We should be singing more songs of lament in church. Here’s why

Liv Chapman, Emu Music // May 31, 2024, 4:47 pm

Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash.

Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash.

At the heart of lament is a recognition of brokenness, and a desperate longing for help.

Biblical lament is a crying out to God in sadness and distress from a place of brokenness – brokenness brought about by our sin or our circumstance.

That may seem a bit of a downer! Who wants to think and talk about being sad?

Perhaps we find it deeply uncomfortable to say, as the psalmist does, that we are “like one without strength, abandoned among the dead, like the slain lying in the grave” (Psalm 88:5), that our “eyes are worn out from crying” (Psalm 88:9) and “darkness is our only friend” (Psalm 88:18).

Or maybe it’s hard to relate to lamenting as we see it in the Bible. How do we sing with David, “O God, if only you would kill the wicked! You bloodthirsty men, stay away from me!” (Psalm 139:19)?

So why should we be singing songs of lament?

4 reasons to sing songs of lament even when we’re not lamenting

1. The Bible calls us to

The New Testament exhorts us to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another (Colossians 3:16).

If the book of Psalms is to represent the flavour of our congregational singing, then 67 out of 150 Psalms are considered a lament, if only in part.

“We should make it our aim not only to preach the whole counsel of God but to sing it as well.”

As Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music asks: “If the teaching in our church was limited to the songs that we sing, how well-taught would we be? How well would we know God?

“We should make it our aim not only to preach the whole counsel of God but to sing it as well.”

Because singing is a Word ministry and a teaching ministry, we must be teaching what the Bible teaches – that this world is broken, that the battle against the flesh and the spirit still rages within us, that the world will hate us for following Christ.

These are physical and spiritual realities, and our singing must be shaped by them.

2. To weep with those who weep

Though you may not be weeping or lamenting, it is likely that someone in the congregation is going through something deeply mournful. 

I will hazard a guess that very few people have been untouched by difficulty: job loss, sickness, bereavement, financial uncertainty, broken relationships, loneliness.

One day there will be no need to lament ever again.

Paul calls us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). I’m not sure many of us are very good at this.

Sometimes we feel ill-equipped; we don’t know what to do. At other times, I think our individualistic culture has taught us that it’s embarrassing and a sign of weakness to publicly grieve and grieve with others.

Singing lament songs as a congregation lets us weep with the weeping, but also teaches us how to weep with the weeping when we will need to do it in a living room, or across a table, or by a hospital bed.

In singing laments, we are giving expression and vocabulary to a number of people in our church families who need the words to be able to cry out to God.

3. To prepare us for seasons of mourning

When Jesus says to us, “in this life you will have trouble” (John 16:33), shouldn’t we be preparing? 

Sadly, few of us understand how unprepared we are for suffering and trials until they come. Only then do we sense just how empty of resources we are.

But on Sundays, when Christians gather to hear the Word taught and sung and prayed and read, we have an opportunity to “practise lamenting”. 

We regularly lament because we know that seasons of lament are coming.

Does that sound strange? Perhaps!

As an example, I was the maid of honour for my friend’s wedding and I was asked to give a speech. Before the day came, I practised it over and over again. Why?

I rehearsed so that when the time came for me to give the speech, I wasn’t glued to my notes. I could look up, my lips and mouth were fluid and nimble because they had pronounced the sentences many times before, and I knew what I was going to say.

I could speak with confidence. I was ready.

In a similar way, on a Sunday, we have an opportunity to rehearse, to get our lips and mouths and hearts and minds ready.

We regularly lament because we know that seasons of lament are coming. That’s part of living in a world where lamentable things happen to everyone.

It’s also part of taking Jesus seriously and trusting Him when He says we will have trouble in this life. 

By singing laments when we’re not lamenting, we are preparing our hearts and minds so that we know what songs to sing and what prayers to pray when life gets tough.

4. To remind us that perhaps we should be lamenting more than we are

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10 reminds us that we need to lament our sin. Perhaps we don’t do this very often, and I bet few of us are doing it in song.

Laments poke us in the chest and force us to wonder whether we are making light of our own sin or making light of the suffering in our own congregation and community.

They get us to ask ourselves what picture of Christian life we are singing about, and whether it includes the very real effects of sin and brokenness.

A journey from plea to praise

The fact that lament is not isolated to one section in the Psalter is crucial to understanding its purpose.

Lament psalms – with the notable exception of Psalm 88 – are a journey from plea to praise, distress to delight.

The Psalms show us that lament is something that can occur in all situations and is not contradictory to thanksgiving. The two can and should be held together.

To lament is a normal part of faith in an unchanging God in an ever-changing world.

We will know as we read through the psalms that pleading and praising are right beside each other; they exist alongside one another.

In today’s world, distress is often seen as an awkward, private thing, something that can be easily fixed, or something that must be fixed.

However, the Israelites viewed lament through a paradigm of dependency on a God whom they knew and trusted. The Psalter clearly shows that lamentation was understood as a normal aspect of faith in God, rather than as an anomaly.

So, to lament is a normal part of faith in an unchanging God in an ever-changing world. But this journey from lament to praise is also crucial in reminding us of the big picture and the hope that is promised in the long term.

Clearly the authors and editors of the Psalter wanted us to see that lament is a valid part of this big picture, and that it comes in the context of a God who is completely in control.

Our singing, therefore, needs to reflect the fact that God is not only sovereign over our sufferings, but also present with us in them.

Joining God in His sorrow

Finally, the patterns of the Psalms teach a pattern for life – that overall, we turn and return to praise, but lament is an essential part of that process.

To weep with God over the broken state of our world is to join Him in His sorrow. To then bring that pain to God is to allow Him to offer us the other side of the picture – the peace and joy that can be carried together with lament, that we can be sorrowful yet always rejoicing.

Wonderfully, one day lament will give way to endless praise and delight.

Lament is God’s people desperately crying in faith to their Lord until God shows Himself to be the faithful One He has promised to be.

Lament acknowledges that Jesus was right when He said: “In this world, you will have trouble.”

Lament is joining Jesus in His own sorrow, for on the cross He cried out the very words of Psalm 22, a lament psalm. 

And lament fills us with Christ’s hope: “Take heart. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Wonderfully, one day, lament will give way to endless praise and delight.

One day, there will be no need to lament ever again.

This article is an edited extract of a talk by Liv Chapman, Events Director of Emu Music, at the Word in Song Singapore conference held on March 13.

If you’re looking for songs to lament to sing in church, check out Emu Music’s album, Joy in Sorrow.


What makes singing in church different from singing karaoke?

“We see songs as a ministry of God’s Word”: Sydney-based music initiative Emu Music on the power of singing gospel truths

How can I have a heart of worship?

About the author

Liv Chapman, Emu Music

Liv is a singer, songwriter and staff member at Emu Music, a Sydney-based music initiative with a heart to draw people closer to God through biblical worship music. She is also the Director of Sunday Gatherings at Vine Church Surry Hills.