Vale of TearsProphetic Laments and the Power of Music
Prophetic Laments and the Power of Music
My spirit is poured out in agony
as I see the desperate plight of my people.
My tears flow endlessly;
they will not stop
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
My heart is breaking over the fate
of all the women of Jerusalem.
Lamentations 2:11, 3:49-51
Many of us spend much of our time bemoaning our lot. Although this may give us a feeling of momentary relief, more often than not the spirit of complaining draws us a long way away from affirming in faith that I have a delightful inheritance because the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Indeed, it sits so heavily at odds with our calling that it may actually endanger it.23
The many spiritual laments we come across in the Bible may at first sight sound like people getting their complaints off their chests, but the Lord detects where real faith and longing are present. 24 Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are they who mourn, and He demonstrated this quality Himself when He wept over the fate that He could see awaited Jerusalem.25
When the King of the Kingdom returns, there will no longer be any need to cry out, “how long, Lord?” For the time being, however, we must continue to mourn the evils that humankind is doing both to Creation and to each other.
We have seen that one of the finest features of King David was his willingness to grieve for those who had opposed him. It was not only on hearing the news of his friend Jonathan’s fate that he was profoundly moved, but also when he learned of the death of those who had caused him great distress: Saul and Abner. Concerned that Israel should realise that it lost the services of mighty leaders, he composed powerful and moving laments in their memory.26
Jeremiah wept when the well intentioned King Josiah died, and he wanted others to do so too, for he rightly foresaw that the new king would not pursue the excellent reforms the young king had initiated.27 In powerfully persuasive poetic oracles, Jeremiah prophesied year after year how dire it would be when God’s judgement devastated the land.
When it finally occurred, the scenes he records in the book of Lamentations are so terrible they almost defy description. It is no coincidence that he chose to recount these in poetic form, for poetry is a most effective medium for relating such horrors – especially when it is accompanied by music that graphically depicts this dimension of mourning and lament.28
Such inspired music is a perfect vehicle for going deeper in intercession. It enables us to identify with the raw passion of the situations we are concerned about, and to feel God’s heartbeat. This is so precious and powerful a concept that I have long sought to combine music, mourning, prayer and prophecy in the way we lead our prayer conferences. Reflecting on his own long experience of pioneering in this field, Richard Williamson recently wrote this challenge:
In our music making, there has been a danger that we have been moving away from the creative “prophetic” stream that flowed through us in earlier days in favour of a “safer” stream where everything is nicely sewn up and “acceptable” – and as musically perfect as possible. Of course we need to do things well – but have we lost our willingness to step out and express God’s heart through musical languages taught to us by God Himself by the inspiration of His Spirit?
One musical language I believe that God wants to undergird our worship with is the language of holiness. God is calling us to offer our lives to him afresh – lives that are holy and abandoned to Him. In doing so, He can use our music to bring a new vision of who He really is to a world and to a Church that is in desperate need of hearing God’s voice and seeing His face. Not a “cosy” over-familiar vision of God, but an awe-inspiring encounter with Almighty God who is holy – the Creator of the Universe and the Lord of History: a God who is rightly to be feared.
A second language I believe God wants us to develop further is the language of lament, exile and identification. We have “sung our songs of victory” and worshipped God as our healer and our friend – but the Lord is also looking for those who can express the grief in His heart, and also the pain that is in so many people’s lives today.
Such music may not necessarily need words (spoken or sung) – but it will identify closely with the cry of our hearts and call forth the Song of the Lord, both in worship and in heartfelt intercession.
A third language we need to nurture is the language of hope. Hope in a world falling apart, hope in the Church and hope for the glorious fulfilment of the Kingdom, leading up to the return of the King. This is the language of glory – displaying the glory of His splendour and encouraging us to look forward again with expectancy.
Reflect and Pray
It is important to develop the habit of praying wider.
With at least one in ten of the world’s Christians living under severe persecution, we have no excuse for remaining in ignorance about their plight, or for not supporting the work of movements that reach out to the Suffering Church.29
23 See 2 Corinthians 10:9-11
24 There are 43 personal laments in the Psalms, and 14 communal ones: in other words, 57 out of 150 psalms in all, compared to 17 Psalms of Thanksgiving and 32 Psalms of praise.
25 Luke 19:41
26 See 2 Samuel 1:11f, 3:3f.
27 See pp. 590 and 593 of David Pawson’s excellent Unlocking the Bible. Collins.
28 Ruth Fazal has written a moving oratorio out of the poems left by child survivors of the concentration camp at Terezin (Theresienstadt). In 1941, the Nazis converted this small town to the northwest of Prague, into a transit concentration camp. To the outside world, Terezin was presented as a “model Jewish settlement” – a resort-like atmosphere with stores, café, bank, kindergarten, school and flower gardens. In reality, Terezin was an overcrowded way-station for the death camps, to which the transports would come to take adults and children alike to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Many died in Terezin itself, as a result of the horrendous overcrowding. Many of the prisoners were musicians, writers, poets, artists and intellectuals. In the midst of such depravity, they and their children turned to art to transcend their pain. While regular schooling was prohibited, classes were held clandestinely and many of the 15,000 Jewish children who passed through the camp were encouraged to paint and write. Of those 15,000, only about 100 survived. You can hear excerpts of Ruth Fazal’s oratorio here
29 www.opendoorsuk.org, www.barnabasfund.org.