Ministry Monday: The Lost Language of Worship

Contemporary worship suffers from an emotional bias. It is disproportionately upbeat. I am not necessarily talking about the tempo of the music, although this bias is sometimes reflected in the tempo. I am talking about its emotional tone. The culture of evangelical worship has little tolerance for grief in the assembly.

Oh, we recognize that it’s normal to feel badly when there has been some set back or loss. We expect people to feel a measure of grief. But then we expect them to move on–and rather quickly. Come to the place of worship with the sorrow showing on your face and you are liable to be subjected to a tongue lashing by some well meaning worship leader who urges you to leave your troubles at the door, plant a smile on your face, and put some enthusiasm into the songs.

 Those who say such things have good intentions but apparently have never read the Psalms. Yes, there are moments of great joy. There are many Psalms where the mood is upbeat. But there are also many that are filled with lament. It is ironic that those who worship the one the Bible describes as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” can be so impatient of those who are overcome with grief.

 A few years ago songwriter Michael Card wrote a book and recorded an album focusing on the subject of lament. The project grew out of a series of personal losses, his sister’s loss of two infants, the death of his brother’s oldest son and then the tragedy of 9/11. All of this prompted Card to write the book A Sacred Sorrow and follow it up with an album entitled The Hidden Face of God. Card calls lament “the lost language of worship.”

 It’s hard to worship through your tears.  But that’s the problem. We’ve been trying to push ourselves beyond tears when we ought to worship God with our tears. It may not be the worship we would like to offer. But in that moment it is the best worship that we have. Because a weeping heart is our true heart. And that’s what God wants. Our  true heart, not our presentable heart. Our true face, not our best face.

7 thoughts on “Ministry Monday: The Lost Language of Worship

  1. John,
    Great comments! There’s something about true surrender in worship that involves an element of loss and letting go. Like you, I think churches need to allow grief as part of worship.


    1. I suppose one challenge might be how you structure this kind of expression. This is where the Psalms help. They provide concrete articulation of grief within the context of worship.

  2. I think this has been one of the sad consequences of the racial divisions in our churches. The African-American church, born into suffering, has a much better handle on this than most predominantly white churches. Additionally, most Af-Am Gospel songs (certainly the older ones; slightly less true of some of the newer ones) understand that praise is about who God is and what He has done–not about me, my feelings, or what I want.

    Additionally, some of our more contemporary evangelical churches have either intentionally or de facto silenced the older generation, who can often testify much more about God’s faithfulness through joy and sorrow.

    1. Yes, I agree Heather. There is a kind tyrrany here, that largely seems to be the result of a desire to project a certain image. Music might be one way to help us re-discover this lost language.

  3. I remember you telling me once that sometimes the only path of communication we have to God at certain points in our life is through our sorrow, or our anger, and that that is ok.

    Those words have encouraged me quite a bit over the past few years, and I have passed them onto friends. It’s helped us realize we don’t have to come to God always full of joy and cheer, but that He loves us where we are.

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