Tears dampened my Bible as our team looked at Psalm 43 during one of our meetings. Our study slowed to a silence as everyone gave me a chance to gather my words. The ache I was feeling held a mixture of grief and gratitude. Here’s why.
Psalms 42-43 are a two-part song written by a worship leader who is unable to praise the Lord with God’s people. He paints a vivid picture of how suffering can dismantle you. It feels like you’re dying from thirst, longing for God to show up. Joyful singing with the congregation is a distant memory. Statements of faith are overtaken by questions of doubt. Your soul is “cast down.” The author clings to hope that praising God will happen again, but it’s not a reality yet. He needs the Lord to lead him there.
As we studied this lament, it was both relieving and revealing.
On the one hand, I was grateful for these words with which I had so much in common. God invites us to wrestle honestly with him and deems it as worship. So much so that Psalms 42-43 are not outliers. As I said in my previous post, approximately one in three Psalms are laments.
On the other hand, our discussion amplified what continues to be difficult for me on Sundays: while songs of struggle are common in the Scriptures, lyrics like these have become rare in our worship. As Rob Smith says, “the contemporary church, by and large, is neither adept nor comfortable with singing lament.”
In light of this reality, I would like to make a case for reintroducing songs of sorrow and prayers of pain in corporate worship. Here are five biblical reasons why we ought to lament together regularly.
It honors the Lord.
Some can hesitate to lament in worship because they assume such frankness dishonors the Lord. “This sort of bluntness might be okay during quiet time,” one might think, “but not during church.” Yet we see in the Bible that God invites us to engage with him through lament, both individually and communally. We even see martyrs lamenting before the throne (Rev 6:10)! If it honors God for his glorified saints to lament in heaven, surely it does not dishonor him for his suffering saints to do so from earth. By lamenting together, we worship the Lord in the manner he has asked us to.
It follows Jesus’s example.
Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3) who “offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Heb 5:7). He wept in response to Lazarus’s death (Jn 11:35), grieved Jerusalem’s destruction (Lk 19:41-44), wrestled with the Father in the garden (Mk 14:32-42), and cried out to God from the cross (Mt 27:45-50). Jesus used lament to respond to both others’ grief and his own. When we do the same, we imitate our compassionate and suffering Savior.
It completes our worship.
Though the Psalms cover the entire spectrum of human emotion and experience, most lament psalms and the book as a whole show a clear movement in which pain gives way to praise. Ecclesiastes captures the wisdom behind this orientation: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Eccl 7:3). In other words, confronting heartache does not stifle joy; on the contrary, it deepens it. When our songs skew toward the positive side of the emotional range and the celebratory parts of the Bible, we neglect the necessary process of wrestling that produces robust hope amid darkness. Lament can therefore restore balance to our worship, allowing us to engage our more difficult emotions, moving our hearts toward deeper joy and trust in the Lord.
It unites the body.
Avoiding sorrow corporately can inadvertently exclude sufferers, but lament is a powerful invitation to the hurting. It declares that heartache has a place in worship, and it allows sufferers to cry out to the Lord. It also connects those who are not suffering with those who are, allowing them to “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). Lament serves as a communal pain receptor, communicating that another part of the body is experiencing distress, for “if one member suffers, all suffer” (1 Cor 12:26). It also points the church outward in a posture of compassion, calling to mind the burdens of neighbors and nations, allowing us to cry out to God on their behalf.
It prepares the believer.
Finally, lament prepares those who are not suffering for the day they will. When trials come, they will have familiar words to call out to God in their distress and move towards hope. And, ultimately, lamenting now prepares us for the day when it will no longer be necessary. Christ will return and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4). The hope fought for in every song of sorrow will be fully realized forever.
Lamenting together regularly honors the Lord, follows Jesus’s example, completes our worship, unites the body, and prepares the believer. Can you think of any further ways that it can be beneficial?
In my next post, I share some practical ideas for how to lament together.