Worship as heartfelt lament

Apr 2015    

“David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament …”

 2 Samuel 1:17-18 (NIV)


David “taught this lament” to the people. David also wrote many other laments which were taught to, and sung by, the people of God in Bible times. Do our worship services teach us to lament?


“Why? Why?” This was the cry of Mark’s heart. “Why, God, why?”


Mark had tried his best. Worked so hard. Prayed so hard. But his business is going under. The bills and overheads are slowly – no! – are rapidly consuming his savings. His wife knows they are in trouble, and everyone at home is tense and afraid.


“Why, God? Why? Why won’t You help? I’m doing my best. Trying my best. Why won’t You help?” These are the honest cries from Mark’s anguished spirit.


But when he attends church this Sunday, he will have to silence those cries of his spirit. In his church, worship is only thanksgiving and praise. No place for lament. No time for songs that question “Why?”


Prayers of praise and confession? Yes. But prayers of lament and despair? Not often. Maybe not ever.


But why not?


The book of Psalms is the Bible’s worship hymnal. What do you think? Does the Bible’s worship hymnal contain more songs of praise and thanksgiving, or more songs of lament and despair? It’s the latter, by far! (See, for example, Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 13, 44, 74, 88 etc.) This suggests that:


[W]orship provided the context not merely for adoration… and confession, but also for the search for meaning, for the wrestling with questions… Worship was not only for those who found, but also for those who were seeking; not only for those for whom faith was easy and natural, but also for those for whom it was difficult and strange in the light of the unavoidable questions which experience forced them to ask; not only for those who gathered joyfully to sing “Hallelujah”, but for those who felt the need over and over again to ask “Why?” (R. Davidson, Wisdom & Worship, p.58)


Worship is about heartfelt and honest communion with God. No hypocrisy, no lip-service praise, no pious platitudes. God invites us to express our true feelings to Him in worship. Our joys, yes. But also our hurts and questions and even protests to His will.


This is true worship from our spirits. Worship in spirit and truth, in praise and lament. May our churches teach us how to worship with lament.


Picture by Flynt/

The Rev Dr Gordon Wong was elected President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for 29 years, and was a lecturer at Trinity Theological College since 1995.


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