This was the cry of Mark’s heart.
He had tried his best. Worked so hard. Prayed so hard.
But his business is going under.
The bills and overheads are rapidly consuming his savings.
How will I provide for my children?
I’m doing my best. Trying my best.
Why won’t You help?
These are the cries from Mark’s anguished spirit, the honest or truthful cries of his spirit.
But when he comes to worship God this Sunday, he will leave those truthful cries of his spirit at home.
Worship in his church is thanksgiving songs and hymns of praise.
No place there for worship with questions and anguished cries.
Prayers of praise. Yes, that’s acceptable worship in Mark’s church.
Prayers of silent confession of sin. Yes, that’s acceptable too. We are all sinners. Mark knows that well.
But truthful prayers of an anguished and despairing spirit?
Songs that allow his human spirit to cry out, “Why, Lord? How long, Lord, must tears be my daily food?” (Psalm 42:3)
Why Lord? Why, when our need is desperate, when all other help is vain, why do you seem to turn away from us?
Why? Why, when the darkness is deepest and our midnight is starless, do you hide yourself from us?
Why, in times of grief and distress, when there is no light in the window, do we find a door slammed in our face?
Why forsake us when we need you most? Why are you present when the skies are clear, but so absent in our time of trouble?
You won’t find such prayers, or songs of lament in the worship service at Mark’s church. His church worships by asking members to leave their anguished questions outside. “To forget about themselves and concentrate on God, and worship him.”
Mark’s church worships by singing the truth of God’s goodness and greatness. But it does not worship by lamenting the truth of one’s anguished spirit.
But Jesus said that the worship the Father desires must be “in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
Worship that is truthfully from our human spirit.
The book of Psalms is the Bible’s worship hymnal. What do you think? Does the Bible’s worship hymnal contain more songs of praise and thanksgiving, or more songs of lament and despair? It’s the latter, by far! (See, e.g., Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 13, 44, 74, 88 etc.) This suggests that :
“(W)orship provided the context not merely for adoration... and confession, but also for the search for
meaning, for the wrestling with questions... Worship was not only for those who found, but also for
those who were seeking; not only for those for whom faith was easy and natural, but also for those
for whom it was difficult and strange in the light of the unavoidable questions which experience
forced them to ask; not only for those who gathered joyfully to sing ‘Hallelujah’, but for those who
felt the need over and over again to ask 'Why?'" R. Davidson, Wisdom & Worship (p.58)
Worship is about heartfelt and honest communion with God. No hypocrisy, no lip-service praise, no pious platitudes. God invites us to express our true feelings to Him in worship. Our joys, yes. But also our hurts and questions and even protests. This is true worship from our spirits. Worship in spirit and truth, in praise and lament. May our churches teach us how to worship with lament.
On TRAC Together for God's Word, Worship, Welcome, Witness and Wonder
Rev Dr Gordon Wong
This message is an abridged version of an article that was first published in the April 2015 issue of the Methodist Message.