A lament is “an honest cry of the heart, expressing the paradox between the pain of life and the promises of God.” (Joanna Jackson)
How are we doing at encouraging these honest cries? How can we do it better? What part might music have to play? Is there a place for lament in churches today…even in our corporate gatherings? How does Jesus make a difference?
As I’ve contemplated such questions a fair bit over the last year or so, I’ve found some faithful guides and wise practitioners along the way, so I thought I’d point you to them. I’d love you to point me to more, if you know of any?
Here are 6 resources I’ve found helpful as I’ve thought about what lament is, and how we can and should practice it as followers of Jesus today:
1. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy
Mark Vroegop (Crossway, 2019)
This is a great all-round book on the subject. It is divided into 3 main sections, looking at: 1) the Psalms of lament, 2) the book of Lamentations, and 3) how to apply lament both personally and in community. Plus there are some useful appendices that get even more practical.
Michael J. Tinker has been writing, singing and podcasting about grief and hope this year. His new album, When There Are No Words, has propelled him into a discussion with other Christians writers and artists about how they communicate these themes faithfully in their work. You can get 30% off Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy with 10ofthose if you use the code Michael shares in his podcast.
2. Suffering and Singing
John Hindley (10Publishing, 2015)
It was lovely to be joined by pastor and author John Hindley at our last music leaders training day in London. His short book, Suffering and Singing is a real gem, particularly helpful for personal, devotional reading – we’ve reviewed it recently here.
3. Stumbling toward Zion
David W. Smith (Langham Global Library, 2020)
If you, your pastor or church leaders have questions or concerns about the place of lament in the church today, I would recommend thoughtful engagement with David Smith’s rich book on the subject. David writes with decades of pastoral and missionary experience, pointing out how the church in the West can learn much about the place of lament from our Christian brothers and sisters in the Global South. Those parts of the church that regularly experience poverty, war and persecution have naturally reached for the biblical language of lament to express the tension of their experience as followers of Jesus.
If engaging honestly with brokenness and suffering using the language of scripture is new to us (for reasons of culture or tradition) we can learn much from David’s reflections. I found it particularly helpful for understanding the place of lament in the light of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and promised return.
4. A Conversation on Lament
Biblical Counselling UK
Back in 2020, our friends at Biblical Counselling UK produced some helpful video conversations on lament. There is a huge amount of helpful discussion and pastoral wisdom in these chats between Helen Thorne and Joanna Jackson. You can find the videos here:
Part 2: The Value of Lamenting Together
5. A Time to Sing
Growing playlists together
Resourcing our church communities with songs that express biblical lament well can be a challenge. A few playlists are springing up here and there. We at Music Ministry have curated our own here.
Biblical Counselling UK are also in the process of building a similar playlist to help support those engaged in conversational and counselling ministries in the local church. If you can help recommend songs for them, you can read their post on the importance of singing when life is hard, and respond as indicated there.
6. Where Are You, Lord?
Matt Bennington (Christ Church Cambridge Music)
Finally, here is an example of an effective congregational song of lament that you could introduce in your church. While many songs of lament can lean towards being songs of individual expression, there is a place for corporate lamenting in song. Matt Bennington from Christ Church Cambridge has written Where Are You Lord? – a song of lament – on the album Anchor for the Soul. You can find the song including free sheet music and a recording here. Having used the song in both a local church and conference setting, I would recommend it. What else could you recommend in this category? We’d love to know.