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From Lament to Praise

A New Year's Eve Journey Through the Psalms

When we gather for worship on New Year’s Eve, we do so to praise God for the past year—to thank God for the wonderful gifts he has given us and to remember his wonderful deeds. But what if our year has not been good? What if, when we think back on the year, all we can remember is pain and heartache? What if we lost someone we dearly loved? What if we drifted away from a loving friend? What if we lost our job and are struggling to make ends meet? What if we’ve fallen into sinful behavior and find it difficult to break free? What if we feel abandoned by God?

These circumstances make it very difficult to praise God. But if we ignore them, it feels as though we are cheating. Praising God with our lips while still feeling angry or distant from God makes us feel guilty rather than loved.

The following worship service is designed to lead people on a journey to praise. Rather than ignoring the bad things that have happened over the past year, we take our hurt and pain to the throne of Christ and throw ourselves before him. We don’t need to pretend that everything’s OK when we know that many things are all wrong. And when we’ve honestly expressed our pain, we are able to move on to praise the One who still loves us.

The following order of worship [with commentary] is designed to move the congregation from simple trust, through confession and lament, to assurance of grace and forgiveness, which leads to praise and commitment.

Initial Claim of Faith

Welcome and Call to Worship
[It is very important in this welcome and call to worship to outline the reason for the gathering, to praise God, and to explain the manner in which it will be done. Assuring people that they will not have to check their “baggage” at the door, but can bring it all to God, will help them enter more fully into worship.]

Silent Prayer, followed by

Song: “Hear Our Prayer, O Lord” CH 641, PsH 624, TH 728, WR 490

God’s Greeting

Scripture Reading: Psalm 1
[The reading of Psalm 1 should introduce the overall movement of the psalter from trust to praise. Psalm 1 is a very simple, almost naïve statement of faith in a God who looks after the righteous. The psalter ends with the five Hallel or “praise” psalms (each beginning with the word Hallel in Hebrew). These psalms express unabashed praise for all that God has done. The introduction to this statement of faith provides a great opportunity to articulate the movement from simple faith to praise.]

Song: “If You But Trust in God to Guide You” PH 282, PsH 446, SFL 210, TH 670, WR 429

Lament and Confession

[Next we move from this statement of faith to confession and lament. While these simple statements of faith are not untrue, they do not always seem to fit our daily reality. Things that go wrong in our lives, the things we grieve in the past year, cannot always be blamed on not following God. When we take an honest look at the world, we see that there is no such thing as
a one-to-one correlation between blessing and faith, between following God and being happy. People who love the Lord deeply still die from starvation, disease, violence, or natural disaster. So either these people were not as good as we think, or there is something wrong with the way we understand this simple
profession of faith.

The former option is the one represented by the friends of Job. When Job is attacked by the devil and everything is taken away from him, they argue that he must be hiding some sin. God would not allow this to happen to someone who is good, they argue, therefore he must not be good. We know, as does Job, that this is not the case. Job does not know why God allows tragedy to befall him, but he still cries out to God for relief—a cry that is echoed in the psalms over and over.

Many different lament psalms express these feelings, but we decided to use Psalm 22. In order to allow people to truly enter into lament, we interspersed portions of the reading with the song “O Christ, the Lamb of God”]

Liturgical Reading of Psalm 22 with “O Christ, the Lamb of God” PsH 257, RN 216, SFL 44, SWM 158
Sing: “O Christ, the Lamb of God”
Reading: Psalm 22:1-13
Sing: “O Christ, the Lamb of God”
Reading: Psalm 22:14-24
Sing: “O Christ, the Lamb of God”

[The other option for why we have experienced pain over the past year is that we are sinful people and are being disciplined. The next reading is Psalm 51, a well-known passage of repentance written by King David after being confronted about his sin with Bathsheba. It is important to introduce this reading by reminding people that sometimes we are disciplined by God (Heb. 12:5-8), but that discipline is meant to bring us back to God through confession.]

Scripture Reading: Psalm 51
[It’s important to follow this reading with a song that brings home the point of our forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross. We chose “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” because it helped to bring the mood of the service up from the low of lament and confession; however, in a congregation that is not used to spending time in lament or confession, “Go to Dark Gethsemane” may be more useful.]

Song: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” CH 321/324, PH 100/101, PsH 384, SFL 166, TH 252, WR 261

Intercessory Prayer
[We found it very useful and natural to move into our intercessory prayer at this time. The service is beginning to lift from the somber mood, and entering more consciously into God’s presence helps people make the transition toward assurance and thanksgiving.]

Assurance of Grace and Thanksgiving

[Making the shift from lament and confession to assurance of grace and thanksgiving requires a reminder of God’s promise of forgiveness when we confess (1 John 1:9). Psalm 116 is a testimony to God’s saving acts in the life of the psalmist. It allows people to remember God’s grace in their lives. Follow this psalm with a hymn proclaiming God’s love, such as “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace.”]

Scripture Reading: Psalm 116

Song: “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” CH 527, PsH 495, WR 407

Praise and Commitment

[This section signals the end of the journey. We have come from basic trust, through lament and confession, assurance and thanksgiving, to “knowing praise.” This praise does not ignore all that has gone before, but is informed by it.]

Song of Preparation: “Come, All You People, Praise Our God” PsH 242

Scripture Reading: Psalm 146

Sermon: “Trust in Praise and Practice”
[Psalm 146 was written after the exile. The Israelites had thought that a return to the Promised Land would signal the coming of the eternal kingdom of God. Instead they found that they were still living under foreign rule. They were in the Promised Land, but the promise of the land was not completely fulfilled. Even so, the psalmist writes this amazing psalm of praise. He urges the people to not trust in worldly rulers but to trust in God. We are truly happy when we place our hope in God. Even though the psalmist is surrounded by what he sees as half-fulfilled promises, he still urges the people to put their trust in God and to praise the only true God.

This situation fits our own context very well. We have the promise of everlasting life with God, but we still live in a sinful world in which we are called to praise God.

In Psalms in the Life of Faith Walter Bruggemann says, “Such singing as Psalm 146 precludes any more dropping out into safe, indulgent self-concern, because the world is decisively reshaped in the song. The singers cannot stand outside the orbit of Yahweh and Yahweh’s noticed treasured partners” (p. 127). When we praise God, as this psalm urges, we abandon ourselves to God. When we praise, says the psalmist, we enact for the world its true character in the presence of God.]

Prayer of Application

Song of Commitment: “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” CH 371, PH 466, PsH 501, SFL 19, SWM 42, TH 164

Offering
[In gratitude for all God has done and in recognition that all we have and are is a gift from God, we offer ourselves to God’s service with our financial gifts.]

Closing Song: Psalm 146: “Praise the Lord! Sing Hallelujah!” PsH 146

Benediction

Doxology: “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”
[We close with a final burst of thanksgiving for all that God has done and will continue to do in the coming year.]

Postlude