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.
I’m teaching a Sunday School class on the Holiness of God By RC Sproul. I think realizing this holiness always brings about lamenting over our fallen state. Isaiah 6 is a great passage that shows us how the Prophet Isaiah said “I’m undone” and he covered his mout saying “I’m a man of unclean lips”. Then we can see why Jesus taught the Beatitudes. This is the process of when we realize how begarly poor we are in terms of our righteousness, and we cry out to God… “have mercy on me” Jesus gave this same idea in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. I’m sure you guys already know all this… talk about preaching to the choir…
The Heidleberg (spelling?) Catechism really follows this with what I call the 3Gs… Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude. This IS the Gospel.
We need to realize our Guilt before a holy God. Then we will cry out for mercy, and marvel in the “Amazing Grace”, then we can’t help but live a life of Gratitude in appreciation for the Grace in light of how sinful we are.
I would love to see songs that play this out… One song on Lamenting about our Guilt… another song on “Amazing Grace” or something like that… Then a song on living a life of Gratitude…
Just a thought….
Grace and Peace,
Thank you so much for sharing this aspect about worship. It has been on my heart lately that we have lost the exhortation of “rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep”. We have chosen to only rejoice and not to share in our brothers grief. The Lord recently brought to mind the account of Simon the Cyrene, who was compelled to carry our Lord’s cross. Even the Lord Jesus needed someone to help carry his cross, as “the Man of sorrows” endured all that He did for the Joy that was set before Him. Sorry if I’m a little long winded. Just some thoughts that tie together for me especially as I think that worship is not just about singing songs but about walking as Christians.
God’s Richest Blessings,
I am encouraged by your thoughts and insights but even more so by your continued example of humble leadership. I also appreciate that your blog is up and running even in the midst of your busy schedule.
Regarding songs of lament, I’m not sure if this would qualify or not but Stephen Altrogge wrote a song in ’03 that has helped our congregation to worship God in every season of our life together. The song is called “Your Hand of Grace” and is found on the SGM Overflow 3 CD http://sovereigngraceministries.org/music/projects/overflow/overflow03.html
“You lead me to the land of affliction
You bring me to the valley of death
Your mercies are hidden that I might know…”
The song goes on to contrast how through every circumstance (“good” or “bad”) we are firmly in the grip of God’s hand of grace. I cannot fully express the encouragement and trust this builds into our hearts when we sing this song as a congregation.
We have some people who have suffered for years and to hear them cry out in praise to God in the midst of the very trial He has sent is amazing. Last time we did this song I found myself asking God astonished, “Lord, do you hear what your people are saying?” I am so grateful that He does, and for His sustaining grace on display.
Thank you for what you do to get songs like these into our churches.
This is tremendous, thank you.
I think this post is so well-timed considering the Ted Haggard situation, and your previous post as well. We need to lament and weep with those who are going through difficult times.
But how do you a teach a congregation to do this? Especially one which is consistently made comments like, “I don’t like to sing slow songs, I only like to sing fast-paced exciting songs,” or, “Can we please not sing Be Still My Soul,” it reminds me of being in a funeral.
Like you mentioned, it is so important to remember that we are desperate and completely bankrupt without our Savior, only then does His grace really mean anything to us, but how do you go about teaching that it’s okay and even very good to lament?
I think that the words an actions of Jesus´s in Matthew´s gospel are clear enough. He went where the suffering was and he did it to help and heal .Of course the hymns and song must speak about reality in the spiritual and human experience. A song of lament does not mean a song of despair , I mean that songs of joy are needed but songs that say “God knows and understand what you´re going trough , He loves you and will help you” are needed too. Songs of consolation , if you want to call them that way.
Right on, Bob! So many P&W songs are written around the Psalms. Many of the Psalms begin as a lament, or outright anger at the state of things, then they resolve as praise for God. Most of the P&W songs that have as their basis as Psalm, skip the lament and move right on to the praise.
I have often thought of writing the ultimate praise and worship anthem…it would be called: “Our God Is So Awesome and I Live to Love Him All the Time Because He Reigns and Everything”.
We need more songs that express the Psalmist’ lament *along with* his exultation and joy.
Thanks, Bob, for drawing our attention to a neglected aspect of biblical song. In light of last Sunday being recognized by some as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we should remember that suffering does exist (in severe forms sometimes) amongst God’s people–as Jesus said it would. There surely should be laments for us to sing as we sit and weep, longing for Jerusalem.
By the way–I couldn’t help but laugh when I read your reference to Amazing Grace as a song on suffering (which it is) and then your comment about us wanting a “peaceful, easy feeling.” In college we used to sing the Eagle’s (?) “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” using the verses to Amazing Grace…ugh…
just went to hear indelible grace in concert with matthew smith…
awesome, but i felt like i should be on my face worshipping god instead of singing….i think that it was because they were “songs of lament”…it was amazing…
Thanks for bringing up Lament. I appreciate Sovereign Grace Music for it’s content as much as it’s quality.
Your topic raises the question of when will a solid and singable contemporary Psalter be made to tap into lament and the other aspects of worship in “God’s Hymnal”… we’ve lost lament and content filled music in part because we’ve lost the Psalms in worship.
The incorporation of lament into our services has been a passion of mine for years.
However, it must be done with care and planning. As you alluded to, one can’t just throw in a song of lament and not do the heart prep for the congregation.
So here’s how we have incorporated lament into our services. About two or three times a year, we have services that we call a “Concert of Prayer and Praise.” There is no “sermon” on this Sunday. We devote ourselves to congregational prayer and praise, Scripture reading, and usually a celebration of the Lord’s table. On three occasions, I have led such services, with the theme of the service taken from Isa. 61:3. I have titled the services, “Mourning to dancing”, “Beauty from ashes” and “Garment of Praise (instead of sackcloth).” These have been tremendously moving for our congregation, and very informative as to what the lament means in the context of congregational and daily life-worship. This is huge, and the way I explained it to the congregation is that if we do not rehearse ahead of time what our response will be in times of personal tragedy, how will know how to respond when that time comes? (And it will–for every one of us.) We must purpose in our hearts ahead of time that our response will be “blessed be the name of the Lord — for He gives and takes away.” Matt and Beth Redman’s song (and their testimony to go along with the song) “Blessed Be The Name of the Lord” is a lament of sorts that I introduced in one of these services, and is now one of our church’s favorites.
Thanks again, Bob. Keep up the good work brother.
P.S. I used your Prayer of Confession from Worship God “06 in church two weeks ago, and stirred up some healthy controversy among some of our elders regarding its appropriateness in a worship service. That’s another story for another time….
Debbie Allen wrote in to suggest the songs put out by Indelible Grace Music. I heartily agree. She mentions:
Alas and Did My Savior Bleed?
Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat (2nd verse)
God, Be Merciful to Me (Psalm 51)
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners!
Just As I Am
Laden with Guilt and Full of Tears
O Come and Mourn With Me Awhile
Out of the Deep I Call
Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)
Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
Lyrics, lead sheets and some piano arrangements are available at
The links to the 3 separate posts on “Songs for the Hard Times” are getting an Error 404.
Sarah, thanks for the heads up. They’re fixed now.