Turn Your Sorrow to Praise

Learn the Language of Lament

By Mark Vroegop, Guest Contributor 

The Bible commands believers to rejoice in all circumstances.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2)

It’s clear that Christians should not allow the pains of life to steal our joy in God. We should embrace the brokenness in the world with a hopeful confidence. That’s true and biblical.

But how do we get there?

I find that most Christians strongly believe a joyful response should characterize their suffering. But they don’t know how to reconcile their deep questions, honest struggles, and nagging doubts with the command to “give thanks in all circumstances.” The gap between their internal struggles and what they believe can feel like a canyon of a faith crisis.

The result is often two extremes. On the one hand, I’ve seen people fake their way through pain. They tell people, “I’m fine,” when nothing could be further from the truth. On the other hand, the enemy can use this struggle to cause them to doubt either the substance of their faith or even the legitimacy of Christianity.

Something’s missing.

The language of lament

Like a few pieces missing in a puzzle, adding the language of lament completes the picture.

This historic minor-key language creates a pathway to praise. It bridges the gap between a hard life and trusting in God’s sovereignty. Lament is a divinely-given liturgy for processing our pain so that we can rejoice.

Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. It is not only how Christians grieve; it is the way Christians praise God through their sorrows. Lament is a pathway to praise when life gets hard.

The Psalms are full of laments. Over a third of the official song-book of God’s people uses this minor-key language to wrestle honestly with the complicated contours of pain. The journey, however, does more than struggle. Laments use the honest expression of grief in order to deepen our confidence in God’s grace.

Lament is a pathway to praise when life gets hard.

Most laments include four key elements. They are not always in a linear order since laments are poetic and musical expressions. But there is a pattern that can be practiced when “rejoicing always” feels far away. The elements of lament are:

  1. Turning to God in prayer
  2. Bringing our complaints
  3. Asking boldly
  4. Choosing to trust (or praise)

The Psalms, however, are not the only place where lament is sung. Throughout the history of God’s people, they’ve used this historic prayer language when dark clouds rolled in. The entire book of Lamentations mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem. And yet Jeremiah refuses to allow his heart to crumble.

I remember my affliction and my wandering
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:19-22)

Lament enters the complicated space of deep disappointment and lingering hurt. And it boldly reaffirms the trustworthiness of God. It’s a helpful and life-giving language that transforms our pains into platforms of praise instead of pits of despair.

Learning to lament

Unfortunately, I don’t know many contemporary Christians who know how to lament. Our celebratory singing, while not wrong, doesn’t usually lead us through our sorrows. It just drowns out the struggles with invitations to rejoice. But embracing joy without wrestling with tough questions can feel incomplete—even fake.

We need to learn how to lament to turn our sorrow to joy. 

We need to learn how to lament to turn our sorrow to joy. Let me briefly highlight the four elements of lament so that the next time grief enters your world, you’ll know how to walk the path toward trusting praise.

1. Turn to God

Unfortunately, pain creates a strong temptation to give God the silent treatment. Confusion, exhaustion and disappointment can cause us to retreat from the One who knows our sorrows. Even worse, we can allow the poisonous mist of bitterness or anger to sweep in, creating a fog of unbelief.

Lament talks to God about our pain even if it’s messy. It takes faith to lament. Silence is easier but unhealthy. Lament draws upon what we believe, and it talks to God as we walk through hardship. Consider the gut-level honesty of Psalm 77.

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned.
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. (Psalm 77:1-3)

Even though comfort feels distant and God seems far away, the psalmist reaches out to God. Laments invite us to do the same—to keep crying out in prayer through the ups and downs of hardship.

2. Complain

The second step in lament is candidly talking to God about what is wrong. Biblical complaint vocalizes circumstances and feelings that do not seem to fit with God’s character or His purposes. While the psalmist knows God is in control, there are times when it feels as if He’s not. When it seems that God’s purposes aren’t loving, lament invites us to talk to God about it.

Instead of hiding our struggles, lament gives us permission to verbalize the tension. Psalm 13 begins this way. The psalmist wrestles with why God isn’t doing more.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

Biblical complaining is not venting your sinful anger toward God. It’s merely telling God about your struggles. And the more honest we can be, the sooner we are able to move to the next element.

3. Ask boldly

Christians lament because the events of life seem to be incompatible with God’s promises. Lament not only acknowledges this tension, but it invites struggling believers to keep calling upon God to act. But lament seeks more than relief; it yearns for God to bring the deliverance that fits with His character. Godly lamenters keep asking even when the answer is delayed.

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psalm 13:3-4)

Lament affirms the applicability of God’s promises by asking again and again for divine help. In so doing, these requests become hopeful reminders of what God can do. Asking boldly serves to strengthen our resolve to not give up. But it also encourages us to embrace the destination of all lament: trusting God.

4. Trust God

Renewed confidence in God’s trustworthiness is the destination of all laments. Turning, complaining, and asking lead here. Laments help us through suffering by directing our hearts to make the choice—often daily—to trust in God’s purposes that are hidden behind the pain. In this way, laments are some of the most theologically informed activities of the Christian life.

Laments lead us through our sorrows so that we can trust God and praise Him.

This is how Psalm 13 concludes. Notice the pivot on the word “but” and the direct decision to trust, rejoice, and sing.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6)

It is a powerful ending to a blunt and honest Psalm. Every lament is designed to become this kind of pathway to praise. This minor-key song expresses the full range of human emotions so that we draw the right conclusion: “hard is hard, but hard is not bad.”

Conduit for praise

Once you learn the language of lament, you can begin to understand what was happening in the past. I’ve had many conversations with tear-filled people as they lamented their messy journey. Still others felt relieved because they wondered if they were being sinful because of the complicated emotions they battled. Lament gave them a voice and a process for their pain.

Lament can become a conduit for our praise. We can lead our sorrows, fears, and doubts through this historical prayer form. Our prayer times can mirror the inspired struggles in the Psalms. We can offer our own prayers using the turn, complain, ask, and trust process. There are over 40 Psalms that reflect this sorrow-to-praise language. We should take heart that the Bible gives us this quantity of songs to sing.

Knowing you should rejoice without understanding the path can be disheartening—even leading to despair. Laments provide the way for moving through loss to hope.

And by learning this language, we receive the grace God provides through this minor-key melody. We can discover a path to praise when lament is the song we sing.

This article is an adaptation of a blog post published at markvroegop.com. 

Mark Vroegop

Mark Vroegop is the lead pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis and the author of three books, including Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament. He’s married to Sarah, and they have three married sons and a daughter. 

Submit a Comment

Our BSF staff approves each comment to maintain privacy and security. It may take 24-48 hours for your comment to be posted. Be sure to check back for replies from the author or other BSF members!


  1. this blob came at the moment i most needed to hear this. my husband is beginning to show signs of memory loss and strange behavior, we are both 82 y/o, and I am anxious and fearful that I cannot handle this trial. i believe God wants me to rejoice in all things and I do try but there are days when it is so hard.
    this blob gives me an answer and way of dealing with my situation. I have been struggling with the idea that God might not change the circumstances but i can live in them and still be a conqueror, I know in my spirit that that is what God is telling me.
    thank you for posting this blog,
    I am also doing the 7-day devotion BSF posted, and the Lord has help me see i must request the Holy Spirit to reside in me every day so I can have those gifts so necessary for my daily walk with my spouse. God is so good. thanks for the encouragement and support you have given me.

    • We are praying for you, Mary!

  2. Brother Mark, you have blogged this so well. I am just ending a one an a half year of lament for the loss of my spouse for 30 years! I recently lost my son in law, April 13 and he was laid to rest APRIL 21 2023. The Lord prepared the table before me in the presence of my enemy! Psalm 23.
    Thank you for the reminder verses you gave in Scriptur. I will never be the same after this season!
    God bless you for taking the time to share your gifts of encouragement with the true saints of God, The Born Again Believers!

  3. I am still in sadness/grief of our only daughter who stepped into eternity on June of 2020. I go through stages of being ok, joyful, ministering and moving forward. Then I go through this sadness, walking in a fog, daze and have no joy. I’m tired of the cycle and feel helpless.

    • I’m so very sorry for your loss Janie. I just said a prayer for you. I hear your hurt and am holding that with you. As I pray for loved ones who’ve also lost a child I’ll be including you in those prayers. May God lift you up as you come to Him and trust others to share your burden.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This