I did it again. The conversation with my teenager became charged. He was angry and disrespectful. “He’s not even being rational,” I judged. And I got pulled in. Despite my earnest intentions to remain levelheaded this time—to respond with gentleness and not to react out of hurt and pride—I failed. I repeated a script we’ve played out more times than I can count. After he went to bed, my relationship with my son, whom I love intensely, felt strained. I sat on the couch, feeling the heaviness of my brokenness that once more has gotten in the way of love.
I was longing for redemption, for wholeness. I wasn’t praying, exactly. Just groaning. Wordless groans before my Father. And yet, in God’s loving hands, I believe that groaning became my best prayer.
My Groaning Grows
The older I get, the more I groan. Not just sore-knees-and-achy-back groaning, though that is real. But inward groans that come when I run up against my own stubborn tendencies, or when I sin against my wife and kids. Wordless groans when I watch my kids wrestle with shame, heartbreak, or rejection. The groaning ache I feel when I encounter betrayal, tragedy, or a devastating diagnosis.
The groaning feels deeper these days, and I don’t think I’m alone. Groaning is common to believers on this side of the resurrection.
The groaning feels deeper these days, and I don’t think I’m alone. Paul tells us that groaning is common to believers on this side of the resurrection: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly” (Rom. 8:23).
Groaning is a normal part of the Christian life. It’s also a gift. In Romans 8, we see how groaning draws us into Christ’s unfolding story of redemption. We discover that groaning is a means by which we, God’s children, realize the fullness of our share in Christ’s glory.
Groaning for Glory
We are made for glory. This truth is at the heart of Paul’s gospel in Romans. For the apostle, God’s glory is his character and nature revealed to and through his image-bearers. Men and women were created to see and to share in it, to share in God’s life, beauty, and joy. Though humanity has exchanged and fallen short of God’s glory (1:23; 3:23), those united to Christ by faith have the sure and certain hope they’ll share in it again (5:2).
In Romans 8:17–30, glory marks the fullness of our redemption in Christ. Believers will be glorified with Christ (v. 17). Glory will be revealed in us (v. 18). And all creation will enter the freedom of the glory of God’s children (v. 21).
Paul structures this passage about our future glory around three groans: creation groans (v. 22), God’s children groan (v. 23), and the Spirit himself also “intercedes . . . with groanings” (v. 26). All this groaning drives us toward Paul’s conclusion in verse 30: “[These] he also glorified.” It follows that the groaning Paul has in view—creation’s, the Spirit’s, and ours—is a groaning for glory.
We groan when we encounter sin and brokenness. We groan when we face bodily sickness, weakness, and death. We groan when relationships are strained or broken, or when we see those we love struggling. We ache for an end to pain. We long to be made whole and set free. We’re groaning for the day we’ll see, share in, and shine with God’s glory as he intended.
How We Get There
But how do we get from groaning to glory? Paul’s answer is the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (8:26). By “weakness,” Paul means the struggle he’s been describing throughout Romans 7 and 8. We’re people under grace, raised with Christ, and adopted as God’s children. But we’re also subject to corruption and live under the subverting influence of the flesh. We’re torn between two worlds. Redeemed, but still awaiting the fullness of our salvation.
We ache for an end to pain. We long to be made whole and set free. We’re groaning for the day we’ll see, share in, and shine with God’s glory as he intended.
This weakness is why we groan. We don’t know how to get from present weakness and afflictions to our glorious inheritance. We don’t know what to pray for, but the Spirit does. He who is the firstfruits—the guarantee of the glory to come (v. 23)—also prays for our glory with “groanings too deep for words” (v. 26).
We may not know how good could come through our pain. The Spirit does. He intercedes in accordance with God’s own character, nature, and purpose. Then he works to bring it about.
Turning All Things to Glory
Right after Paul tells how the Spirit intercedes for us, he gives us the wonderful promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
The Holy Spirit’s intercession is active and effectual. He takes up “all things” we experience—even our wounds, disappointments, frustrations, and setbacks. In his hands, they become tools to accomplish God’s good and loving designs. God uses each trial to conform us to the Son’s image (v. 29) and to bring us to eternal glory, life, and joy (v. 30).
As we grow in years, we also grow in groaning. But with those groans comes hope. Hope that God has determined to share his glory with us. Hope that the Spirit is at work in our lives to bring it to pass. He hears every groaning for glory and translates each one into effectual, active intercession—our very best prayers.