Turn Your Groanings God-ward
It’s the second week of January and I’m still feeling my fourth seriously persistent respiratory virus of 2023, which has stuck around long enough now to be my first for 2024. I’m praying it’s also the last one for this year. I hardly ever catch cold more than once or twice a year, if that, but this past year I outdid that by far. I’m not the only one: The CDC says these bugs have ticked upward lately.
Obviously there are far worse problems. I have had a share of some of them, and I won’t pretend this is the same as that. These bugs always go away. It’s just that this past year they’ve stuck around quite a bit longer than usual, they’ve come back quicker than usual, and this one knocked me down far enough to lock me out of traveling to my very favorite conference of them all.
I’m getting tired of it. And I think that’s what’s really bothering me the most: not so much the standard symptoms, not even the missed conference but the sheer fact of being tired of it. If you’re like me, the little things can get to your spirit worse than the big ones sometimes, especially when they keep happening over and over again.
So this morning in prayer — or rather, what should have been prayer — I was feeling sorry for myself. Groaning over it all, even. I had barely enough presence of mind to ask, “How do I keep a godly spirit in times like these?”
Faking It Fails
I knew that faking it — as in, BOY, AM I ENTHUSIASTIC! — wasn’t going to work. Not that everyone who repeats that phrase is pretending, I know. Sometimes, though it’s exactly the wrong answer — even though it seems to show up a lot in Christian circles.
Because sometimes we’re tired. Sometimes we’re completely overwhelmed. It might be finances, or family relationships, or a serious illness or even a smaller, yet overly persistent problem like I’ve been through.
Positivity is great if it’s real. You won’t find anyone being more real than the writers of the Psalms. There’s never even a hint of pretending in there. If the psalmist had a complaint, he spoke it honestly, nothing held back.
Honest Groanings in the Psalms
Just today I read Psalm 85, which includes this very serious complaint (verses 4-6):
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, That your people may rejoice in your salvation?
That’s being real. So is the next line, verse 7, where we start to see hints of praise toward God:
Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
And that note of praise grows and flowers throughout the rest of Psalm 85. This is real, genuine, positivity, and it’s pointed directly toward the character of God.
Groans Directed Toward God
The Psalms are filled with honest humanity, but in every case (except possibly one, which I’ll let you search for), each of the psalms also speaks praise to God, hope in God, trust in God.
So what does that tell me about my groanings today? The psalmists groaned, so I take it groaning is okay. But they groaned God-ward. These weren’t private grumblings, like my own when I was getting started this morning. They’re points of connection with the God who loved them, and who loves us.
So this morning I tried turning my tired groaning God-ward. I didn’t have any special formula to try, no trick of prayer, not even a line out of one of the Psalms (not that it would have been a bad idea). I just turned my attention to the reality that I wasn’t alone in the room. God was there with me. I knew if I spoke my concerns to Him He would hear, and He would care.
And it got better — by quite a bit. Not the virus, but the tiredness, specifically, the “I’m tired of this!” tiredness. I can’t say it’s because God assured me of anything new. It wasn’t some “message” from God that made the difference. It was His presence.
Hope Replacing Fatigue
But even that’s wrong, in a way, because He didn’t suddenly become present when I turned my thoughts toward Him. He was there, but I’d been shutting Him out, acting as if He were nowhere around. I needed to open my heart the the full reality — the reality we actually live in — where God is good and has all things ordered for our good, too, those who “love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I’d been groaning because this one thing had been going unremittingly, persistently, naggingly wrong, not enough to cause a scare, but enough to wear me down. When I turned my groanings God-ward, and opened my heart to God’s presence, my complaints became lot smaller by comparison, less overwhelming, less … important. I felt more peaceful by far, and more confident of a good outcome, even if there’s no predicting what that outcome will be.
I couldn’t have worked that up on my own. God had to do it. He could do it at any time, but from what I’ve seen, He chooses to open Himself to us that way when we choose to be honest with Him.
Are you groaning? Turn your groanings God-ward.
Postscript written two days later:
I had this column very nearly finished two days ago, but I had to stop, and I almost decided to delete it. I need not tell you the details, but something came up when I was writing the last paragraph, and it showed I wasn’t exactly living the truth I was writing about, even at that moment.
It is a dangerous thing to teach unlived truth, and at that moment I was not living it. There are too many moments when I do not live this truth.
But there are also moments (and longer) when I do, enough to confirm in experience what I know to be true from scripture. It’s true whether we live it or not, because God is true, and He doesn’t change. May He cause those God-ward moments to increase, in my life and in all of our lives.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.