Is the average worship service the balm of Gilead?
I’m reading through Carl Trueman’s Minority Report which is a series of essays he has written. If you have not read Trueman, you need to read Trueman. He is one of the most brilliant writers of our age I have read. Anyway, today’s essay was about authenticity and he talked about it being based on one he wrote called “What Do Miserable Christians Sing?” and it has been his most appreciated piece ever judging by the replies he has got.
After all, if you go to your modern worship service, the majority of worship songs are happy songs. They’re meant to invite you into the joy of the Lord. I’m not saying that’s always wrong, but let’s remember some people are coming to church and they’re not happy. They’re actually miserable.
For me, being a divorced Christian in the modern church setting is hard. It’s hard to be in the community of believers when your personal community was torn to shreds. It’s hard when you hear people who are supposed to be in your age group or even younger talking about everything going on with their children and their spouses and you think about what you have lost.
Then you go into a worship service and the songs are all about how thankful you are and the joy you have in Jesus. It’s really hard to sing those songs and be authentic. You would really like to experience that, but you can’t. Not right now at least.
Are there songs for miserable Christians?
Yes. They’re called the Psalms.
By all means, not all of them are, but a number of them are lament Psalms and they were just as much part of worship as praise ones. They are no less part of Scripture than worship Psalms. God wanted them to be in the Bible just like He wanted joyous Psalms to be in there.
God wants us to have hymns of misery.
The Bible assumes sometimes we will be miserable. This isn’t just in the Old Testament. It’s in the New. Jesus is the man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. Paul says about death that we mourn, but not like those who have no hope. He also says to mourn with those who mourn.
By the way, sometimes, that is extremely helpful.
We can fault Job’s friends for what they did, and we should, but they did one thing right definitely. What was that? For the first part of their visit with him, they sat with him. They were silent. They were just there.
Sometimes, you may think you need to cheer up someone who is miserable, but sometimes, what they really want is not so much to be cheered up. They just want to be heard. They want to be understood. They don’t want a solution. They just want a friend.
I still remember one of the best sayings I got in my divorce. I was told, “Today sucks. Tomorrow will also suck, but it will suck a little bit less.” Of course, that moves in fluctuations. Sometimes, it hurts more than it did yesterday, but the general principle is sound.
Sometimes you will come to church miserable, and that is fine. Sometimes you will leave that way, and that is fine. If anything, we need to give a place for people to express misery at church. Those who are miserable can push the community away while at the same time wanting the community.
God gave Scripture to express negative emotions just as much as happy ones, and there’s a place for both in worship. Let us remember that God’s goal is not to give us temporary happiness. His ultimate goal is our holiness, and we will pass through some unhappiness in that.
Sing a song of misery if you need to.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)