretend that things aren’t really bothering us. We wait until we can put on a brave face and only then, when we can say “appropriate things” do we turn to God in prayer. Other times, when pretending is not an option, we try to explain why God would do these things (“it’s actually a good thing that this happened”), or, when that’s impossible (because some suffering simply has no human explanation), we turn away from God. Neither of these reactions actually draws us any closer to God.
Billings writes that God does not give us a comprehensive answer to the problems of evil and suffering. Instead, he gives us a way of praying. Lament is an expression of faith: the writers of the Psalms lament before God precisely because they have high expectations of God. They are counting on his promises. And yet the prayers of lament we find in the Psalms (and elsewhere in the Bible) are entirely honest. In them we see believers bringing their unresolved confusion, anger, and fear to God. As they do, they are able both to grieve well and yet also to praise the faithful God that they are still hoping in.
Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who mourn.” If you have the chance, I’d encourage you to take some time to read Todd’s book. And even more, I’d encourage you to join with me in seeking to grow in our ability to lament before God.

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