Groaning in the spirit is a phenomenon that occurs among some Christians, particularly those in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles. It involves spontaneously making groaning or moaning sounds during times of prayer, worship, or while receiving ministry. Those who experience this say it is the work of the Holy Spirit within them. However, the practice remains controversial, with some Christians accepting it as spiritual, while others feel it has no scriptural basis.
In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at groaning in the spirit – what it is, potential purposes, and key biblical passages that provide insight into this phenomenon. We will examine both the perspectives of those who embrace groaning in the spirit and those who caution against it or see no biblical warrant for it. Our goal is to provide a balanced overview so readers can draw their own conclusions.
- Groaning in the spirit involves making spontaneous moaning/groaning sounds attributed to the Holy Spirit.
- Advocates say it aids spiritual intercession, delivers healing, and signifies the Spirit’s work.
- Critics say it is irrational emotionalism or draws attention to self.
- The Bible shows both shouting and groaning can express deep emotion in the Spirit.
- While not commanded, groaning is reflected in several passages on the Spirit’s intercession.
- Biblical groaning focuses on the Spirit praying through us, not about outward signs.
- Groaning requires discernment and order, or else risks being misunderstood.
What is Groaning in the Spirit?
Groaning in the spirit is the practice of spontaneously making guttural moaning, groaning, or sighing sounds during prayer, worship, or ministry times. Believers attribute these vocalizations to the Holy Spirit working within them. The sounds can range from soft and understated moans to loud wailing. Groaning may last a few minutes or continue for extended periods.
Those who groan in the spirit describe it as a spiritual experience that brings them into deeper connection with God. They say it aids their prayer and worship, facilitates spiritual intercession, or signifies the Holy Spirit ministering something supernatural like healing or deliverance.
Advocates believe groaning in the spirit is a work of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture. They point to verses that speak of “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), God hearing the cries of His people (Exodus 2:24), and the Holy Spirit interceding through us with groans (Romans 8:26-27).
Thus, those who practice groaning in the spirit see it as a spiritual act empowered by the Holy Spirit. The groaning is not consciously manufactured but arises spontaneously as they submit to the Spirit’s leading.
Purposes and Perspectives
Those who embrace groaning in the spirit as a spiritual practice believe it serves several purposes:
Prayer and Intercession
Groaning is believed to aid spiritual intercession by carrying our prayers to God at a deep emotional level that goes beyond our mental understanding. Romans 8:26-27 says:
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. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (NKJV)
Advocates believe groaning helps us partner with the Holy Spirit in His intercessory work, aligning our spirit with God’s will in prayer.
Releasing Healing or Deliverance
Groaning is also associated with healing and deliverance ministry. As someone receives prayer for healing or deliverance from spirits, they may start groaning as a sign of the Holy Spirit working to bring inner restoration.
Intensified Worship or Spiritual Experience
Groaning may occur as worshippers encounter God’s presence in a deeper way. It reflects a visceral spiritual experience that goes beyond rational thought or words.
Stirring Spiritual Gifts
Some Charismatics believe groaning helps activate spiritual gifts like prophecy or tongues. As the believer groans under the Spirit’s inspiration, it can catalyze or transition into operating in their spiritual gifts.
From this perspective, groaning takes believers into a deeper spiritual flow with God. It is an inner response to the Spirit’s stirring and not a forced external behavior.
Concerns and Cautions
While many Charismatics and Pentecostals accept groaning in the spirit as a spiritual practice, others have concerns over the phenomenon or consider it unbiblical. Critics offer several cautions:
Lacks Scripture Warrant
Some believe Scripture neither commands nor instructs believers to groan in the spirit. The verses used to justify it are taken out of context. When the Bible describes groaning, it refers to emotional anguish or the Spirit’s intercession, not instructions for a spiritual practice.
Not Spiritually Necessary
The Bible contains no imperative for believers to groan for spiritual purposes. While God may providentially cause a person to groan, advocating it as a spiritual discipline goes beyond Scripture.
Risk of Emotionalism
There is concern that groaning in the spirit depends more on worked-up emotions than the Holy Spirit. It could open the door to emotionally-driven experiences that lack self-control.
Risk of Manipulation
In certain settings, people may feel pressure to groan since it is seen as evidence of the Spirit’s work. This peer pressure can lead to manipulated behavioral responses.
Unprofitable to Others
Public groaning risks being disruptive, distracting, or misunderstood by others present. It may also draw unnecessary attention to the person groaning.
Like many practices, groaning could be misused as a badge of spiritual superiority. One’s groaning might become a performance to be esteemed by others.
From this view, groaning in the spirit requires wise discernment. While God may providentially lead someone to groan, advocates should avoid pressuring others to validate their experience.
In examining groaning in the spirit, it helps to explore relevant biblical passages that shed light on this phenomenon. We will look at verses on:
- Emotional expressions like groaning in worship or prayer
- God hearing the cries of His people
- The work of the Holy Spirit interceding through groans
Groaning as Deep Emotion
Several verses illustrate how shouting or groaning can express deep emotion in worship or distress:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NKJV)
…Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:40-43 NIV)
About noon the following day…[Peter] fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16 NIV)
In these passages, Jesus groans and weeps at Lazarus’ tomb, Peter falls into a trance-like state while praying, and mourning involves deep cries unto God. Groaning or wailing as an expression of grief, worship, or spiritual emotion has biblical precedent.
God Hearing the Cries of His People
Several verses speak of God hearing and responding to the intense cries and groans of His people:
During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Exodus 2:23-25 NIV)
I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them… (Exodus 3:7-8 NASB)
Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry. (Psalm 10:17 NIV)
These passages assure believers that God is attentive to their heartfelt cries unto Him. Groaning or crying out is a way to release the heart’s burdens and pain to the Lord.
The Spirit Interceding through Groans
Romans 8 describes the Holy Spirit interceding through wordless groans within believers:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV)
This indicates that groaning may arise from the Spirit’s work inside us, as He carries our prayers to the Father. The passage implies these groans are wordless rather than articulated in language.
This intercessory groaning aligns with God’s will as the Spirit continually prays through us according to His knowledge of what we need.
Guidance for Application
Considering these biblical examples and perspectives, here are some guidelines for those who feel led to groan in the spirit:
- View groaning as a response to the Spirit’s prompting, not a technique to master. Avoid pressure to manufacture certain experiences.
- Be aware of your motives and check your heart. Guard against pride, drawing attention to self, or spiritual superiority.
- Groaning is not necessary for closeness to God nor a sign of the Spirit’s presence. Avoid judging others’ spirituality by whether or not they groan.
- Be considerate of your context such as who is present around you. Keep order and refrain from disrupting others unnecessarily.
- For public settings, focus on intelligible words to edify others, with groaning as a background accompaniment.
- Groaning alone with God may facilitate deeper intercessory prayer.
- Let love guide the practice of spiritual gifts like groaning. Without love, gifts are “a resounding gong or clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).
The ultimate focus should not be on physical reactions during experiences. Rather, groaning is meant to turn our gaze more fully to Jesus and align our hearts with Him in prayer and worship.
Groaning in the spirit is a phenomenon among some Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians in which they vocalize spontaneous moans or groans attributed to the Holy Spirit’s work during prayer, worship, or ministry.
Advocates believe it facilitates deeper intercession, healing, spiritual gifts, and connection with God. Critics feel the practice lacks explicit biblical support and risks emotionalism or disruptive displays.
The Bible shows groaning can reflect grief, fervent prayer, or the Spirit’s unspoken intercession within us according to God’s will. Guidelines for wise application include viewing groaning as a response to God rather than a technique, being aware of motives and context, keeping order when in public, and remembering that gifts without love are meaningless.
While a balanced approach is wise, we need not fear emotional expressions like groaning. God made our spirits, souls, and bodies. Within appropriate order and discernment, the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters and raised Christ from the dead surely breathes new dimensions of prayer and praise through His people today.
Rather than getting distracted by debates over external reactions, the call is to fix our eyes on Jesus, be filled with His Spirit, and let His life overflow from our inner being. Our passion is not to be seen by others, but to see Him who is invisible and be transformed in His presence. All true spiritual experiences will point us to knowing Christ more, loving Him more, and following Him more wholeheartedly in the world.
May we embrace whatever work of God’s Spirit stirs greater spiritual hunger within us. And may we do so with wisdom, discernment, order, humility, and above all, Christ-centered love.