the baby and the bathwater

Lament: God is bigger than our songs
December 20, 2007, 6:35 pm
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Songs are hugely important. Anyone who knows me, knows how much weight I give to the theology of our songs, the accessibility of our songs and the creativity in our song-writing: all of these, in my view are hugely important in terms of one major aim: they connect people to God.

We need good theology because we know that it is only the truth that will set us free; we need accessibility so that people can relate to and understand that truth; and we need to engage our creativity so that we are constantly attuning ourselves to the way that God is moving and speaking.

But it is in the way that our songs connect people to God that must be the context in which our songs operate.

And so there is something in me that has come to realise that, at the end of the day, a song is just a song. What I treasure the most in worship – what drives me on to keep leading worship – is that people encounter God in worship. And the more I lead worship, the more I realise that the way that God reveals his presence to his people when they sing is far greater and wider and higher than the quality of our songs could ever hope to determine in themselves.

I love hearing stories of what God does during any time of worship. On occasions it seems that God has a very specific thing he is doing amongst the whole of his gathered people: maybe we together we celebrate, or confess, or bow down. And those times are very special and draw us together as a people of God. But on more occasions than not, it seems that God is at work in a multitude of ways: almost as though he deals with each person completely individually. We may all be singing the same songs, but we all seem to be able to testify to the very individual things that God is doing in our lives.

So we can all sing the song ‘great is your faithfulness’. Some maybe celebrating, some may be weeping. Some maybe singing out of a place where they have seen God move incredibly in their lives, some maybe singing as they hold on to the last fragment of faith. In a very real way, some people can be in that place of lament at the same time some people can be in the place of rejoicing. This is one of the huge mysteries of worship.

So as I start to examine lament in more detail, I come from the point of view that a whole lot of lament happens already in our gathered worship times. I know it in the stories I hear, I see it in the tears of people as they sing. And all this happens without any sense that we are writing specific ‘lament songs’ or engaging in any specific corporate ‘lament times’.

And that happens, I think, because God is so much bigger than the songs we sing.

I’m not saying that we don’t need to be open to more corporate, specific acts of lament over particular situations, or that we don’t need to write specific songs for that purpose. But I do want to challenge the view that we don’t already have some tools that enable us to do this.


December 13, 2007, 3:07 pm
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Lament: to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret

One of the studies I hope to be doing over the next weeks and months is into the whole area of lament, and in particular the extent to which our gathered worship can reflect lament.

Over recent times this issue has been raised in a number of situations which I have been personally involved in. In open letters to worship leaders, some theologians have requested that we sing songs of lament; in seminars I have done at New Wine, I have been asked why we don’t sing more songs of lament; and at some gatherings of songwriters in recent years there has been a spoken intention for us worship leaders to embrace the language in lament more in the songs we write.

And it is abundantly clear to me that lament is part of life. It was part of the life of great biblical characters; it has been part of the life of nations throughout history; and most of us can probably point to seasons in our lives where we have personally lamented because of our own life situations. It seems that lament is part of us living in the ‘now and not yet’ of the kingdom, and will be with us until death, or until Jesus comes again.

Yet despite the clarity we have over the place of lament in life, there seems to be little clarity in how lament should impact our times of corporate worship. In one sense it has to impact it in some shape or measure – if we say that our gathered worship and our lives of worship are inextricably linked then that is an obvious consequence. And of course we have to be able to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ as well as ‘weep with those who weep’.

But if I am honest, at this moment of time I come from a slightly sceptical point of view, in that whereas I want our times of gathered worship to be a place where those are struggling can encounter God, I don’t want to generate, or drive, or manipulate my congregation into that place of lament. And so when I hear the voices of theologians or songwriters insisting on the language and form of lament in gathered worship, I am naturally cautious.

But rather than stay in that place of scepticism, I want to study, I want to seek God’s voice and try and understand. And so every so often on this blog I will return to this subject, and, as ever, your comments and pointers and opinions would be gratefully received.

December 5, 2007, 12:34 pm
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if: when or whenever

If you can keep going with what God intends for you, always doing the small thing well, even when all your peers are moving from one big conference to the next;

If you can love your congregation when they are driving you to distraction with their un-responsiveness and consumeristic tendencies;

If you can continue to serve week in week out, year in year out, in your own local church without ever seeking the big gig;

If you can hear critisism of your very best efforts but not critisise back;

If you can be used greatly by God and never take the opportunity to brag;

If you can accept that some people will always be jealous of your gifting and try and bring you down;

If you can hold lightly onto your anointing, and use every song that God gives you to serve Him and not yourself;

If you can persevere through the times that ‘god doesn’t seem to show up’ and not be conceited when ‘god does show up’;

If you can put as much energy into living the life as you do into singing the songs;

If you can bounce back with enthusiasm when you are let down badly by people who should know better;

If you are not afraid to take risks and push boundaries and not be worried about looking a fool;

If you are not afraid to move on from every failure without losing enthusiasm, and without ever complaining;

If you are prepared to bear your heart and soul before people and keep going when your best efforts are thrown back in your face;

If you are prepared to stand up and serve people even in that moment when you feel you have absolutely nothing left to give;

If you can lay your ambitions down for the sake of serving your congregation, and never let success go to your head,

If you treasure the approval of God far above the content of public opinion, and consider it ‘job done’ when those you have served can’t even remember your name;

Then, my friend, you will be a worship leader.