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. 

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  1. I enjoyed the study of Lamentations and this blog. God bless BSF staff.

  2. Thanks for the lament information and the truly experiences how we sometimes express ourselves during this time of sorrow. Seven years ago lamenting my sorrow openly to God gave me a relief and Peace to go on and know God heard my cry.

  3. Thank you. This is the 1st time I’ve begin to comprehend the purpose of lament. It’s ok for sorrow to a part of depression. It can be a part of the pain and path leading to hope

  4. This article was absolutely wonderful. I took so many notes that I plan to share with my group. Lots of my ladies are going through really tough things right now, and this message was very timely.

  5. Thank you for this wonderful article that accurate explains the process of Lamenting. I just completed the BSF Lesson #27 from People of the Promise: Kingdom Divided. The personal timing of this article can only Gods providence for me on a very personal level.

  6. How can I print this?

    • Jeannie – unfortunately we do not offer a print friendly version at this time. We will add that to a list of requests!

      • Thank you pastor Mark for authentic sharing. I was blind but now I see.. Just discovered the freedom of lamenting at the feet of Jesus.

  7. Oh my God, this is awesome! You put a voice with words to a message the church needs to make known. And so timely. I am going to use this during Mental Health Awareness Month (May).
    Thank you.

  8. Thank you so much for this article, it is outstanding!! For years, I believed that I needed to be stoic in the face of pain and disappointment. We ‘push through’ yet the confusion and disappointment remained. The study on Lamentations, the lecture and now this vlog has unwrapped my erroneous thinking and given me the language of truth and honest vulnerability in the face of hardship and pain. Thank you so much for adding to my faith – again.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Lamenting is the stuff of life. I learnt to praise God in the storm when I went through the 9/11 of my life (more than 10 years ago) and I felt the rug yanked off my feet. I remember crying and screaming in the safe space of my car while driving. That space was where He met me in my unashamed tears and fears! Looking back now, I vaguely remember the anger, the anguish and deep pain which were so raw and real then. Today, the sting of those moments has vanished only through His mercy and grace. The song, “I Will Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns came to me. What I learnt above all, was that in the wailing, the waiting, and in the wandering of my heart, He never left my side and I was heard by the Maker of Heaven and Earth, from whom my help came. I am forever grateful that He held my heart then and still is today! “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor woman cried, and the Lord heard her and saved her out of all her troubles.” Psalm 34: 4-6

  10. Really good blog. Pray for me. Strength to talk to a loved one about sin. God has been too good to us to sin like this. Please LORD. SHOW ME THE WORDS. GIVE ME BOLDNESS.

    • Patty – praying with you!

  11. I am blessed and encouraged in a fresh way. I praise Jesus, Thank you Pastor Mark

    • When I was searching and crying out to the Lord, I didn’t realize I was lamenting until I now understand it more deeply through His word. Praise the Lord for showing me what I had gone through and for delivering me

      • Thank you! This is so practical to help me to change the way I talk to the Lord, to really be honest, even though He knows it all.

  12. WHAT???? Complain to God???? Oh wow–what a change in my prayers! I have always kept the holiness of God as my perspective when praying in reverence to I AM. These ideas are “mind boggling” for me and I am blessed to have been challenged to make this a part of my “Casting all my prayers on Him because He cares for me.” Thank you–what a great growth tool for me.

  13. God bless this vessel that God used to help me understand, the moment of grief of the loss of my dear husband on March 9th 2023. The day he died I really felt as if my being stopped. I was struggling with so many thoughts, and yes bitterness am still in this grief, but this writer has really brought light, in helping me biblically understand this process of grieving. Please help me with your prayers so that I can move forward, trusting my living God. For I understand my husband is rejoicing with the Lord, and that I need to fight the good fight. Mary Vega BSF leaders

    • Mary, my heart aches for you as I understand completely. My dear husband of 47 years died in 2019 and I’m still “just surviving.” This was the word that I needed at just the right time. God is sooooo good! God Bless you!

  14. Good meditation!

  15. This is very encouraging.

    Our God PROVIDES everything we have need of in every breath of life! Praise Him

  16. This passage on Lament has truly help me to understand. Trusting God during my suffering is key. I can cry out to Him many many times about the same suffering.

  17. Praise God for this article! I was raised that I should not pray this way to God, not to question Him. Yet, as stated, the Psalms is full of honest intimate prayers to a Loving, personal and present God! I’ve found that believing God would be angry with me for my honest (yet respectful approach) brought more doubts and harm to my faith walk. If we would share this in our small groups, pulpit sermons and the like, I know we would have more mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthier Christians…people in this world. Thank you thank you thank you for bringing “balm” to my aching heart. I am free now to draw closer to my Lord in honesty, reverence (not fear) and intimacy.

  18. Thank you for this very helpful blog which is particularly resonating with me as I’m going through tough times. So reassuring to understand that ‘hard’ doesn’t equal ‘bad’.

    • Thank You for this. I believe i have been lamenting and wulill continue to do so, but without guilt now. My life as I knew it is over and I pray, pray, pray for sleep to save me… is this alright?

  19. Blessed with this blog.

  20. Thank you! I have struggled all week to even begin the lesson on Lamentations. This blog post helped put a new tool in my proverbial belt, helping me understand the purpose and giving a simple process. I wrote so much of this down all over the top of my lesson notes. Thank you for saying “laments are some of the most theologically informed activities of the Christian life.” This gives permission and vision to lean in.

  21. This is an excellent addition to our lessons on Lamentations. Thank you!

  22. Very good,right now I need to do a lament prayer.

  23. This is just great! !! I am going to remind my ladies of reading it and forward to a friend facing a huge loss!

  24. Such helpful, wonderful, encouragement for how to deal with hard, hard situations we face. I never saw it this way but I see it now & Im ever so thankful. Thank you so very much Pastor Vroegop

  25. Thanks for this insightful article about lamenting. I now have a clearer understanding of the process and purpose of lamenting. Christians do not have to stay stuck in their grief. I will share this blog with my grief support group.

  26. Excellent word on how to approach and frame and respond to pain and prolonged suffering. Thank you for pointing out this approach. Thank you for acknowledging that there is an authentic response to what God allows in our lives and directing this to the end of trusting Him. I love it. I’m going to copy it and use it.

  27. This was wonderful! I am 68 and have been going through life (as a believer since I was 14) dealing with the ever present pain of a tragic childhood (demonic mother, Christian dad who committed suicide on Easter morning when I was 15). God has been leading and helping me alot. I literally experienced great hope and healing as I read your comments about Lamentations. I am thrilled we are going to study the book! God bless you greatly!

  28. Wondering if reading this to a person just beginning to search if there is a God, is a good or bad thing for them? or giving it to her to read alone?

    • Diane, I loved this article too! Spend some time in prayer – we are praying for wisdom with you. Time in God’s Word is never wasted. Praying for your friend!

  29. This was very meaningful and helpful!!! I have often struggled with my prayers and often seem to pray the same things every night. This definitely gives me a new way to talk with the Lord!!!~ Thank You so very much,

  30. Thank you for this blog of Lament. I am going to print it & share with our class
    leaders. What a great addition to the study of Lamentations!!

  31. Thank you. This ministered to me as I’m struggling with health issues when I thought that I am physically fit. I know that when I lament, God will not take it against me; He hears me. I pray that I’ll always hold on to His promises of hope and sustenance, and that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

  32. This article helped me see the positives of lamenting. I try to be upbeat & positive, but find myself distant from God. Trying to be more real in prayer – not try to “fluff” the LORD.

    • I really never realised that my appeals to God could be made in the language of lament too. This was really an eye opener. This made me realise that Prayer of mine was insincere, that only one part truly prayed. I intend to note down there points to meditate aabnd

  33. Thank you for this timely article on Lament, turn to God, complain, ask, trust. Turns your sorrows into praise.

  34. Pastor Mark, thank you for your sermon (blog) on Lament. I really needed this Word of God today. I feel so much better within my spirit and I thank God for men and women like you who listen and deliver God’s message to us. You be Blessed, Mighty Servant of God!

    • Thank you pastor Mark for this blog. I am from the Middle East and Lamenting in our prayers is normal, crying out to God in our grief is a part of my prayers. People do that in public too when grieving the loss of loved ones and at times like that, the people around encourage the grieving woman to let it out and cry out to God, and not keep it in. People would give the words of comfort like God understands your grief, and He is
      merciful and He will heal your broken heart. All the encouragement from the people around is a big help.


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