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Entries in lament (7)


Short Thoughts On Lamentation (Part 2)

We're in a series of posts during Lent on the topic of lamentation in worship.

2) Lamentation is the prayer language of suffering.

Scripture recognizes seasons of human experience: "For everything there is a season; a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (Ecc 3:1-4, ESV). When we read the Psalms, we gain the sense that they provide prayers for these various "times." They offer a complete array of emotional prayer languages.

How does one pray joy? Through praise. (Psalm 100)

How does one pray prosperity? Through thanksgiving. (Psalm 30)

How does one pray personal need? Through supplication. (Psalm 86)

How does one pray for the needs of others? Through intercession. (Psalm 5:11-12)

How does one pray their guilt? Through confession. (Psalm 51)

Praise, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, confession—these are all languages of prayer for various circumstances. They are the various pigments of prayer to be painted on the wildly colorful canvas of life. 

So how does the Christian pray her suffering? She prays it through lamentation. Lamentation is how suffering expresses itself Christianly. To be sure, there are other ways that suffering could be prayed to God. One could accuse God. The Bible has something to say about that, though (James 1:13). One could aim despair "at" God. The Bible also seems to address that (Rom 9:10-11). One could hurl up curses to the heavens. Though this very suggestion by Job's wife didn't appear to get much approval (Job 2:9). We might consider these types of prayers "non-native" prayer languages for the Christian, bastardized dialects borne in the areas outside the borders of Zion, in the compromised regions where other tongues have commingled with the original language.

So it appears that though there are many ways to return our suffering to our sovereign God in prayer, the Christian way is through lament. It is the purer language of suffering, whose wording, grammar, and syntax best fit creature crying to Creator. Interestingly, just because we differentiate this language from that of accusation, despair, and curse, it doesn't seem to diminish the mother tongue's colorful nature. There's plenty of shouting. Every time we read "Arise, O God!" in the Psalms, we should hear it as a scream (e.g. Psalm 3, Psalm 10). Much to the chagrin of therapists that discourage hyperbolic language in relational conflict, exaggeration seems to be allowed: "Why do you cast us off forever?" (Psalm 74:1). There's even a bit of provocative taunting thrown in there: "Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself!" (Psalm 44:23). And there's certainly a lot of moaning and groaning (e.g. Psalm 31:10).  

Lamentation as a language, therefore, doesn't sound proper or refined. It's probably less like smooth French; more like gritty Arabic—lots of gutterals, lots of spit. It is clear, true, raw, and beautiful in its own messy kind of way. 

Like any language, unless you grow up with it from birth, it takes practice and study. And it just might be, too, that lamentation requires a "cultural immersion"—moving into territories where that language is the dominant language. 

Lent just might be that annual opportunity for such an immersion.


Short Thoughts On Lamentation (Part 1)

Jumping off from last week's post, we're allowing the context of Lent to provide an opportunity to offer seven thoughts on lamentation. The first is this:

1) Lament trains our spiritual muscles for the day of testing.

Part of the concern about incorporating lamentation into corporate worship and one's private devotional life is that we're not always "there." We're not always in a place where lamentation feels natural or right. Lamentation is for those who are suffering, oppressed, and downtrodden, and perhaps that's not our experience right now. Briefly noting that this is a very privileged thing to think or say (there are many whose lives are nothing but movement from one sorrow to the next), we still recognize that this is true on the ground, in many of our experiences serving and worshiping in our local churches. "If we engage in lamentation in corporate worship, or if I engage in it now devotionally, it will feel forced and will stick out like a sore thumb." We can call this "untimely lamentation"—lamentation that doesn't fit with where we're at.

We need to recognize that sometimes, for us, lamentation in a given moment will be untimely...more like going to the gym and less like running the actual marathon. Leading thinkers in the spiritual disciplines tell us that those disciplines work like this—they train our "spiritual muscles" for the day of testing much like training at a gym prepares us to actually get on the field and beat the opponent. Lamentation, even when we don't feel like it or think we need it, offers our souls that kind of training.

The reality is that if we live long enough, we will all experience suffering in one form or another. Suffering is the great moment of testing, the arena where all the training (or lack thereof) reveals itself. If lamentation has been a part of your worship and prayer training regimen, chances are that it will offer its spiritually muscular response in that moment: "How long, O Lord?" Lamentation is one of the significant muscle groups of our spiritual anatomy. The Psalms spill an extreme amount of ink over the sufferer's cry. Lamentation is significant because suffering is simply unavoidable for every last human being, and the scriptures point out that there is a Christian way to suffer. That way is lamentation. 

So again, if we learn to join in lament, to pray those prayers with other sufferers who perhaps are feeling it more acutely than we are, we learn to put those kinds of words on our tongues: "How long, God?" "Why, God?" "Where are you, God?" "When will you act, God?" And if they're on our tongues on a regular basis, they are more likely to be on our tongues when we need them most.

If you're looking for some gym time, try on Psalm 13 by praying it repeatedly and aloud, or singing this great setting from City Hymns.


The Big Idea of Lent: Jesus Did What I Couldn't Do

The call to fasting and repentance is as ancient as the prophets. Just read Joel 2. There's nothing like a good fast to, like a defibrillator, shock the unbeating heart of our spirit out of its complacency. However, of monumental, make-or-break importance is to recognize that the season of Lent is far more about Jesus and far less about us.

If we fast, we fast to remember the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness, to, in a tangible way, "be found in him." And it is precisely Paul's point in Philippians that being "found in him" means that we recognize that we are found not in ourselves, "not having a righteousness of my own" (Phil 3:9). This is the opposite of fasting to test or flex our spiritual muscles. Now don't get me wrong. Testing our spiritual muscles is a wonderful thing to do; it is part of the Christian's life, in response to the gospel, that we would engage in spiritual disciplines like this. But this is not the "big idea" of the Lenten fast. The big idea of Lent is to embrace this truth: Jesus did what I couldn't do.

Recall that Matthew records Jesus' 40-day temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11) in order to parallel Israel's 40-year temptation (Num 32:13). What happened with Israel? They grumbled. They made and worshiped idols. They did not rely, by faith alone, on the Word of God. In short, they failed. Matthew sets up Jesus as the new and true Israel...the kind of Israel that Israel could never be. Jesus, succeeding in the wilderness, proclaims to us, "I came to do for you what you could never do for yourselves." The Lenten fast is here to remind us that Jesus came "to fulfill all righteousness" where we crashed and burned (Matt 3:15).

What is the victorious Christian life? Lent answers: Jesus.

All this puts our fast into context—the context of the gospel. If you find yourself tempted this Lent, as we all are, to pat yourself on the back for the good and faithful work you're doing: repent. Change your mind about yourself. You aren't doing as well as you think. You need a righteousness "not of your own;" you need to be "found in him."

One great Lenten worship practice I commend is lamentation, because lamentation is the cry of one who can't find righteousness on their own. And I do mean "righteousness" here in the full-orbed sense of the Bible. The biblical language of "righteousness" certainly speaks to my personal holiness, my pursuit of just actions. And as we've said, we need to remember that we don't have a righteousness of our own. But "righteousness" in Scripture also has to do with justice in the national and global sense.

Lamentation is therefore a double-cry: Things are not right with me, and things are not right with the world. The former is lamentation in the form of personal confession. The latter is lamentation in the form of global confession. Only the victorious ChristianJesus himself—can solve these kinds of problems. Throughout Lent, therefore, I'll be offering a series of seven posts on lamentation, on what it means and how to engage it. And hopefully, even in our lament, as we groan with the Spirit (Rom 8:22-27), may it be yet another way we can find ourselves in Christ this season.


Lamentation: A Necessity, Not an Option

A month ago, I introduced Coral Ridge to her first (at least to my knowledge) full-blown congregational song/Psalm of lament (Karl Digerness' fabulous "How Long O Lord [Psalm 13]"). It got me thinking about the relationship of lamentation to the gospel and how it all works both in corporate worship and in our daily lives. Go over to LIBERATE and check out the post: "Why Lamentation Must Precede Liberation."

SIDENOTE: That piece of art at the top of the post is "The Lamentation" by Ludovico Carracci (c. 1582). I was in NYC at the Metropolitan Museum of Art several weeks ago, and that painting arrested me. 


Worship in the Wake of Aurora

There was a lot of crying in worship yesterday.  Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church sits on the edge of Aurora, separated by the Cherry Creek reservoir.  Many in our flock are Aurora residents, and one of our own, Petra Anderson, was in the theater and was hit in the face from a shotgun blast.  Our Senior Pastor, Brad Strait, recounts the miracle of how she is alive and well when she should have been dead in two hours, despite the fact that the pellet from the shotgun came in through her nose, traveled through her brain, and stopped at the back of her skull. 

The Andersons are near and dear to the Cherry Creek family and to my own heart.  They’re a family of intelligent, thoughtful, and theologically reflective artists and musicians, and they have blessed our ministry of worship through their contributions of music, film, and the dramatic arts.  Our pastoral team has been in the middle of the hospital and media frenzy, and we’re praying like mad, through tears.  The Andersons need a lot of support, and their story is even more than just about Petra.  Check out their blog and their indie-gogo site.

How do you worship in a time like this?  How do you do Sunday when such a city-altering event took place on Friday?  For us, it meant scrapping our worship service plans and building them from the ground up.  It meant that Sunday had to be one, extended, corporate, “How long?”  Sometimes our worship services have to model lament in seasons of joy to shape and prepare people.  Yesterday, there was no modeling.

The Service

We organized a fairly simple service of “Lament and Hope."  Here are the orders of worship for our first service and our second service, which, apart from songs, were largely the same.  We began with a series of Scripture readings, in between each was a corporate, sung “How long, O Lord” in a minor key that went like this:

(Here's the simple lead sheet if you want to get the fuller musical picture.)  We gave it lots of breathing room as we slowly and agonizingly read through six different Scriptural lamentations from Habakkuk 1, Psalm 35, and Psalm 13.  We then went into an extended time of Prayers of the People in which we asked our worshipers to lift up prayer requests pertaining to the shooting.  The Spirit was thick in the room--the requests of our people were mature, deep, and well-balanced.  We prayed for the victims, their families, the police officers and emergency response personnel.  We went even deeper, still:

  • For the shooter himself, and for the families who will struggle a lifetime to forgive
  • For the survivors in the room and for the first folks on the scene, who will live with a lifetime of horrific images and trauma
  • For the parents in our flock, in Denver, and around the world who will help their kids process atrocious evils like this
  • For the churches in Denver to rise up, minister well, and display Christ

Brad preached on Psalm 12 (which, providentially, was already part of our sermon series), and then we went into a time of response through offering, singing, and Scripture reading (Psalm 34:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-12).

Pastoring People Through Lamentation

Not everyone there was ready to lament or wanted to lament.  Some were removed from the whole situation enough that it felt like a normal Sunday to them.  Others were probably too numb to express much of anything.  We encountered several folks, though, who hadn't participated in Sunday morning worship for many years but who were looking for some kind of outlet.  One guy, James, an Aurora resident, told me in a conversation that he came simply because "his heart was heavy."  So many were ready to cry out.

To neglect this and just do worship as usual would be an affront to humanity.  We could not worship the same.  Even more, yesterday became an opportunity to train people for heaven, to shape our desires to be more in line with the goals of the kingdom of God, to prepare people for death, and to give God-honoring vocabulary to suffering.  It became an opportunity to proclaim the gospel of the cross--the place where lamentation and hope collide in marvelous mess.  It became an opportunity to deal with the perennial problem of evil, not with logical and philosophical arguments (which have their place), but on the existential ground level of pain and praise.  

There are times of God's choosing when worship leaders need to be smacked out of their pastoral coma and realize that they have a duty to shepherd the flock through the services they plan and lead.  Pastoral care happens at the one-on-one level, but it also happens through faithful worship pastors who make room for the corporate cry of suffering saints.  

Please pray for Cherry Creek, for the Andersons, for Denver, and for all the sufferers across the globe who don't get any media coverage.  Please lift up a cry to God with us, as we lift up our desperate Maranatha.


Review of Yahweh, by Hillsong Chapel

Tomorrow Hillsong releases a new arm in their brand: “Hillsong Chapel.”  The album, Yahweh, is the first of more to come in this “product line.”  Here’s the description from

Hillsong Chapel is an intimate and devotional collection of Hillsong songs by the Hillsong Live team.  Recorded live in the Hillsong Chapel in March 2010, “Yahweh” is the first installment in this organic contemplative expression of praise and worship.

Comprised of 13 congregational songs carefully rearranged to be more intimate, this project is perfect for smaller gatherings and will help resource smaller congregations with the favourites from Hillsong Live and Hillsong United.  It is also ideal for your own personal devotional and meditative times of worship.

So it sounds like Hillsong’s objective is to counterbalance their epic, arena-rock sound with something more intimate.  If you’re looking for new Hillsong material, you won’t find it here.  All their songs are repeats from previous records.  However, there is one thing valuable and unique about this album for worship leaders to note.  I often hear from musicians trying to incorporate and play Hillsong material in their churches that the arrangements are too dense, and the average band can’t live up to the gusto of Hillsong drumming and electric guitars.  There’s a beauty and musicality in what Hillsong can accomplish, but I agree that commoners like us feel inadequate when trying to achieve the dynamic, intense, and ethereal prowess of the Aussies. 

Yahweh provides a peak into a more “realistic,” average modern worship instrumental sound.  The recordings sound pretty raw, which makes me think that, unlike Hillsong main, United, and Live, there isn’t as much overdubbing going on after the live recording on this album.  I hear rough vocal harmonies, stronger presence of acoustics in the mix, and perhaps some slight rhythmic imprecision.  The fact that these are all known, previously recorded songs actually makes the aforementioned “imperfections” more remarkable.  Here we have the Hillsong artists themselves showing us how their own music can be done differently.  And that’s valuable.

Here’s the track listing:

1. Hosanna
2. You’ll Come
3. Run
4. The Time Has Come
5. Savior King
6. Yahweh
7. Came to My Rescue
8. Stronger
9. This is Our God
10. You Hold Me Now
11. From the Inside Out
12. Mighty to Save
13. Salvation is Here

An observation: One big clue that they’re trying to market this primarily to an American audience is that they’ve changed the spelling of their famous song from “Saviour King” to “Savior King.”

Many cynics will view this as a marketing ploy…a way to make more money.  And perhaps there’s truth in that.  I don’t know how much behind-the-scenes processing went on for this album, but its rawness tells me that they did not pour the time and energy here that they have poured into other projects.  Still, that’s obviously part of the goal—more raw, more intimate.  However, as I said above, because Hillsong is pulling back the curtain a bit and showing themselves in a stripped-down fashion that more churches and congregants can identify with, I still find this album (and this new “brand”) valuable.

Finally, notice the descriptors, particularly, "devotional," "organic," and "contemplative."  There's something here.  They're acknowledging that the albums and music they've produced thus far don't lend themselves much to being described with the above adjectives.  They're acknowleding, perhaps, a lack of earthiness and meditative reverence.  Interestingly, however, the change toward that end does not come textually, but instrumentally through song-arrangements.  They're doing the same songs, but they are attempting them in more "devotional," "organic," and "contemplative" ways.  Have they achieved these ends?  Or is there a need for a wider breadth of textual content? 

A move toward answering this question could involve comparing the textual repertoire of Hillsong songs to that of, for example, 1800s English hymnody.  Do we find in Hillsong the spread of jubilance to confession, praise to lament, joy to languish, pleasure to pain, that we do in the Christian songwriters of the 19th century?  It's worth reflection.  If Hillsong is interested in diversifying its portfolio, perhaps the next step would be more songs that fall along the lines of "Desert Song"...a beautiful hymn of lament.


Suffering: The Elephant in the Sanctuary

What does slap-happy, pump-you-up worship do?  (1) It makes you feel great for a moment.  (2) It marginalizes those who are suffering. 

If all we’re interested in as worship leaders is planning a worship service that has the spiritual effect of being a “holy pep talk,” we’ve done a great disservice to the body of Christ.  But, oh, is it tempting.  There have been several times in my past where I’ve sold out to what I knew would give me positive feedback.  I had planned a set of fast, happy, and at least partially superficial songs.  It sure makes you feel great as a worship leader when everyone is engaged and comes away energized and excited. 

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