As we exercise simple tongues the Holy Spirit will at times lead us into deeper expressions of the Spirit. The Bible speaks of these as ‘groanings’. Many have not ventured into these realms of prayer because unfortunately they have become alien to many in the modern church.
The prayer vocabulary of the early church included words such as ‘great conflict and inward struggle’ (Col 2:1), ‘striving’ and ‘labouring’ (Col 4:12-13), ‘travail’ (Gal 4:19), ‘strong crying and tears’ (Heb 5:7).
Real fervent labour in prayer was not foreign to the people of God in Biblical times, nor to our Lord who agonised in the garden as He interceded on behalf of mankind (Luke 22:44). Such prayer is costly and requires a giving of self to the Holy Ghost, yet as we yield great deliverances can be released. At times the groans and cries may be loud and expressive, at others inward yearnings and longings too deep for human expression. All however consume the heart of the intercessor with Christ’s passion.
Paul records in Romans that at times the Holy Spirit will intercede through us with holy ‘groanings’ (Romans 8:26). The heartcry is so intense that words can no longer express such infinite yearning. All that is left are groanings of the heart, impossible to describe by human wisdom, but understood by God (Romans 8:27).
At times this inward groaning becomes so intense that the Scriptures liken it to the travail of a mother during childbirth. Paul spoke of travailing in prayer in Galatians 4:19:
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,” (Gal 4:19 KJV)
Dutch Sheets in the brilliant book ‘Intercessory Prayer’ defines such prayer that brings to birth as:
“A form of intercession that releases the creative power or energy of the Holy Spirit into a situation to produce, create or give birth to something”
Examples of such prayer in Scripture include Elijah in 1Kings 18:41-45 where he takes the posture of a woman in his day giving birth, and prays intensely for the will of God to be released. The picture is one of birthing the will of God into the earth through travailing prayer.
We also witness Jesus Himself ‘groaning within Himself’ when interceding for a miracle at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:38).
The nation of Israel also groaned and cried out to God, who responded with a very great deliverance (Exodus 2:23-24).
Such groaning for freedom and deliverance reflects not only the cry of creation itself:
“Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Rom 8:21-23 KJV)
But also the cry of God’s own heart:
“The Lord will go forth like a mighty man, He will rouse up His zealous indignation and vengeance like a warrior; He will cry, yes, He will shout aloud, He will do mightily against His enemies. [Thus says the Lord] I have for a long time held My peace, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry out like a woman in travail, I will gasp and pant together.” (Is 42:13-14 AMP)
The Scriptures speak of the church (Zion) entering into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in agonising prayer in Isaiah 66:7-8:
“Before [Zion] travailed, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her, she was delivered of a male child. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Or shall a nation be brought forth in a moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she brought forth her children.” (Is 66:7-8 AMP)
In giving ourselves as willing vessels to the Holy Spirit of prayer we enter into the prayer travail of the Godhead. We give expression to the unspeakable yearnings of the Saviour’s heart for souls.
Throughout the ages great saints have entered into this fellowship and laboured together with the Holy Spirit, wrestling for God’s purposes to be fulfilled. Following are a few excerpts from the writings of such men:
Wesley Duewel says:
“Our prayer travail, prayer groaning, and prayer agony can never compare with that of our Saviour, but we have not followed Christ very closely or very far if we do not know in our own prayer experience times of deep prayer burden, prayer wrestling, and even perhaps prayer agony.” ‘Mighty Prevailing Prayer’, p225
Martin Luther recorded:
“I question if any believer can have the burden of souls upon him – a passion for souls – and not agonize in prayer.”
‘The Kneeling Christian’, author: Unknown Christian available in plain text form at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/unknown/kneeling.txt
Charles Finney, the famous revivalist, records in his autobiographical memoirs many accounts of times of travail in prayer:
“My soul was in utter agony. I spent almost the entire day in prayer in my stateroom, or walking the deck in intense agony, in view of the state of things. In fact, I felt crushed with the burden that was on my soul…It was the Spirit of prayer that was upon me; that which I have often before experienced in kind but perhaps never before to such a degree, for so long a time…after a day of such unspeakable wrestling and agony in my soul, just at night, the subject cleared up to my mind. The Spirit led me to believe that all would come out all right, and that God had yet work for me to do; that I might be at rest; that the Lord would go forward with His work, and give me the strength to take any part in it that He desired.”
In ‘Principles of Prayer’ Finney says of this holy prayer partnership with Christ:
“Doubtless one great reason why God requires the exercise of this agonizing prayer is that it forms such a bond of union between Christ and the church. It creates such a sympathy between them. It is as if Christ pours the overflowings of His own benevolent heart into His people, and leads them to sympathise and cooperate with Him as they never do in any other way.”
Oswald J Smith rightly records:
“We expect extraordinary results, and extraordinary results are quite possible; signs and wonders will follow, but only through extraordinary efforts in the spiritual realm. Hence, nothing short of continuous, agonising pleading for souls, hours upon hours, days and nights of prayer, will ever avail.” ‘The Revival We Need’, Oswald J Smith
As we yield to the Spirit of Prayer, manifestations such as groaning, agonising, weeping and strong crying will come up from the heart. We must not be nervous of such expressions, but give ourselves as instruments of Christ, playing our part in birthing His purposes. He is the birthing agent, we are like the midwives who aid the birthing process.