Remember, worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.
Christians are not going to look like everyone else. They are not going to do what everybody else does. They will stand out.
It’s hard to carry a cross without leaving some baggage behind.
The Thousand-Mile-Deep Rock of God’s Word
They need to hear us sing with all our heart and soul,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
They need to hear the indomitable joy in sorrow as we sing:
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
If you ask me, Doesn’t the world need to see Christians as happy in order to know the truth of our faith and be drawn to the great Savior? My answer is yes, yes, yes. And they need to see that our happiness is the indomitable work of Christ in the midst of our sorrow — a sorrow probably deeper than they have ever known that we live with every day. They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
“Alas, I may be sinning, for even in the holiest deeds we do there is still sin, but even then God is still forgiving. If indeed you are a believer in Jesus Christ the Lord is at all times forgiving you: as constant as your sin so constant is his forgiveness.”
“Now, remember, you will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything else but Christ!”
“The sin of doing nothing is about the biggest of all sins, for it involves most of the others.”
“By perseverance the snail reached the ark.”
“Remember that thought is speech before God.”
Imperatives of the Gospel are always rooted in the indicatives of the Gospel (here’s everything I am giving you, so live in a way that is appropriate to the fact that you are redeemed). -SFB
“The Lord roars from, but he is a refuge to his people.” Joel 3:16. Sweet thunder heard from the safety of his hand.
The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel.
A few months ago our church sung a song of lament for two consecutive weeks. Such songs aren’t foreign to our church’s song selection, but since they showed up in consecutive weeks, they stuck out to a few people. In one conversation someone asked me, “But what if I’m not sad? Why would I lament if I’m not sad about anything?”
The question, as far as I could tell, came from two sources. First, it came from a misunderstanding of why Christians would sing a lament song when there didn’t seem to be any particular occasion worth lamenting. Aren’t Christians supposed to be joyful?
Second, this man came from a church background that never sang songs of lament. Their services were meant to give members a boost for the week. A lament song would seem out of place, maybe even inappropriate. Sundays were for lifting us out of the mire, not putting us back in.
This man was not the first to scratch his head at our lamenting, and he likely will not be the last, because his church experience is shared by many, if not most, evangelicals in the West. It’s quite possible that most readers of this article do not regularly lament in their congregations on Sundays and might taken aback just as this man was if they experienced it.
But the Bible gives us several good reasons why lamenting should be a part of our normal Christian worship, even if we are not lamenting our own circumstances. In no particular order of importance, here are four such reasons.
1. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting in order to weep with those who are weeping.
Although you may not be weeping or lamenting, it’s likely someone in the congregation is going through something deeply mournful: a wife who has just found out her husband has been having an affair; a couple returning from the hospital after having a miscarriage; a single woman who has lost her mother and now fears the loneliness ahead without her last close relative. On any given Sunday, many people are going through lamentable seasons of suffering, pain, and loss.
Paul calls us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). But we are often ill-equipped to do so. Our individualistic culture has taught us to care for ourselves, not others. We know how to give high fives with our friends, but we don’t know how to weep with them. Singing lament songs together as a congregation not only allows us to fulfill that command to weep with the weeping, but also teaches us how for when we will need to do it in a living room or across a table.
2. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting so that when seasons of mourning come, we know what songs to sing and what prayers to pray.
Few of us understand how unprepared we are for suffering and trials until they come. Only then do we sense just how empty of resources we are. This is especially true of younger Christians, because we are inexperienced in suffering or out of practice.
But on Sundays, when Christians gather to hear the Word taught and sung and prayed, we have an opportunity to practice lamenting. Does that sound strange? Let me illustrate what I mean.
If a Broadway actress comes to her performance with few rehearsals under her belt, she will be stiff, second-guessing cues, lacking confidence in her lines, and so on. But if she’s rehearsed over and over, hundreds of times, she comes to her performance with a kind of freedom and spontaneity that can turn a good performance into a great one.
In a similar way, Christians gather on Sunday to rehearse the things we hope for and sing about the things we have confidence in. We regularly lament because we know that seasons of lament are coming. That’s part of living in a world where lamentable things happen to everyone. Lament even when you’re not lamenting so that when those dark clouds come, you will be spiritually nimble and know what songs to sing and what prayers to pray.
3. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting because the New Testament calls us to.
Paul tells the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:18-19). If we’re addressing each other in psalms, we’re going to lament. In fact, so many of the psalms include lament that an easy case could be made that lament should be part of the steady meditative diet of the people of God.
4. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting because maybe you should be lamenting more than you are.
A wise reader will soon discover that he doesn’t merely come to the psalms to be comforted, but also to be afflicted. As we read, we learn that we don’t often feel what we ought to be feeling. But God’s Word teaches how we ought to feel. When we feel comfortable, the Bible regularly calls us to reconsider what’s giving us comfort.
The apostle James addressed a congregation full of spiritual pride that didn’t recognize the need to lament their sin. And he told them, “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9). Their sin, James claimed, was making them enemies with God (James 4:5), yet they were laughing and joyful. Remember, these were Christians!
Laments poke us in the chest and force us to wonder whether we are making light of our own sin or making light of the suffering in our own congregation and community.
Make room in your singing and in your public prayers for lamenting. Pastors, prepare your congregation for seasons of mourning so they won’t be surprised when it comes. Christians, be acquainted with grief, even if you are not grieving, so you can sympathize and mourn with those who are. That’s what our Savior taught us to do by his example. He left the joys of heaven to be acquainted with our grief, and now he stands as a sympathetic high priest.
John Starke is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lead pastor of All Souls Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
“There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass—one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.” -Spurgeon
“All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hubbub.”
“Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”
“I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”
“Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.”
Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. ~Spurgeon