Just as we are invited to join all creation in glorifying God, we are also invited to join a groaning creation in crying out to him.
Hearing “Are we there yet?” from kids in the backseat had always sounded whiny to me. But this particular evening, I was in the backseat too, wondering how long until we got there. My wife was driving, my youngest daughter was whimpering, and I was sitting beside my daughter, trying to steady her left forearm by holding a hardcover book under it (my wife’s quick thinking). Our daughter had leaped a chair in the dining room, fallen wrong, and now her forearm was “angulated” (a new word I later learned in the ER) enough to where it looked like her left arm had two elbows.
“Are we there yet?” she asked between groans.
Her words sounded like something straight out of the Bible. Groaning is common enough in the Bible to be almost a theme. Exodus: the Israelites groan as slaves in Egypt. Judges: the Israelites groan when mistreated by surrounding armies. Job: the main character loses his kids, his health, his wealth—and he groans. Lamentations: the Israelites see their homeland evaporate in dust and ash, and the word groan shows up 5 times in the first chapter. In a dark time, David prays, ”My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? . . . I am worn out from my groaning.” This is David’s way of asking God, “Are we there yet?”
Groaning Creation: “Groaning won’t make it on a worship album, but it can actually be very worshipful.”
Groaning won’t make it on a worship album, but it can actually be very worshipful. Guess which book of the Bible contains the word “groan” or “groaning” more than any other? It’s the book of Psalms. And just as we join all creation in glorifying God (Psalm 19:1-4), we also join a groaning creation in crying out to him:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22-23)
There are days when Sunday songs celebrating God’s unfailing goodness feel like a pep rally for a losing team. You’ve prayed for this or that person to come back to Jesus, but they’ve drifted farther away. You’ve gone to God to fix this or that difficulty, but it’s just gotten worse. “How long, Lord, how long?”
Groaning Creation: “Shouts of joy will rise again one of these days, but for now, what you’ve got for God are your groans.”
Shouts of joy will rise again one of these days, but for now, what you’ve got for God are your groans. You don’t have the inexhaustible energy that seems to fuel life’s troubles. You don’t have confident faith-predictions to make or a well-crafted prayer to pray. But you can groan.
Our groanings may be weak and unimpressive. But we have somebody, a Comforter, in the backseat with us every minute of our bumpy, painful ride through life. He listens to our groanings and understands our pain.
Groaning Creation: “He takes our groans, translates them into meaningful words, and speaks them to our Father.”
He then takes our groans, translates them into meaningful words, and speaks them to our Father in the form of prayers that communicate with his heart.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans [ESV: “with groanings too deep for words”]. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27)
Funny story: Years ago, I was writing a sermon on Romans 8:18-30. And throughout the week and even into the weekend, the sermon was just not coming together. I found myself panicking late into Saturday night because I still didn’t have the right words to say. It was 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning when I finally told myself, Okay. It’s not done, but I’m going to have to go with it. I prayed and asked God to use it somehow.
“I prayed and asked God to use it somehow.”
A few hours later, I was stumbling through the most unprepared, impromptu sermon I’ve ever given. I talked about how on our way to what Paul calls “glory,” we Christians have to go through significant seasons of suffering, groaning, and waiting. I wrapped it up, hoped that at least some of it made some sense, and chalked it up as a loss I’d have to make up for next time I preached. Sure enough, one of the leaders in the church approached me afterward and wanted to talk with me about my sermon. This was the guy who regularly jokes (?) that sermons need to be shorter. To my shock, he explained that this sermon was incredibly meaningful for him. Deeply helpful. God had really used this sermon to speak to him.
Seriously? And yet, it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. After all, it’s that same passage (Rom. 8:18-30) that explains how the Holy Spirit takes our incoherent and wordless groanings and translates them into meaningful prayers to the Father.
“He’s in the backseat with us, understanding us, comforting us, going to the Father with our precise needs.”
He’s in the backseat with us, understanding us, comforting us, going to the Father with our precise needs. If he can translate groans into prayers, he can translate a wonky sermon into the encouragement somebody needs.
No, we’re not there yet. “Meanwhile we groan,” says Paul (2 Cor. 5:2). But on the ride through a groaning creation, we’re never alone, and our groans don’t dissipate into the darkness. They are gathered up and presented by God to God as prayers. Yes, we’re broken and weak. But wholeness is on the horizon.