“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

The word “groaning” in this verse means “to voice a deep, inarticulate sound, as of pain, grief, or displeasure.” If there were no other text in all of Scripture, this text alone tells me that God has a heart. The very capability of voicing a deep sound of pain or grief requires feeling deeply about something or someone, and to feel deeply requires a heart.

The groaning of human beings overwhelmed by suffering, loss, and pain are recorded throughout the Old Testament, but in the New Testament there are only two references to the Greek word for “groaning.”

Feelings that are often too deep for words reach His heart.

One belongs to the Holy Spirit in our scripture verse Romans 8:26. It describes how He groans out the heartache we fail to find words to convey. There is also an indirect reference in Matthew 27:46 (from Psalm 22). This one also belongs to God in the person of Jesus Christ and the anguish He experienced for us all when He felt completely forsaken on the cross. In the Old Testament our groaning moves God to action. In the New Testament [NT], God Himself experiences the very groaning of the human race. The picture we have from the Bible is that God hears and experiences our deepest heartache. The one common thread is that God feels our despair, our bondage, and our oppression. Feelings that are often too deep for words reach His heart.

The second reference to groaning in the NT is in Acts 7 where Stephen recounts the history of God’s people and their captivity in Egypt, which had continued for over 400 years getting steadily worse and worse until the Egyptians finally passed a law to kill every baby Hebrew boy. In this context God says, “I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them.”

It is estimated that there are more human slaves on Planet Earth today than there have ever been at any one time in our entire history. Literal slavery is a symptom of spiritual slavery to sin and selfishness. The callous greed of the natural human heart is the cause. The bondage we all experience to one degree or another forms the basis for atrocities of the literal slave trade as we see it today. Our part in ending slavery begins with allowing our hearts to go out to God with groanings that cannot be uttered.

Prayer is powerful. The Holy Spirit is interceding for us with groanings that we can barely utter. When the pain, the hurt, the weight is too great for us to bear. When we can hardly think about our situation or our children, loved ones, friends, or acquaintances, God is there to put our unutterable words into petitions of prayer. God… has a heart!

James Rafferty

James has spent more than 30 years preaching the gospel around the world in revival seminars and evangelistic meetings. He and his wife Risë have two adult children, Jeiel and Kierra.