Sabbath Evenings – Sit Here, While I Pray
There is a pattern of prayer that is disheartening to the Christian. It goes something like this:
Painful experience. Suffering. Try to Pray. Lose heart. Repeat.
Prayerlessness—that’s what I’ve called it in the past. The scriptures call it groaning. Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe like me, you have said this sentence: “I’m so weary, sad, angry, hopeless, afraid [fill in your emotion] that I can’t pray. I don’t even know what to pray.” You try to pray, and you want to pray. You stammer, but the words get lodged in your throat. (Woodley, p. 17). What’s more, sometime shortly between “try to pray” and “lose heart” comes the guilt and shame of the inability to eke out one petition—now, the feeling of helplessness, which leads to more pain—and, well, you get the picture. For some, it is easier to skip out on prayer altogether than to cycle again. I have been the “some.”
Another word for groan is to sigh. Sighing is that “long, deep, audible exhaling breath that expresses feeling.” How many times have you been at a loss for words when it came to prayer? Speechless. Silent. Sighing. Would you say tens of hundreds of times? Perhaps thousands over a lifetime? No Christian escapes or is exempt. Even the creation I see outside my window, according to St. Paul, groans. (Rom. 8.22) Job says his “groans pour out like water.” (3.24) David said, “I am worn out from groaning.” (6.6) and that his groans came from an “anguished heart.” (38.8) Jeremiah, the Prophet says that his “groans are many and my heart is faint.” (Lamentations 1.22)
I have learned that groaning is not prayerlessness at all. Groaning is prayer. Going right to the heart of sighing is a prayer that yearns and longs for resolution, transformation, and redemption. Our world is “bent, flawed, tainted, broken and maimed . . . [in response] the Bible honors human suffering. It teaches us how to groan . . . sometimes we just hurt and can’t find the words to express our pain. We can’t explain it, heal it, overcome it, solve it or blunt it. So we just sit and groan in a Godward direction.” (Woodley, p. 12)
In Mark 14, it is the evening before Jesus death. He has taken Peter, James and John with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here, while I pray.” (v.32) While reading this chapter I paused at Jesus’ five words “Sit here, while I pray,” and then continued to read of His agonizing prayer before His Father. I reread and finished Mark’s account of Christ’s passion and His glorious resurrection. But, I kept coming back to Jesus’ five words and stayed with them for awhile. They intrigued me. Then Romans 8. 26-27 came to mind:
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 with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (NIV) The Message Bible reads “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.
This is grace! Jesus knows me this I love! He knows that it is impossible to live on this side of eternity without pain. God hears our groaning prayers. He knows that you and I really do have private and painful experiences of wordless prayer. And there is no condemnation in that fact! (Rom. 8.1) It would not be out of Jesus’ character at all to look at his hurting child and say “Sit here, while I pray. I will groan with you and for you.” God says in Psalm 12.5 ” . . . I have heard the groans of the poor. Now I will rise up to rescue them, as they have longed for me to do.”
While you and I sit in our sighing times, Christ is praying for us. “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.“ (2 Cor. 5.2) And, at some point the ache and pain and groaning will end. The pattern of “Painful experience, suffering, trying to pray, and losing heart” will come to a victorious halt. Rev. 21.3,4 reads
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Quotes from The Folly of Prayer by Matt Woodley.
[Ed. note: Now, I do not wish to take the words of Mark 14.32 and their meaning out of context. I encourage you to consult a biblical commentary for further study.]