Lament and thanksgiving are two entirely valid modes of prayer.
Both are biblical and practical. Like God’s people in every time and place, it is a healthy practice to offer to God both our ‘why’ and our ‘thanks’. In my survey of local Baptist worship in Aotearoa New Zealand, I considered the extent to which forms of prayer such as praise and thanksgiving were dominant, and found reason to believe that forms such as confession and lament were more rare. In this post, I’m interested in reasons why lament in particular seems uncommon, and whether or not there might be a symbiotic relationship between lament and thanksgiving.
I think the main reasons for less (or no) lament in public worship are emotional and theological in nature. Emotionally, it really is a bit of a drag and doesn’t really (at least on the surface) prepare people to go out in confident mission to the world. Theologically, some may feel that such prayers reflect a lack of gratitude or trust.
I get it. It’s not enjoyable, and it can seem to clash with gratitude. I certainly think it would be inappropriate for a service to have too much lament. But what if lament and thanksgiving go together more than we realize?
I propose the following: When Christians gather for worship, a mixture of lament and thanksgiving is a healthy middle between two extremes. At one extreme, when there is too much lament and not enough thanksgiving, the service feels less like worship and more like a grumbling session. This kind of worship succeeds in justifying our resentment and anger when things don’t go our way, and fails to transform our boredom into joy. At the other extreme, when there is only thanksgiving, free of lament, the service can feel a bit shallow and inauthentic. This kind of worship fails to appreciate that every day is full of events which even God laments, and for which lament is the proper response, and succeeds in presenting Christianity as a faith which is out of touch with reality.
So then. Lament? Yes. And then give thanks.