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How Happy Songs Hurt

Kneelingphoto © 2010 Quinn Dombrowski | more info (via: Wylio)


Yesterday I confessed that sometimes I lie about God’s place in my life when singing in church. The post sparked quite a discussion in the comments and on Facebook. I learned that I’m not the only one who has struggled with worship.

The worship services in many of our churches are one-dimensional, focusing only on easy-believism, idealism, and shallow happiness. While it is cheap, this shallow worship has a high cost: it isolates and alienates people who are suffering, trapped in sin, broken, spiritually needy.

And it denies people the much-needed healing grace to be found when we worship God in the midst of pain.

Psalm 137:4 says, “Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song in this wasteland?” This psalm is a lament written by the Israelites who had seen their homeland and their temple destroyed and were now prisoners in a foreign land. They were not victorious over their enemies, and they would not be because they were suffering the consequences of their idolatry and rebellion against God. They recognized that we can’t sing a “happy Zion song,” when we have sinned and our life is in tatters. We need a different song.

I love the book of Psalms for this — full of songs of pain, suffering, confession of sin, lament, and grief. Lament is a biblical response to pain (whether self-inflicted by sin or circumstantial).

But we don’t sing many songs like these today. Perhaps it’s because happy songs are easy, and songs of lament and confession are not. (Lament and confession rises out of heart-ache and failure.) Perhaps we do not want to admit that sometimes life sucks, even for Christians (especially for Christians?). (We forget that to deny that life hurts is to lie.) Maybe we uncomfortable with tears in worship.

Whatever the reason, leaving lament out of our worship is wrong.

We need songs for the grieving and for those trapped in dead-end jobs or seemingly-hopeless family situations. We need songs for the times we feel overcome by a lifelong pattern of sin. We need songs for the selfish people like me who haven’t starved their self-love long enough and haven’t cultivated a strong enough appetite for God.

Why? Songs give us the words to say when we can’t think of them on our own. Sometimes we need to be led by the hand through confessing our sin, describing our pain and our hopelessness, and pleading for strength to persevere.

Lament is not fun or happy. It is raw and gritty, humble and needy. Lament names my pain, my loss, my sin, my weakness. But lament is not hopeless. Lament pleads for help on the solid ground of God’s character — that He is a friend to the broken-hearted, that he loves the humble confession of the worst sinner, that He is faithful to forgive and sends help in time of need and will walk the painful roads with us. Lament starts with the mess but ends in the hope that even if the situation never gets better, God is there in it and will redeem good out of it.

Lament is a beautiful form of worship, and it opens the floodgates of God’s grace. When I approach God with my pain, my sin, and my mess, and give it to Him, He overwhelms me with His outpouring of grace and love and forgiveness. Even though my circumstances may not have changed, I walk away resting in His love and confident of His faithfulness to me and through those circumstances.

(Next week I’ll share why lament is such a powerful and valuable form of worship, and I’ll share some ideas about how we can lead healing worship for broken people.)

How have you found grace in broken worship? What do you think a worship service should look like?


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