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 fourth look at the book by Richard Foster, “Prayer: finding the heart’s true home”. Richard talks about the significance of the “Prayer of tears”, or, ‘Penthos’.
What is ‘penthos’?
According to the Mounce’s Expository Dictionary, it means,
“to mourn, grieve, bewail. This word is used in contexts of mourning over disasters or grieving the loss of someone. Mourning is often associated with weeping. While in classical Greek usage, penthos was a passion that a wise person must intentionally avoid, in the NT mourning is encouraged in contexts of sorrow over grievous sin and is acceptable and appropriate in cases of overwhelming disasters.” Mounce, William D., D. Matthew Smith, and Miles V. Van Pelt, eds. MED. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Not being the most emotionally demonstrative person, I question the appropriateness of tears in prayer. We will take a couple of weeks looking at this, but today let’s survey some biblical examples.
1. Old Testament
Some classic Old Testament crying personalities include Isaiah, “I drench you with my tears O Heshbon and Elealeh.” Isaiah 16:9. Jeremiah, of course, is often called the “weeping prophet” – “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!” Jeremiah 9:1.
Several Psalmists spent time crying, “Every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” Psalm 6:6. “Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not on your record?” Psalm 56:8. “My tears have been my food day and night.” Psalm 43:3
Was Jesus a crying person? The writer to the Hebrews tells us he, “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” Hebrews 5:7.
He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, John 11:35.
He taught, “blessed are those who mourn”, Matthew 5:4. He was kind to Mary when she washed his feet with her tears, Luke 7:36-50.
Paul a tough guy. Was he someone who cried?
He came to Asia “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears”, Acts 20:19. He warned “everyone with tears” Acts 20:31, and when he wrote to the church in Corinth he did so, “out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears”. He rejoiced that they had godly sorrow which led to repentance, 2 Corinthians 7:7-11.
If the Old Testament Prophets and Psalmists, if Jesus and the Apostle Paul were all people who cried in a healthy way, who are we to resist it?
Next time we will go on to look at the potential spiritual benefits to us of praying this “prayer of tears”.
Between now and then, why not have a look at some of the other examples of spiritual men and women shedding tears. What do you learn about their relationship with God?
Do you shy away from crying in your prayers? If so, why might that be? What do you think could be a spiritual benefit to you being more in tune emotionally with your sin, the broken heart of God and the sins of this world?
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