the baby and the bathwater

Lament: A Church Of Hope
January 7, 2008, 9:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sometimes I disappoint myself.

This Christmas we had our annual carol service at the Centaur, which is the concert venue at Cheltenham Racecourse. Approaching 2000 people from across the region joined together for a festive celebration of carols and readings. It was a great evening, full of sparkle and fun and lights and dancing and confettii! It was fantastic to work with such a team of wonderful people who helped make the event happen.

But this week we have been looking at some of the video footage. And now my team are calling me Mr Grumpy, because when I was singing the first carol (hark the herald angels) I look really miserable. OK, so most people wouldn’t have been able to see as close up as the video managed to get, and if truth be known, sometimes the build up to these events is so stressful that when you actually get started you are still in stress mode. And fortunately there were enough smily faces around me to make up for the frown that seemed permanently stuck on to my face.

But I was disappointed.

And I was disappointed because I am not sure that the way I was frowning helped contribute to one of the main purposes I think the church has: to be a place that in everything it does, expresses hope. My stressed out face may have been a true reflection of how I was feeling in that moment, but anyone seeing it close up would have probably not got the impression that I was someone full of hope.

OK so maybe I’m navel gazing a little. But let’s look at hope.

God’s kingdom is a kingdom where hope reigns. When people come into a relationship with Jesus, they become part of the kingdom of God which declares a living hope – Jesus Christ. But this hope is not a hope that the world immediately grasps the meaning of. When the world talks of hope, it normally means a hope for greater financial security, greater national prosperity, a better marriage, better educated children, for fitness and health. People hope they will win the lottery, that their children get into the better schools, that their investments will show a good return, that they will get that job promotion.

And there is nothing wrong with all of these things.

But if our understanding of hope is founded on these things, then ultimately our hope will probably crash around us.

There’s this classic quote from the film Clockwise, where John Cleese says this: ‘It’s not the despair: I can cope with despair. It’s the hope that is killing me.’

You see chasing after false hopes can be soul destroying.

But our hope, the hope of a kingdom people, is based on this: that our place in heaven is assured, and in the meantime God has a purpose for us. This hope is not a false hope, it is a True Hope. And this True Hope is worth chasing after, as it’s pursuing brings life.

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory (1 Peter 1 – message).

I love the last line of that verse. Too often we are tempted to judge kingdom life by the presence of gold, and not by the presence of faith. To often tie up God’s blessing with the trapping of a ‘successful’ life rather than obedience to God’s purpose for us.

But even more than this, my understanding is, however often that evil manages to frustrate or damage, however often our lack of prayerfulness hinders us, however often our disobedience holds us back, God’s promise never fails. For His people, His hope is rock solid.

And so what does the church offer to those who come through it’s doors in a place of brokenness, suffering, questioning, grief or pain?

True Hope.

What does the church offer to communities that have had their hearts broken?

True Hope.

What does the church offer to nations that have their very way of life challenged?

True Hope.

Not ‘Gold’. Not false assurances. But True Hope.

Many people encourage me to write songs of Lament. I still remain slightly sceptical. Maybe during the course of this study into lament over the coming weeks I may change my mind. But what I am sure about is this: as a church, we need to be singing songs of hope. We need to be a church that in everything it does, declares, and lives out, True Hope.

Mr Grumpy?


5 Comments so far
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Hello – hope you don’t mind me barging in here. A friend linked me to your blog, partly because when I forget to smile “Mr Grumpy” is a title he & his wife love to throw at me, & partly because I throw the “smile!” command so strongly at people when I do worship group training!

But it is the contrast of hope & lament you draw that interests me. I don’t think they need to be opposites.

I am not someone naturally persuaded by the call for lament in modern worship songs. I instinctively find them a niche market. But when they exist, they must, must for me offer hope as part of the deal. Lament without hope is navel gazing, not worship; its focus is me, not Jesus. Lament that looks to Jesus acknowledges my fear/misery/sadness/powerlessness but sees in him a way forwards. Isn’t this the genius of the Spirituals?

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” is a lament, but the second line goes on:
“Nobody knows but Jesus” – which brings hope to the table. Cos, if Jesus sees, life has a chance of a change.
And the verses carry this too –
“Sometimes I’m up & Sometimes I’m down, O yes Lord,
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground, O yes Lord”
is followed by:
“One day when I was walkin’ along, O yes Lord,
The sky opened up & love came down, O yes Lord”.

So – from one sometime Mr Grumpy to another, as long as you can bring hope to the lament, write as many as you can.

Comment by Marcus G

Hope…there is no certainty in the way we use ‘Hope’ today. It expresses a wish or a want. However, in scripture Hope (“elpis”) is the desire of some good with the expectation of obtaining it. Likewise the verb “elpizo” means to expect with desire. So Hope always means certainty. Our hope (certainty) of resurrection is only in Christ. 1 Thessalonians speaks of the hope of salvation, declaring our salvation to be absolutely certain. Without that hope and certainty, people will be truly miserable.

Comment by Christopher

I think Marcus has put his finger on the important point:

“Lament without hope is navel gazing, not worship; its focus is me, not Jesus. Lament that looks to Jesus acknowledges my fear/misery/sadness/powerlessness but sees in him a way forwards.”

So far, everyone has been discussing worship songs of lament as though we all know and agree what we mean by that. I find I’m actually pretty vague about what would consitute a lament worship song, so maybe that (partly) explains why I’m so vague about whether we should have more of them.

Marcus’s clarification makes it much easier for me to pin down what I think (as someone who’s not a worship leader). Yes, I want worship to be full of hope and to point me to Jesus. I also want it to acknowledge that life is often difficult, so that our worship is not just rejoicing in the victories and blessings we already have, but holding on to the hope of what we have not yet got. (“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” Romans 8:24)

Neil – Quite apart from the ongoing discussion about lament, what can we as a church do for you, and what can you do yourself, so that you can begin a service (even a huge one like the racecourse carol service) without being in such a place of stress? I know our culture says that’s not possible, but I don’t think we ought to be limited by that.

Comment by Ruth


I think the best was of ensuring I get to events like this in a really relaxed frame of mind is to put me up in a really swanky hotel for a few nights, with gym and swimming pool and daily back massages, and then hire a team of 20 people to do all the work. A chauffuer driven car to the venue will also be a big help.


Comment by Neil Bennetts


Great to have your comments. Be great to hear from more from you over the coming weeks too!

Comment by Neil Bennetts

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