I’d love to write a post this month that’s unbelievably funny and full of quips and winsome thoughts that make your hearts chirp… but I’m not going to do that this month. Such a feat would be a miracle on my part, but today I want to talk about something that we tend to avoid or overlook altogether, because it hurts. I’m talking about lament.
Lament is essentially defined as a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Those are two emotions that we tend to steer clear of, because they’re not emotions we actually enjoy experiencing. Couple that thought with the concept our culture perpetuates - that in order to be fully self-actualized, you must be happy at all times. And so we’re on an endless quest to find that next dose of happiness before the last dose wears off. In the end, we rob ourselves of the art of lament. The reality is the quest for a 24-hour happy cycle is a myth. Sooner or later we all hear the knock of tragedy at our door. Try as we might, we cannot avoid the valleys, and we have to walk through them. And part of walking through those valleys requires us to practice the art of lament. And we know lament is an important part of our lives because the Bible addresses lament rather pointedly; we have an entire book in the Old Testament titled, wait for it… Lamentations. Additionally, there is much lament voiced in the Psalms. Jesus laments in the garden. Habakkuk lamented the judgement over Israel that was to come. If lament is a practice expressed throughout the Bible, from Old Testament to New, then it stands to reason that it is also something we should know a thing or two about today.
So why bring up lament in the context of a worship blog? Because, simply put, lament should be a part of our worship. Not only in our private time, but in our time as the gathered church worshiping Jesus. The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s hymnal; Jesus quoted the book of Psalms more than any other book, and He used the Psalms to express lament. We love to come into church and sing songs of victory and triumph, because it’s uplifting and encouraging, and this is not a bad thing to long for and celebrate. The victory over sin and death is secured, and we can rest assured in the person and work of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior! But the fact remains that we live in a broken, fallen world where things don’t work as they should because of that brokenness. As I stated previously: tragedy finds us. And when this happens, lament becomes an incredibly important part of our spiritual walk with the Lord, because lament teaches us how to cry out to the Lord, how to ask for help from the Lord, and how to respond in faith and in praise, as the psalmists did.
Harold Best, a popular author on worship and professor at Union Theological Seminary, once stated at a worship conference that churches experienced problems addressing tragedies such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina because they didn’t have a language to adequately respond to them. In short, they didn’t know how to practice lament. And this is why we utilize songs of lament in our services, not because we don’t want to sing loud anthems of victory and triumph, but because we want to learn how to respond to tragedy and hurt faithfully. We want to equip the body in the art of lament so that in those seasons, in those valleys, we have the words and the themes of Scripture etched into our hearts and minds. So we sing songs like Father You Are All We Need, Brokenness Aside, Absent From Flesh, O Help My Unbelief, and How Deep the Father’s Love For Us. Songs like those teach us to cry out, ask for help, and move forward in faith and trust.
One of the unfortunate realities of ministry is experiencing the volume of hurt and pain that people in our midst suffer. It’s a joy to pray and minister to those folks, but you gain quite a realized understanding that this world isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. People you love and care for experience a range of pain, suffering, and despair. Sometimes you can see it coming and sometimes it's completely unexpected. And, lament gives us a means to growing closer to the One who comforts us during those seasons. It puts words on our hearts and lips that allow us to find rest in the assurance that the Lord will lead us beside still waters.
So, I want to encourage the good people of Gateway Church to study lament throughout the Bible. It’s not the most cheerful subject, sure, I get that, but it’s essential for the Christian to understand the art of lament. We’ll continue to sing songs of triumph, but we’ll also sing songs of lament. My hope is that Gateway is a church that not only knows how to celebrate, but how to lament as well, because both point us to Jesus. As one of my favorite authors Mike Cosper says, “The goal of our gatherings should be to cultivate practices that form our church to live in the good news of the gospel.” In the midst of lament, we also see the the good news of the Gospel pushing light in... and darkness out.