West asked this question in the comments section of a previous post:
I was wondering what your thoughts were on how to, if at all, include lamenting in our present context. Should we grow in this area of worship? Does it mean that there is an “over-realized eschatology” in our worship if we don’t? A tendency to lean too heavily on the “not yet” instead of the “now” of our faith and Christian experience?…How do we (if we should at all) join the saints of old, and sit in the ashes as a congregation to weep before God?
His question included a reference to an interview with Michael Card, where he refers to lament as the “lost language of worship.”
Scripture is filled with the anguished cries of those who feel forgotten and abandoned by God. They express confusion, doubt, and even anger (Ps. 10:1, 13:1, 22:1-2, 44:9-18). It’s true that in the majority of songs being written for congregational worship today, these kinds of expressions are rare. I can think of a few possible reasons.
- In our pursuit of contemporary music, we’ve stopped using older hymns that dealt biblically with the subjects of suffering and doubt. Be Still My Soul, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, On Christ the Solid Rock, and even Amazing Grace are a few that come to mind.
- We associate worship more with a “peaceful, easy feeling” than the specific application of God’s promises, provision, and commands to our sin-weary and troubled lives. We aim more to use “worship-sounding” phrases like “I praise you,” “You are glorious and holy,” and “Hallelujah,” rather than singing songs that connect God’s character with our daily lives.
- As West mentions, we can be pursuing an “over-realized eschatology,” meaning that we think the fullness of the blessings of the Kingdom have already arrived, and we just need to receive them by faith. Struggles, sickness, and trials are seen as signs that we’re not really following God, so why sing about them?
- On this side of the cross, we rightly think our corporate worship should be characterized by an awareness of the fact that Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death, hell, and the grave. The accent should be on expressions of awe, joy and gratefulness, rather than a rehearsal of our trials and questions.
- We’re not sure how to include songs of lament in services.
I want to expand on this last point, because I think there are many leaders who would like to do more songs of lament, but don’t know how to incorporate them. Here are some thoughts.
- Look through hymnals and listen to CD’s for songs that deal help us voice our struggles. I did three posts last year on Songs for the Hard Times. You can check out Part 1, 2, and 3.
- Find songs that not only highlight our difficulties, but lead people to faith in the promises and provision of God.
- When possible, explain why you’re singing a particular song. You might connect it to a common struggle, a recent tragedy, or a frequently asked question.
- Seek to make real application rather than vague allusions. We don’t want to grovel in our lamenting. We are seeking to help people acknowledge their weaknesses so that they might find God’s strength and nearness in the midst of them.
- Set some of the Psalms to music, or find a good Psalter. Some are available here.
If Christians are going to experience the transforming effect of the Gospel, they have to see how it applies to the challenges they face each day. We can help them by singing songs that grieve over sin, sickness, and tragedy and also exhort us to trust in the Savior who is sovereign, good, and wise.