Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
What does it mean to lament and how can we learn to lament well? In this episode, we begin the conversation about how our meetings can help people process sin and suffering in a way that is good for them and brings glory to God.
Referenced in this episode: Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy – Mark Vroegop
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David Zimmer: What does it mean to lament? And how can we learn to lament well? In this episode, we begin the conversation about how our meetings can help people process sin and suffering in a way that is good for them and brings glory to God. Hello, welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine Podcast. I am David Zimmer.
Bob Kauflin: And I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: It is great to be here. Thank for joining us, whether through YouTube, or Spotify or Apple and all the podcasts…
BK: You named all of them.
DZ: I don’t know, I was going to, but then I decided to stop.
BK: I’d council against it.
DZ: Bob, how are you doing?
BK: I’m doing fantastic.
DZ: Great, that’s wonderful news.
BK: And you?
DZ: I’m doing great.
DZ: Yeah, I’m doing really great.
BK: Why don’t we make this whole podcast just about how we’re doing?
BK: That would really thrill people.
DZ: Yeah, and it would be a waste of time.
BK: It would be.
DZ: We have touched on this topic in the past, in a couple of podcast episodes I think Shepherding Through Song, we talked about lament.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: I’m sure we’re gonna just scratch the surface of this topic, but I wanted to kinda point our conversation to lament. Lament in our congregational worship settings. In our church settings. And so I was wondering if you could just define what is lament.
BK: Well, I think just succinctly it could be described as a biblical way of processing grief. There are a lot of ways of processing hard things. Sometimes people get angry, sometimes people ignore what is happening, sometimes people get crushed, get despairing as a result of difficulties that they’re going through. But God has a way for us to process grief in a way that serves us and brings honor to Him, and I was just reading through Genesis recently. Got to the end of Genesis, and it says that the Egyptians grieved for 70 days when Joseph died. That is so fascinating, that even a godless people that didn’t know the true God knew that death was of such a nature that it needed to be grieved. And all kinds of cultures have some processes they go through to try and deal with the things they’re going through. But God, especially in the Psalms, but elsewhere, gives us ways to think about the things that we face that are challenging, that are difficult, that the trials, the things that could crush us. But God says, “No, I’m gonna give you a way of dealing with them that will serve you and that will bring glory to me.”
BK: I read a book, not too long ago, maybe last year or year before. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop. V-R-O-E-G-O-P. And I found it very helpful. Just in terms of thinking about lament. ‘Cause generally I’m a guy who goes pretty quickly to… You know what? The Lord’s sovereign, He’s good. Romans 8:28. “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose”. So, we see that God knows the end from the beginning and things are gonna work out, so don’t spend too much, I’m thinking about how bad this is. And that’s my tendency that’s… I’ve been that way since High School.
BK: And that book and others, and the Bible especially, have been teaching me that no, grief is to be processed, and I think in light of this past year 2020, a lot of people are wondering how to grieve.
BK: You know, both individually and communally.
BK: With all that’s going on, with COVID, the unrest we’ve had in our country politically, racially, the questions about the future; people losing their jobs, I mean, people getting sick, people dying, there’s like so many reasons to grieve, and if we don’t do it well, it’s not gonna produce the results as I described before. That will bring good to us and bring glory to God.
BK: So I think we have responsibility as leaders to help people do that.
DZ: That’s really good. Even when we just kinda brought up this topic and started talking about it, I realized that I’m sure there’s people listening that are like, “What do you mean lament?”
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: “God is Sovereign.”
DZ: And things are relatively…
BK: Quit being a debbie downer.
DZ: I know, things are relatively great, for the most part, I just think that’s so helpful, and then you open your Bible and you read these Psalms, these Psalms of lament.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: And so it’s there, it’s there for us to process and to learn from.
DZ: And so I think it’s a helpful topic to discuss.
BK: Oh, absolutely.
DZ: In light of that Bob, how do you think your thinking about lament has changed over the years?
BK: Oh, wow!
DZ: ‘Cause you said, “Sort of sometimes my default is… ”
0:05:42.8 DZ: “Yeah, the sovereignty of the Lord!”
BK: That’s always my default. Yeah, I remember back in the ’80s, so I’ve been a Christian since ’72, leading since 1975 or ’76. And lament wasn’t even a category, it wasn’t even a category, for years, we called our meetings Sunday celebrations. You don’t come to lament. You come to celebrate. And I mean, there’s a place for that. I understand why we thought that way. We were under the wrath of God separated from Him. Jesus came, incarnate Word, lived a perfect life. Took the punishment for our sins in His own body on the cross, rose from the dead. He’s now ascended to his Father’s right hand, where he’s interceding for us, is one day coming back for the bride he redeemed. What’s there to lament about?
DZ: Yeah, so much to celebrate about.
BK: I mean, yes, it’s to celebrate.
BK: But we live in the world of the already and the not yet.
BK: Already we know that we’re justified before God, our sins are forgiven, but we have not seen Him yet, that everything’s not been consummated yet. There’s still a day to come. I was just reading 1 Corinthians 15, how everything’s been put in subjection under his feet, but everything’s not yet in subjection under his feet.
BK: There’s this tension that exists, and…
DZ: We’re still living under the weight of our sin and the brokenness.
BK: And it’s those two things, I think, sin and suffering that we deal with all the time.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: So I’d think about the way I would lead in the ’80s and ’90s, maybe the early 2000s, the goal was to celebrate what God has done, to draw near to Him, to remember how God has forgiven us for our sins through Christ. And those were pretty much the categories. I think the older you get, the more you realize… I was just talking about this with someone the other day. The more you realize that there’s never gonna be a time in your life when all that you have is good news. Now, we have a good news that trumps everything.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: Right? Our separation from God has been solved. Jesus Christ has brought us near to God. We are no longer condemned for our sins. We’ve been adopted in God’s family. That’s our greatest promise, that’s the best good news. But in relation to all the other things, there’ll never be a season or a time when all you have is good news. I’ve seen people healed from cancer, I’ve seen people die from cancer.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: I’ve seen people spared from dying from an automobile wreck or almost having a wreck that would have killed them, and I’ve seen people die in automobile wrecks. I’ve seen people get jobs. I’ve seen people not get jobs. And sometimes that news comes like consecutively. A baby is born, a woman miscarries.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BK: A child makes it through a treatment for cancer, a child dies. Someone gets a job they’ve been praying for months, someone loses their job. It’s just like…
BK: So there is always going to be reason for us to lament, and we better know how to do it well.
DZ: Yes. Yeah, well said.
BK: Or else we’ll either try to ignore it or we’ll be crushed by it.
DZ: Collapse under the weight of it.
BK: Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of conversation about lament, and I think some of it’s really helpful. I mean, the idea that we need to address this topic is true. But I think sometimes we have the misconception that you lament when things are just really bad. So after 9/11, people were asking, “What do you sing after 9/11?” Well, you better have some songs to sing. Or, “What do you sing in 2020, in COVID? What do you sing when someone in your church dies mid-week?” Those are important questions, but I think a more important question is, why are those times such a shock to us?
BK: Like every Sunday…
BK: You have this mix.
DZ: That’s a great point.
BK: No matter how many people in your congregation, say, you have a congregation of 200, there are people who are… Their life is just filled with joyful things. And then there are people who are just broken over their situations or circumstances, maybe relationships, maybe the sins they’re battling.
BK: So you’ve gotta serve both of them. So that’s how my thinking has changed. And people have said, “You know, years ago… ” I used to have people say this to me, “Your leading used to be a lot more cheerful, a lot more celebratory, and you’re just getting older.” I think… Well, yeah, I’m getting older, but I’m recognizing that every Sunday is a sobering thing. There are people in the congregation who are battling, they’re fighting, I would say even most people are fighting. They’re fighting either to ignore or to cover up, or they’re fighting discouragement, fighting despair, fighting loneliness, fighting depression. It’s like, “Okay, let’s… ” Not all of that is rooted in something true. I mean, some of those can be misperceived, but let’s deal with the things. Let’s find out, let’s address the things that are seriously reasons for grieving. Let’s grieve them, and let’s turn our hearts to the Lord.
BK: Which is what we see over and over again in the Psalms. This process of, “God, I cry out to you, here’s my situation, wait, here’s what you’ve done. Here are the promises that you’ve made. And I have confidence in you, and then this is the joy I have in my heart, or that I’m gonna wait for you.” Those kinds of things. So they walk through it in a way that truly grieves, but brings hope.
DZ: Yeah, and you’re saying that we can do that through the songs we sing?
BK: Well, certainly, yeah. Combined with the Word, combined with maybe comments that we’re making. So every Sunday, I think we should have some element of walking through the gospel, where the thing we grieve is our sin, that could be a song, that could be what someone says about our condition, it could be a Scripture.
DZ: Would you call that more confessional?
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: If you were thinking in terms of liturgy, like which we’ve talked about, would you think that more of a confessional category?
DZ: Or would you combine those, confession, Lament?
BK: I would combine it, Yeah.
BK: Because when we’re confessing our sin, we are lamenting the fact that we do sin. We know the Lord, we know his goodness, we know his kindness, but we sin.
BK: We still fall, we still disobey Him, we still rebel against him, and that’s something to lament, that’s something… How could we do this? But then we come around to, “Well, God knew that”.
BK: “God knew that we would do that, and that’s why Jesus… ” He knew every sin we would commit and Jesus bore them on the cross, and so yeah, there’s hope to be found even in the midst of our lamenting our sin, we turn our eyes to Jesus, we see what he’s done, and we find hope once again.
BK: I mean, the Psalms, Psalm 51, Psalm 39 talks about… Psalm 51 talks about our sin, Psalm 39 mentions our sin, also the brevity of life, but then turns to the Lord, he says, “You our Lord, are our hope”. “You’re our trust”. “You’re the one”. He says, “I am a sojourner like you, a guest like all my fathers”. “Now, Lord, for what do I wait”, verse 7, “My hope is in you. My hope is in you”. And that’s where we always wanna get people to… That our hope is not in walking perfectly, our hope is not in our circumstances being exactly like we want them to be, our hope is not in people never saying bad things about us. I think of social media and how people be canceled, people can be just attacked on social media. And maybe you as a listener have been attacked on social media, maybe you haven’t, but you’ve seen it. Well, if my hope is in never being attacked on social media or by anyone, I’m gonna have problems, ’cause that is probably gonna happen at some point. My hope is in the Lord, and what He says about me.
BK: And what he says about me through Jesus Christ. So lament helps us to say, “This is really bad, what’s happening, could be crushing, but my hope’s not there, my hope is in my relationship with the Lord, his ability to deliver me, his ability to sustain me, his ability to remove this circumstance from me”.
BK: “He may serve us in any one of those ways, but that’s where my hope is.
BK: And I trust him”. And then we turn our eyes to him and our hearts are filled with hope and faith for whatever it is we’re doing.
DZ: Yeah. So for worship… Well, for a song leader, how would you encourage them to… If this is new information to them, How would you encourage them to pull songs of lament into their gatherings? Do you have songs of lament that come to your mind? Even I know I’m kinda catching you off guard, but…
BK: No, no, no, that’s good. Yeah, one of the songs that I always think about… Well a couple songs are, one is, “Oh Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer”, which doesn’t sound like a song of lament, when you first think of it, but it contains these lamenting aspects to it. It begins, “Oh Lord, my rock, my redeemer, greatest treasure of my longing soul, my God like you there is no other, true delight is found in you alone”. That doesn’t sound like a song of lament, but in the second verse, you get into, “My song when tides… My song when… ”
DZ: When enemies surround me.
BK: Enemies surround me, right. That’s the lament right there.
DZ: When tides of sorrows rise.
BK: Yeah, “My joy when tides of sorrow rise, my hope when trials are abounding”.
BK: “Your steadfast love my refuge in the night”. So you have these aspects of, enemies surrounding me, tides of sorrow rising. So that’s one song. Joel Sczebel wrote a song for sovereign that’s called, “We Look to You”.
BK: Which I have to look up the words right now.
DZ: Well, as you’re looking up the words, I also think about, “Have Mercy On Me”.
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: That was on the gathering.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: Was one of the first songs of lament I was kind of exposed to, I mean, that was only like 15 years ago.
BK: That was 11 we did the album, so10 years ago.
DZ: Yeah, 10 years ago. There were hymns that had lament elements to it that I was familiar with, but not a song that I think just directly cried out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner”.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: “Broken before you, contrite heart… ”
BK: Yeah, a song of confession.
DZ: “You will not despise”.
DZ: It was kind of brand-new territory for me.
BK: Yeah. Well, and it’s sad. I think it’s a symptom of our cultural age that we don’t spend much time acknowledging things are bad in the context of his people. I think part of it is, we just wanna look good.
BK: We don’t wanna admit that, you know what? Things aren’t going well. It’s just that… I hear people say to me about Sunday, sometimes they’ll come and they’ll think, they’ll tell me, “It just feels like everybody around me is doing so well” as one of the pastors of the church, I say to them, “You know what? That is not true.
BK: People aren’t doing well. They’re going through all kinds of struggles”.
BK: But you can start to think that, and we include these songs of confession and say confessions together, corporate confessions at time. But this one song I was referring to earlier, “We Look to You.” “Deliver us from evil, Lord, we sojourn in a broken world. Though evil hands give rise to war, remind us this is not our home. We look to You, we look to You, Sovereign King of all the earth; in Your strength we will endure.” And then it turns inward, “Deliver us from evil, Lord; our hearts so quickly run astray. Temptation crouching at the door to turn us from the narrow way. We look to You, Christ the conquering Son of God, we look to You; Lord, complete what You’ve begun.” And then it turns outward again. “Deliver us from evil, Lord; the devil’s seeking to devour. With trembling hearts we hear his roar, but Your strong arm will crush his power. We look to You, we look to You.” That was on Prayers of the Saints, which was only four years ago. So songs like that, that say acknowledge, you know what? Things aren’t good, inside, outside.
DZ: There’s a struggle.
BK: Yes, there’s a struggle. And it’s not… It’s gonna be great. Everything, we’re gonna be delivered from everything. Well, eventually, yeah. But you know, there are people in your congregation who aren’t gonna be delivered in the sense they’re necessarily thinking they’re going to be.
DZ: That is so good, and that has to be stated because of our temptation to say, I’m delivered, I’m delivered, I’m delivered, I’m healed…
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m doing good, I’m doing good.
DZ: I’m healed, I’m set free, yeah, yeah. There is a temptation to go there and just say, I’ve overcome.
DZ: We’ve overcome, we’ve overcome.
BK: Which in the song… I’m sorry I interrupted you.
DZ: No, not at all. Go ahead.
BK: Well, I was gonna say in the Psalms, there’s this tension, you’re doing both. I preached on Psalm 40, not too long ago. And it begins, I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew up from the pit of destruction out of the miry bog, He set my feet upon rock. It’s this song about deliverance.
BK: But you know how the Psalm ends? As for me, I am poor and needy; but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. So he’s proclaiming that he’s been delivered in the midst of needing to be delivered.
DZ: Yeah, it’s our neediness. And it’s what Christ has done. That still makes us needy.
BK: That’s right.
DZ: Cause we’re still struggling, we’re still sinning.
BK: Which is kind of hard for us to get. That we can have confidence in the midst of our need.
BK: In the midst of our dependence.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: We can have real trust. This came home to me, I forget whether I’ve shared this or not on the podcast. But, last year, was it two years ago, I had the privilege of sitting in the hospital room with a woman who the next day was about to have her leg amputated due to bacterial infection, which stemmed from cancer. And I remember talking to her about how, our… We’re here in life and we are absolutely confident of how it’s all gonna turn out. One day, we will have new bodies, glorified bodies, and we know that God is near us, because He promised He would be, we know that He’s with us. But what happens between now, and that final day… God’s sovereign over. So, I don’t know, I said to her, I don’t know if tomorrow your legs gonna amputated or not. But this is what I know, is that God is so good that even if your leg is amputated, He’s able to sustain you through that, and His goodness outweighs the pain of that happening to you. And I just will never forget that moment because I was saying, you’ve got to be confident in God’s love for you, even if He doesn’t do exactly what you want Him to.
BK: Now, as the Lord would have it, doctor came in like 15 minutes later and said, you know, that’s one thing I haven’t tried yet. We’re gonna try that tomorrow before amputation. And he did. And two years later, a year and a half later I think, she’s doing great. So the Lord, yeah, the Lord delivered, but you know if He didn’t deliver in the way we thought He would, He’d still be good. And that’s what lament helps us see. He’s good in the midst of our struggles with sin, He’s good in the midst of our disappointments, He’s good. As Psalm 13, the writer of Psalm 13 begins, or David begins, How long, oh Lord, will you forget me? Forever? Will you hide your face from me? And who hasn’t felt like that? There are people in our meetings every Sunday who feel like that. Lord, You forgot me, you’ve ignored me, do you even know I’m here? Is how He ends. I’ve trusted in your steadfast love. My heart will rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.
BK: That’s where we wanna lead people to.
BK: So I’d say, back to your question, kind of took a rabbit trail to get there. But I’d say be thinking every Sunday that people in your congregation who are struggling, every Sunday, they’re there.
BK: Have some moments, some song, something you say, where it could be the call in worship, could be the song, could be a Scripture. Some point where you enable people to know, God is aware of your condition. He knows what you’re going through. And then lead them to the gospel what Christ has done. Lead them to the assurance that if He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? And the greatest thing He gives us is Himself.
BK: And that’s where lament is meant to lead us again and again, to see that God is ever faithful, ever true, ever wise, ever sovereign, ever loving, ever good.
DZ: Yeah, amen. May there be more songs of lament in our corporate gatherings.
BK: Amen. Yeah, we barely scratched the surface here. We should do a real podcast on lament. Just thought it’d be appropriate, during what probably a lot of people are feeling, that we…
BK: Yeah, spend some time talking about this, thinking about it, and yeah, may we grow in our ability to help people lament well, for their good and for the glory of God.
DZ: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Bob, I know our listeners are so thankful to you and for you and for just helping us understand this topic a little bit better this week. So thank you for joining us, and I hope you have a great day and we will see you around.
DZ: Thank you for listening to sound plus doctrine. The podcast is Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Music exists to produce Christ exalting songs and training for local churches, from local churches. For more information, free sheet music translations, and training resources, you can visit us at sovereigngracemusic.org.