Do Our Worship Songs Have Room for Lament?

Every person who is responsible to pick songs for corporate worship should read the essay that Justin Taylor quotes at his blog. I reprint Taylor’s quote below.

From Carl Trueman, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages of Spin (pp. 159-160):

Perhaps . . . [the Western church] has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party—a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals.

Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is—or at least should be—all about health, wealth, and happiness corrupted the content of our worship?

. . . In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship.

Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of the expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative?

If not, why not?

Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

Christians are often required to suffer pain for the sake of the glory of God. I can see this pain on the faces of people in our corporate worship times at Grace Presbyterian Church. As a person tasked with the selection of hymns and songs for our congregation, I try to pick songs that allow for lament and provide encouragement in pain. For example, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way.” I find most songs like this to have been written long ago.

However, as Trueman suggests above, the Psalms are the best way to express all of the emotions God’s people have, the highs and the lows, the negatives and the positives. I hope to introduce the singing of the Psalms in our formal worship over the next few months


Steve Martin said...

There's plenty of room for lament.

There's plenty of pain and disappointment in life.

We need to be reminded to be down to earth and not walk around in a phoney exurberance all the time.

Yet we have a joy and peace that is not of this world.

Anonymous said...

As a worship leader, I am very aware of the dearth of laments in modern worship songs. This has been an issue in the American church for generations, so it is not strictly relegated to the current worship environment. I think it is great that you are actively seeking songs and worship elements that help to take us through the whole Christian experience. May the Lord guide you!

Here is a lament I wrote for a sermon on Genesis 6. It's called Eden's Lament. It still needs work but I share it with you as worship leader. You can sing it to the tune of "Wayfaring Stranger."

There once was love in greatest measure,
Idyllic scenes of paradise;
Til we forsook our greatest treasure,
and chose the path of pain and lies.

If we had known the ghastly burden;
If we had known the awesome price;
What have we done here East of Eden?
Oh, all that we have sacrificed.

We thought we knew where life was grounded
We thought we could make our own way
But that sweet lie of fallen angels
Still turns our night and haunts our day

And now we stand apart, divided,
Upon the precipice of doom;
What have we done here East of Eden?
By our dark hearts, we’ve brought our ruin.

Now in the light of backward glancing
We see the truth we knew not of;
Our lives are made for perfect union,
Our hearts are made for perfect love.

So, we now mourn the fallen nature
that we have passed to those to come.
What have we done here East of Eden?
Our world dismayed, our lives undone.

Greg Whaley

J. K. Jones said...

Steve, very true.

Greg, thanks for the hymn.


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