The Prayer of Groaning

June 19, 2018

Exodus 2:23-25

23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.


23 During that long period,

We find ourselves in the story of Moses. Israel lives in the land of Egypt and after many years find themselves enslaved and oppressed under the power of the Pharaohs.

The law of sin and death, while utterly uncreative, operates with enormous sophistication and complexity. We have gone from a sky scraping tower reaching to the Heavens to a nation who enshrines its leaders as god incarnate. We have gone from a garden where God walks with his image bearers in the cool of the day to a desert land where the god of the age, a.k.a. Pharaoh, asserts ownership over them, forcing them to build his kingdom.

That’s what slavery is—when the image bearers of the true God enter the service (voluntarily or involuntarily) of another kingdom under the control and influence of another (invariably false) god. These gods are all ultimately the same, ranging from Pharaoh to money to opioids. They all promise some form of Eden like reality none of them can ultimately deliver.

What they ultimately deliver is groaning.

Slavery always leads to groaning. “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”

Why groaning? Groaning should not be confused with groveling. God doesn’t look for groveling. Neither do I think it takes groaning to get God’s attention. Groaning is the sign of the crystallized consolidation of our attention.  And let’s be honest. Our attention needs to be crystallized and consolidated.

We like options and alternatives and multiple possible solutions for our desperate situations. So many so-called solutions are designed to avert our desperation. All the while, desperation is our solution. Desperation will either divide our attention among a multitude of possible solutions or it will consolidate our attention to a singular hope in God. The former looks like gritting our teeth and leads to anxiety; the latter looks like groaning and leads to peace.

Let me be clear. God’s solutions can take all sorts of forms and shapes from medication to miraculous intervention. It’s all in how we get there. We live in the self deceived illusion of so many possible alternatives to God when God is the only alternative.

In Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome he tell us “the Spirit intercedes for us in wordless groans.” Romans 8:27. In fact, just prior Paul said this: “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. Romans 8:22-23.

It’s a mistake to think of groaning as some kind of learned intensity in intercession or a particular expression of emotion in prayer. While those characteristics may or may not be present, the prayer of groaning is much more.

Dr. David Thomas, one of the key leaders in our work with NewRoom, recently spent the better part of a decade earning a PhD through researching and writing on this way of prayer and its historic connection with great awakenings. He calls it “Travailing Prayer.” He points out how it is not something human desire or effort can produce. In a NewRoom address we published into a small booklet To Sow For a Great Awakening, (part of our Seedlings series) David spoke of travail as

“a kind of spiritual posture found among some who were the catalytic core—a spirit of urgency and audacity, an attitude of brokenness and desperation, a manner of prayer that could be daring and agonizing. These friends in the Hebrides called it travailing prayer, like the Holy Spirit groaning through them, they said, like a woman travailing in labor, like Paul in Galatians 4:19 travailing “as if in the pangs of childbirth that Christ might be formed in you.” (See P.S. below for special offer)

The prayer of groaning, or travail, comes from a desperation not born of anxiety for a sought after answer, but of determinedness to know God as the answer, come what may. Though the movement of God may be years in the future, history reveals the Holy Spirit’s preference to grant the gravity of Heaven to this manner of prayer.

God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.


Lord Jesus, you are right here, right now.  There are so many reasons why I fail to groan in prayer, but chief among them is the way I protect myself from the pain of others; even from my own pain. Awaken me to the deeper love of God, who runs with abandon into the face of darkness and whose suffering travail brings us saving grace. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.


  1. Do you have any experience with the prayer of groaning or travail?
  2. Reflect on the difference between a desperation born of anxiety for answers and a desperation born of determinedness to know God as the answer.
  3. Why might it take a long season of groaning prayer before God seems to respond? How might we understand that?

P.S. Seedbed is a mission with a business, which means we do about three times as much mission as we do business. As I like to say, sowing over selling. As we approach the end of our fiscal year (June 30), I want to invite you to consider financially sowing into this mission of sowing for a great awakening. Gifts come in all sizes from $10 to $100 to $1,000,000 (which a generous family gave a few years back). The gift is tax deductible and can be made here. Regardless of whether you can give, I would like to give you the digital edition of the booklet I referenced in today’s Daily Text—To Sow for a Great Awakening, by David Thomas.

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Join the Daily Text Fasting Challenge here. Whenever you sign up, it will begin the following Tuesday.

J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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