Groaning into Redemption
Groaning happens most often when you are weak, and you are weakest when you encounter a fallen world. You were not made for sin, suffering and loss (the consequences of living in a fallen world) and when you encounter them the Holy Spirit comes alive in you to help you. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will,” (Romans 8:26-27, NLT). The Spirit helps you in your weakness. He prays for you with groanings that cannot be expressed in words and God knows what he is saying. In moments of weakness where your flesh will entice you to turn into to yourself and away from God the spirit will mysteriously pray through you with words larger than you can understand. Groaning is how you communicate with God when you are in need. When you are hurting or feel betrayed by God it is hard to pray, but as you groan the Spirit searches the deep things of God and reveals the strength of his love toward you that cannot be translated rationally.
Prior to Paul’s counsel to groan he addressed the believer’s struggle with sin (Romans 7:14-25) in poignant and harrowing words. The very next chapter starts with this declaration, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” (8:1). That declaration by Paul is to help a believer struggling with ongoing sin. He says, “In whatever way the evil one comes after you to condemn you in your sin God is saying the exact opposite. He is saying your sin is not you and certainly doesn’t define you.” He then encourages his readers to focus on, cultivate and step into the Spirit. He says, “Now the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace,” (V.6) and “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you,”(V.11). He is helping the believer understand the nature and ministry of the Holy Spirit and encouraging them to resist the flesh and follow the spirit outward toward communion and life. It is as if Paul says, “Make friends with, respond to and follow the Spirit toward the fullness of life God wants to give you. He will always be guiding you through condemnation toward life.”
In fact, after Paul encourages his readers to step toward and into the Spirit, he reminds them of this, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children,” (vv.15-16). Don’t miss this. The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children. You can cry out “Father dear Father.” Groaning connects your spirit with the Spirit that is testifying to the fact you are God’s child. This is what you need to hear when you are weak and in pain. Paul is aware how much the evil one wants to cut you off from God and his help in difficulty. Paul affirms that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to remind you that you are God’s own child. Paul is talking about the Spirit’s ministry when you are lost in the shame of sin, but I believe it applies equally when you are feeling the sting of suffering or loss. In your darkest moments your grace receptors are open, and the Spirit wants to help you feed on the grace of God that says you are his child and he cares about you and you must groan into this.
Groaning is spirit filled conversation where you acknowledge the reality of what you are going through without putting it in a box. Paul is groaning earlier in his letter to the Romans when he writes, “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it,” (Romans 7:18-20, NLT). Paul could have shut down and named his sin cynically by saying, “All I ever do is sin. I am horrible and it will never get better.” He also could have kept his heart closed and named it naively, “My sin is really not that bad,” but instead he named it thoughtfully remaining open to the pain of his failure and a solution he couldn’t fully see. Truth filled vulnerability is the heart of groaning.
It is hard to talk about your sin in a way that acknowledges how bad it is without beating yourself up and taking responsibility for all of it. To feel the pain of your sin without an answer other than Christ’s death and ongoing ministry toward you is hard work. It is no easier to talk about your suffering in an open-ended way. You think you must have a solution to the suffering or be able to spout off a lesson God is teaching you in the middle of suffering. That is not groaning. The aim of groaning is to hold onto the hope of heaven and ultimate redemption while accepting your humanity and need for God’s regular intervention. Here you stay open to his ongoing work that is energized by his love not your effort, promises or understanding. Groaning gets you out of yourself and acknowledges that God is holding onto you and won’t let you go.
Later in Romans 8 Paul will describe how nothing can separate you from God’s love, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love,” (v.38). Paul is eloquently describing God’s steadfast love and you connect with this through the Holy Spirit. By groaning you communicate with God and welcome his affirming words of sonship and affirmation. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. (John 14:16-18, 25-26) No, I will not abandon you as orphans. The Father will send you an advocate. He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. Do you trust and believe those words? If so, are you willing to keep groaning through difficulty even if it takes years for the Spirit to fight through all the rejection and pain you have internalized? When you are in pain and stay open and receptive God will feed you with food unknown to this world and as you groan the Spirit will fill your grace receptors with God’s steadfast love. As a result, down the road you will have strength and passion to stand stronger in a fallen world.
There are times when lack of emotion is simply the byproduct of hardness and arrogance. The Scriptures reveal that this absence of feelings is often a refusal to face the sorrow of life and the hunger for heaven; it is not the mark of maturity, but rather the boast of evil (see Isaiah 47:8, Revelation 18:7). Our refusal to embrace our emotions is often an attempt to escape the agony of childbirth and buttress the illusion of a safe world. It is an attempt to deal with a God who does not relieve our pain.
Dan Allender & Tremper Longman in "The Cry of the Soul"