Groanings Too Deep for Words

by Jared C. Wilson July 23, 2018

It is when we are at our weakest that the strength of the Lord is best perfected. Jesus is specifically looking for the poor in spirit in order to bless them with the riches of his grace. And since this is true, it stands to reason that the poorer our spirit becomes, the more of his riches we can know. This is especially comforting to know when you are at the end of your rope.

I’m not talking about having a bad day. I’m talking more about having a bad life. For someone reading this blog post, you can see no end in sight to your pain. You can see no real way out. You may or may not believe Jesus Christ has wonderful plans for you, but you’ve likely come to suspect that if he does, he means after this life is over.

Some of you are dealing with tremendous pain that words cannot even adequately describe. Even to tell your “story,” to friends or to your small group or to your therapist, seems to fall short of adequately expressing the pain you feel.

I am grateful for the realism of the Bible on the human condition. Romans 8, in particular, is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is a masterpiece within the masterpiece of Paul’s epistle. I love its declarations of assurance, security, and victory. And I love the way it accurately captures what it’s like to feel pain beyond words. Capturing just how pervasively painful we feel, Paul says that the sin and brokenness of the fall is felt both personally and cosmically: “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” (Rom. 8:23). We are dying, and we know it. We feel it. Our frailty causes us to groan.

But three verses later he mentions something curious. We don’t groan alone:

“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.” (8:26)

What can this mean?

Well, surely you know what it is like yourself to groan. Maybe you’ve been in a situation so painful, so apparently hopeless, that even your prayers are more noises than words. I can vividly remember that dark season in my life where very often my prayers consisted simply of repeating into the carpet the same hoarse word over and over again—“Please. Please. Please.” Or, even more primal, I recall offering up nothing but my incoherent sobs as prayer offerings to God. He could certainly translate the cries of my heart. My groanings were too deep for English words.

You probably know what that’s like. But did you know the Spirit does that with you?

In his incredibly helpful little book on Romans 8, Ray Ortlund comments on the complementary truths of Romans 8:23 and 8:26:

In verse 23, we groan. In verse 26, the Spirit groans—through our own struggles in prayer. He is in our struggles, directing our faith to God, not letting our faith die, helping our hope to persevere. He is lifting, through our wordless yearnings, prayers that he himself translates into the wisdom of heaven.

Yes, he is in our struggles. He’s there. There’s no cavern so dark that the omnipresent Spirit isn’t there. There’s no hole so deep that the omnipotent Spirit’s power isn’t deeper still. There is no depression so dreadful that the omniscient Spirit isn’t speaking.

It’s in fact in these depths that you see just how deep God’s grace sinks.

(This is an edited excerpt from my book Supernatural Power for Everyday People.)