Groanings Too Deep For Words

Please listen to this song; may it prepare your heart for the message that follows.

That is so moving, isn’t it. Here’s the chorus:

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Give heed to my groaning heart,
Hearken unto the sound of my cry.
My king and my God,
To you will I pray,
O Lord hear me in the morning each day.
I prepare my sacrifice and wait for You.

Those words, “Give heed to my groaning heart…” I want to share with you something about groanings, God’s own groanings… our groanings… the groanings of creation… But first let me give some background to the words of the song. It’s an adaptation of Psalm 5, which I am familiar with in the King James Version:

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Here is the English Standard Version for the same verses:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

And here is The Passion Translation for verse 3:

At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice as I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

So the picture before our eyes is of the psalmist laying his sacrifice in order on the altar, at the same time asking God to hear his prayer, his meditation—his groaning, as the Hebrew word implies. He waits then for the fire of God to consume the sacrifice. This assures him that his sacrifice has been received and is a sweet fragrance to God, and therefore his prayer ascending with the smoke of the sacrifice has been heard, and he watches with anticipation for God’s answer.

Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzsch in their Commentary on the Old Testament bear this up. (Please see endnote.)

So it looks like the English Standard Version has rendered correctly the original Hebrew of Psalm 5.

Now for the interpretation of this picture in the language of the New Covenant. As we lay in order the living sacrifice of our lives upon the altar of the cross, we lift up to God our prayer, our longing, our groaning, and look to Him with undoubting anticipation for His answer, which will come down to us as surely as the fragrance of the sacrifice and the incense of the prayer ascend up to Him.

Now back to our song. “Give heed to my groaning heart.” You mean, God hears the groaning heart? Yes. As assuredly as the sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the cross ascended to God an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling fragrance, and as our own living sacrifice is identified with His, He hears.

The groaning of creation

In Romans Chapter 8 Paul in three places writes of groanings. The first place is in verse 22. I’ll quote it from verse 18 to give the context. This is from the English Standard Version:

 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
8:21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

It doesn’t take very good hearing these days to hear the groaning of creation; we hear it round about us every day. The whole creation is in the bondage of corruption groaning and labouring together in the pains of birth, waiting, waiting, waiting for deliverance. Paul wrote that in his day he could hear those groanings, and in our day we hear them as well—the only difference being that the labour pains are getting more intense and closer and closer together.

But if a creation is groaning in the pains of labour, what do you suppose will be born?

A new creation. And this is why Paul says that when God subjected the old creation to futility, He did so in hope.

The groaning of the saints

Just after this Paul continues:

8:23  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
8:24  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
8:25  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience [or, perseverance, as the NKJV has it].

There again we find groaning. And there again is that word hope. Not only is the creation groaning, but the saints themselves, who have received the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, groan within themselves, waiting, waiting in hope for something—the adoption, the redemption of the body—the release of the body, the glorious liberty of the children of God which will result in the whole creation being liberated from the bondage of corruption. What a glorious hope, which, though we see it not yet, we patiently and confidently await it.

Paul says much the same thing in 2 Corinthians:

5:1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
5:2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
5:3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.
5:4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
5:5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:1-5 ESV)

What Paul calls here the guarantee (NKJV the earnest) he calls in Romans 8 the firstfruits. The Spirit Himself is the guarantee, the Spirit Himself is the firstfruits, the assurance of the harvest to come. In Corinthians Paul writes that “in this tent [our mortal body] we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” which is what he calls in Romans 8 “the adoption, the redemption of the body,” for which those who have received the firstfruits (namely, the Spirit) groan. The confidence we have is that God has wrought us for this very thing, and has given us the Spirit as His guarantee while we wait. But not only does the completion of our redemption depend upon this, the whole creation waits for it. So God will not be remiss in fulfilling this hope. He is covenant bound to do so—as He was in redeeming Israel from Egyptian bondage:

And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (Ex 2:23,24)

Just as surely as God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and began to fulfill it in the day when He heard their groaning cry and brought them out of Egypt, He has made a covenant which in its summation is His Son, and which therefore cannot be fulfilled short of the redemption of our body. For this, then, we groan… and wait expectantly.

The groaning of the Spirit

And during this waiting the Spirit likewise groans, making intercession on behalf of the groaning saints. This is the third place in Romans 8 where we find this word groaning.

8:26  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
8:27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Some of us are more familiar with the King James Version’s “groanings which cannot be uttered.” Groanings beyond the ability of words to express.

Do we understand what is happening here—“the Spirit himself intercedes for us”? This is not saying that the Spirit is making intercession for the saints alone and nobody else in the world, but rather, as the word means, “on behalf of” the saints who are praying. The saints are praying, yet do not know what they should pray for as they ought to. That is their weakness. And so the Spirit joins Himself to their weakness and makes intercession on their behalf. Their intercession becomes infused with the very groanings of the Spirit… and He who searches and knows the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit—He understands what the groaning means—that the Spirit’s intercession is according to His own will and purpose. For the Spirit of God cannot pray anything other than the will of God.

And so… do you and I find ourselves in our prayer closet at times face to face with the awareness that we just don’t know what we should be praying for? What are we to do then? This. While we lay the pieces of the whole burnt offering of our lives on the altar, let us earnestly give ourselves to His Spirit. And please, brothers and sisters, don’t try to make a learned technique of groaning in the Spirit, as some are ignorantly teaching. We can no more learn this than a woman in travail can fabricate birth pangs in order to hasten the birth. No, let us give ourselves to the Spirit, let the Spirit of life have His way. As we give the Spirit free rein, He comes to our aid and makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.” Groanings too deep for words.

Even so, God understands this language of groaning.

He understands when we pray in tongues. This is something similar to the Spirit making intercession for us with groanings too deep for words. Paul said he prayed in tongues. He said, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also” (1 Cor 14:14,15). And so when we are praying with our spirit—it is our spirit that is praying—in an unknown tongue, we may not understand what we are praying. But God understands what we are praying. And we ourselves are edified (1 Cor 14:4). And as we wait before Him, He may give the interpretation of our prayer so that our understanding is fruitful.

Of course all our praying, whether with our spirit or our understanding, must be “in the Holy Spirit,” as Jude says in verses 20 and 21:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

And so whether we are praying with our understanding, or praying with our spirit (that is, praying in an unknown tongue), all our praying must be in the Holy Spirit. This way we are assured that our prayer returns to God from whence it came.

The groaning of the prisoner

 For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth;
To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death… (Ps 102:19,20 KJV)

 We live in a day when people are being taught that what gender they are is a matter of personal choice—whether male or female or a miscellany of other choices. Many, especially young people, are being swept along in the current of this darkness. I heard of some grandparents in anguish because a granddaughter had her breasts surgically removed and a male part added on, all the while taking the regimen of hormone treatments so she can be a male now. How long, Lord? We are told that men can have babies. Can breastfeed. How long, Lord, how long? Oh the groanings for this generation.

I hear from a First Nations friend that their graveyard is filling up with the graves of their young people. Murders. Suicides. Drug overdoses are epidemic. I heard of a young First Nations girl who was hooked on drugs and broke into a home. She was desperate for money, and had a knife. The wife in the home—her husband was out—somehow was able to get the knife from the girl, who collapsed in tears into the woman’s arms, who herself was overcome with compassion for her. This girl ended up in prison on other charges—she was a prisoner before she went to prison. And overdosed in prison. And died.

How long, Lord? Are You not He who sees the little sparrow fall? Are you not He who looked down from Heaven to hear the groaning of the prisoner, and came down to loose those appointed to death? Are You not He who in our Lord Jesus Christ abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light by the Gospel? Oh… our loving Father, hear our prayers in this hour. Our groanings. We cry to You in this dark hour in our world. You aren’t looking for eloquent prayer. Just prayer from the heart.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
uttered or unexpressed;
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.

We thank you for this, dear Father, that You have this kind of hearing. You hear our heart. You heard Hanna when she prayed, yet only her lips moved. You heard Jeremiah when he cried, “Hide not Your ear at my breathing, at my cry.” You hear the heartcry of those who love You, Father. Sometimes we can only breathe out a prayer. A sigh. You hear our sighing. Sometimes we can only groan with the groanings of the Spirit. You hear our groanings. You understand. And You will answer. And so we continue to prepare ourselves a living sacrifice to You, and send up to You with that daily sacrifice our prayer… continually looking up to You, watching, waiting, anticipating Your Answer. For this is our confidence in such prayer, in Spirit-inspired prayer, dear Father. You will answer. You will answer. You will answer.

In Jesus’ Name… Amen.

___________

Endnote:
The verb aw-rak’ [translated direct in the KJV] is the word used of laying the wood in order for the sacrifice, Lev 1:7, and the pieces of the sacrifice, Lev 1:8, Lev 1:12; Lev 6:5… The laying of the wood in order for the morning offering of a lamb (Lev 6:5 [Lev 6:12], cf. Num 28:4) was one of the first duties of the priest, as soon as the day began to dawn; the lamb was slain before sun-rise and when the sun appeared above the horizon laid piece by piece upon the altar. The morning prayer is compared to this morning sacrifice. This is in its way also a sacrifice…. As the priests, with the early morning, lay the wood and pieces of the sacrifices… upon the altar, so he brings his prayer before God as a spiritual sacrifice and looks out for an answer… perhaps as the priest looks out for fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice….
Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Psalm 5

Here are two of the references mentioned by Keil and Delitzsch:

And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:
And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: (Lev 1:7,8 KJV)

And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out: and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it… (Lev 6:12)

 

8 responses »

  1. We’re currently dealing with the Letter of Jude in our house church, so your exposition of Rom. 8 is very timely to a fuller understanding of what it means to ‘pray in the Spirit.’ Thanks as always, for another rich post, Allan!

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    • Thank you, Erroll. As to prayer, even after all these years I feel like I’m still in kindergarten. Prayer is likely the most neglected of ministry unto the Lord. But I think that if we were to recognize prayer as that– ministry unto the Lord– it would provide the incentive we so often need to get down on our knees.

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  2. Years ago I was struck with the thought that the reason for the groaning as with my wife in labour was the result of another life growing within her. All we have and all that we are caught up in is the outcome of His life growing within.

    The truth of our growth in His Life leads us from prayer to groaning and from groaning to intercession and at last the travail and the birth of the New.

    “for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” Hasten the day Lord.

    Appreciate the share
    BT

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    • Thanks for that insight, Brian. In that sense, the manifold trials we endure, the pain, the suffering, the travail of intercession, the cross… this is actually the assurance of the fulfillment of God’s purpose– conformity to the image of the Son of God.

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  3. Hello friend Thanks so much

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  4. An excellent word on groanings! Romans 8 brings it to light in that the whole creation is groaning for deliverance, we ourselves are groaning within waiting for full deliverance, and even the Spirit groans as it makes intercession on our behalf!

    When we are quiet and prayerful we can hear the creation groaning – the people, the animals, and nature itself are feeling the pressures of this dark night and we know the morning is coming. A new day is soon to dawn!

    Hosea 6:3 Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.

    Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory!

    Help us Lord to be part of this new day!

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    • Hi Joe, good to hear from you. Yes, “help us Lord to be part of this new day!” It’s not a matter of passively waiting for it as though we have no part to play in its arrival. Peter says that by our “holy conduct and godliness” we can actually hasten its arrival:
      “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 
      looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 
      Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet 3:11-13 NKJV)
      What a wonder it is, Joe, that, as surely as the sun rises every morning, God’s new Day will arise upon new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells– that is, is no longer a fugitive, but is at home! 

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