Is there a place for tears in prayer? Is crying a sign of indisciplined emotions? Or is it a sign of spiritual health?
I bring you a fifth look at the book by Richard Foster, “Prayer: finding the heart’s true home”. In the most recent chapter I’ve been reading, Richard talks about the significance of the “Prayer of tears”, or, ‘Penthos’.
Last week we look to biblical examples of penthos. Old Testament characters, Jesus, and the apostle Paul. All found the ‘prayer of tears’ to be spiritually beneficial. This week we will explore the spiritual benefits of Penthos.

1. A source of joy

It might sound unlikely. Certainly, it is paradoxical. But, tears lead to joy. The Psalmist understood this: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalms 126:5 NIV11) Some years ago the church I loved was virtually destroyed by a combination of our own sin, and the disciplining hand of God. I was not the only one who cried at the state of the church. And I was not the only one who despaired for a positive future. 

However, I took some time to go away, climb a Welsh mountain, and open my heart to God. I confessed my sins. I confessed our sins. I admitted my fears about the future. My heart broke and I wept. After some time, I felt a deep sense of assurance. I realised that my heart was in sync with the heart of God. I knew for a certainty that he felt as I did. And, joy of joys, it dawned on me that he had not given up on me or the church. Therefore, there was hope. This hope burst upon me with deep joy. 

I went up the mountain heavy laden. I came down the mountain with a light heart.

2. A source of inner growth

Parts of who I am remain hidden to me. The undergrowth of my soul is too thick for ordinary prayers to penetrate. Developing the emotional side of my relationship with God reveals more of who I am. As Foster says in his book,
“..unless the emotive centre of our lives is touched, it is as if a fuse remains unlit.”
In the prayer of penthos we allow God, we invite God to part the tall grass and reveal what is beyond our sight. Sometimes what comes into view are aspects of our character. At other times it is our sinfulness. How do we discover the truth? Let me lay out the steps suggested by Foster:
  • Ask: Request that God help you to have a soft heart. Trust what David knew, that God will not despise, “a broken and contrite heart.” (Psalms 51:17 NIV11)
  • Confess: Open up to God about the sin of which you are clear. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.’
  • Receive: Trust that God, “will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV11) Do not give in to the Devil’s lie that you are unworthy. Of course you are unworthy! That’s why Jesus went to the cross. But now, because of his victory, and your adoption, you are made worthy.
  • Obey: Where it is within your power, do right to the people you have wronged. Change your behaviour in areas where you have damaged your relationship with God.
Developing the emotional side of my relationship with God reveals more of who I am Click To Tweet


The prayer of penthos may not come naturally to you. That’s OK. We have a lifetime to develop all these different aspects of our relationship with God. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. God is.


Why not try the four-step process above? If you do, let me know how it goes. Do you feel any hesitation in asking God to help you with the prayer of penthos? Can you identify what it is that is holding you back?
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
I hope you have a wonderful week of fulfilling quiet times.
God bless, Malcolm

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