Lament is a healthy, normal, and helpful practice for our churches to embrace. God might even use it to draw in those who don’t yet believe.
No one would confuse lament for one of the 4 Spiritual Laws. And yet, lament seems like an especially useful way to connect with unbelievers in the modern world.
Some might protest that lament is not attractive to those outside the church, that a lamenting church might drive people away by focusing too much on sorrow. (I probably would have reacted the same way two years ago.) However, this objection misunderstands both lament and what God in Christ promises his followers.
For a person or church growing in this area, lament can be a useful evangelistic tool. In what follows I’ll defend this claim and explain how it might look within a friendly conversation.
Why Lament is Attractive
Lament is an honest reckoning with the sin and suffering in the world. There are no painted-on smiles or sugar-thin promises of the life you’ve always wanted. Lament is a raw grieving before the Lord and a hopeful turning to trust him in the middle of that grief.
Most people feel the deep pains of life but don’t have anywhere to take that pain. Some might vent to friends or talk with a therapist, but many keep their hurt inside. We humans aren’t very good at processing our sorrow.
Along with pain, our unbelieving friends and neighbors may feel great confusion. If they do not acknowledge a God who is sovereign, then who or what is behind their suffering? If they do not acknowledge a God who is loving, then how can they escape the pain?
It is refreshing to talk to people who are honest about the pain in the world and are working through it. Lamenters make no promises of happy endings and lay no claims to having all the answers. But Christians can (and should) hold out love and purpose and belonging. A healthy church is a family who helps, grieves, and suffers with those who hurt.
Even more importantly, a healthy church points to a Savior. Jesus not only suffers with us now, but he suffered for us in history. Ultimately, this is the strength of lament as an evangelistic tool—it can easily lead to a conversation about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can lament now because of what he has accomplished for us and because we’re united to him.
Turning from Lament to Jesus
How might a Christian might invite others to consider Jesus based on their own experience of lament?
The first step is the most obvious. Start lamenting! Lament is not reserved for the big and ugly griefs of life. Everyone alive on planet Earth has reason to lament. (If you’re new to lament, check out some of my articles on the theme.)
Turning outward, engage people around you and pay attention as they talk. Listen to them. It usually takes only a few questions before you have a ready avenue (if they’re willing) to talk about a hardship, grief, or sadness.
In your subsequent conversations, talk about your own laments. Share how God has designed this as a way for his people to speak to him, even to complain to him, about their circumstances and feelings. Lead your friend to the cross, to the reason Jesus cried out in lament at his hour of greatest anguish. Lament only exists because of sin! There are numerous other on-ramps from lament to the gospel of Christ.
Communicating God’s Saving Love
Lament is not the only way we should pray, and it should not be our only topic of conversation. But God may use our practice of this holy conversation to show others that their pain is not wasted. He may use this to communicate his saving love to our neighbors.