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TEARS IN PRAYER

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, June 2, 2019

“Who in the days of his flesh, when he [Christ] had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7).


Our text speaks of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified. He was under great pressure as our sin was laid upon Him there, for Him to carry in His body to the Cross the next day. The Gospel of Luke tells us,

“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

Christ prayed “in an agony” that night. Our text says that He “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.” Jesus’ prayer was full of emotion and feeling, strong crying and tears. Tonight I want to talk about emotion and feeling in prayer.

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I. First, false prayer with feeling.

Many Pentecostals and charismatics think that shouting and crying, emotion and feeling, are essential parts of prayer. They think that screaming and crying mean the Holy Spirit is in the prayer, and if there is no shaking and howling the Holy Spirit is not there. They say this not only about prayer, but about the way people act when they sing, when they hear a sermon, and when they do everything else that happens in church. But they are wrong. Emotion for its own sake means nothing. It can take away from the prayer. It can even be demonic.

Let me give you an example from the Bible of false emotion in prayer. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. He told them to spend a day crying out to Baal, while he would pray to the God of Israel. The God who answered by fire would show that He was the true God. The prophets of Baal became wild and emotional in their prayers. It would look good in a lot of churches today! They “called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made” (I Kings 18:26). In the afternoon “they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them” (I Kings 18:28). But “there was neither voice, nor any to answer” (I Kings 18:29). Then Elijah prayed a simple prayer to God and God sent fire from Heaven. The demonic emotion, the jumping up and down, the shouting and crying and all the rest, did the false prophets no good. Feeling in itself doesn’t mean anything.

I have seen emotion for its own sake many times. It never did any good. Once I was counseling a girl in the inquiry room, trying to lead her to Christ. She kept on crying and shaking. She would not stop when I asked. She said she was crying about her sins, but she never moved away from that crying to Jesus. She never focused her attention on Christ. She never got saved. Later she left the church and went into a life of deep sin.

Some people are very emotional. They break down and cry about anything. I remember another girl who did just that. It wasn’t just after a sermon, or when she was counseled about trusting Christ. It was any time at all. She would burst into tears and cry. She couldn’t put her mind on Christ, or the church, or the Bible. One day she felt sad. She followed her feelings and left the church. I never saw her again.

Crying and shouting doesn’t make anything “real.” It doesn’t make prayer real. Trying to make yourself cry or shout doesn’t do anything. When you pray, think of what you are praying for. You may pray with tears or you may not. Jesus showed emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed “with strong crying and tears.” But it wasn’t crying for its own sake. His tears did not make the prayer good. His tears came out of His prayer. They arose from His prayer. He cried out to God in His distress, in His pressure and pain, as the sin of the human race was laid upon Him. His crying came out of His seriousness, His concern, His need, His burden, His suffering. And so it is with you. Don’t try to cry. Don’t plan to cry or prepare to cry. Just pray. God may lead you to cry, or He may not, but either way it will be real prayer.

II. Second, false prayer without feeling.

A great deal of what is called “prayer” today is not prayer at all. It’s just something a person says, not true prayer to God. It’s words that sound good, that sound religious, but they’re just a formality, without meaning, without turning to God and asking Him for something.

I have been to many graduation ceremonies. Early in the ceremony there is something called an “invocation.” It’s supposed to be a prayer, but it isn’t. The person runs through a couple of sentences asking for the graduation to be good, and for the students to have good lives. But nobody expects God to answer and actually do anything or change something – least of all the person who is “praying.” There is never any feeling or expression of the heart in such an invocation.

Once I visited Washington, D.C., the capital of our nation. There I went into the National Cathedral. President Reagan had just died, and they were getting ready to conduct his funeral. There I heard an Episcopal priest say the words of a “prayer.” But he wasn’t praying at all. He was reading words out of a book. That was all. He wasn’t asking God to do anything. He didn’t expect an answer. He just said words because that was what he was supposed to do. There was no feeling from the heart.

Jesus spoke of a Pharisee who went to the Temple to pray. The man said, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11, 12). He wasn’t praying at all. He didn’t ask God for anything. Instead he told God how good he was. Christ said that he only prayed “with himself” (Luke 18:11). He did not show feeling. He was not praying from his heart.

Christ rebuked the Pharisees for their false prayers. He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer” (Matthew 23:14). They went through long prayers to show they were holy. But what they really wanted was to take houses and money from old ladies. It was as simple as that. Whatever feeling they showed was an outward fake so they would look good. They did not pray from the heart. Their hearts were not right.

You may say, “I’m not like them.” But do you pray falsely, just running through words? I’ve done it. In your private prayer time, do you just mention the people and the things you are praying for, without thinking about them, without really asking God for answers? Have you done that in prayer meetings in church? I’ve done it. Have you prayed because you’re supposed to pray something – because your turn to pray has come? You’re glad when the meeting is over and you don’t have to pray any more. That wasn’t real prayer. It was just something you went through. Have you tried to “pray well” to impress someone else? I know someone who planned his prayer ahead of time. That wasn’t really a prayer, it was an oration, a speech. I say, “Don’t plan your prayers, pray for them!” Before the prayer meeting, spend a few minutes asking God to help you pray. And when you pray in a meeting or by yourself, think about what you are praying. Think of how bad the situation is if God doesn’t help. Think of how much you need God’s answer. Fasting will help your prayers, for it focuses your attention and shows God you are serious. Turn to God in your prayer and beg Him to give you what you ask. You may very well cry with feeling. Don’t stop yourself. God has moved you to it. Sometimes you may not cry. Don’t force yourself to cry. A prayer isn’t good because it has crying – and it isn’t good because it has no crying. A prayer is good when God is in it!

III. Third, true prayer with and without feeling.

Our text says that Christ prayed in the Garden “with strong crying and tears.” But sometimes true prayer that gets the answer happens with little or no feeling. I told you how the prophets of Baal prayed to their false god. Now let me tell you how Elijah prayed. He said,

“Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God” (I Kings 18:36, 37).

There is no record that Elijah cried. There is no record that he jumped up and down. He certainly didn’t cut himself! He just made a serious prayer to God. He asked God to show the people that He was the true God. And God answered that prayer and sent fire from heaven to burn up Elijah’s sacrifice. The people said, “The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (I Kings 18:39). Elijah’s serious prayer, with no record of emotion, stands in contrast to the wildness of the prophets of Baal. True prayer does not need to have feeling. It needs to have God!

But most of the time feeling, even tears, goes with real prayer. If you sense your need, it’s only natural for you to have feeling. You may call out to God with passion, urgency, and crying. You may break down and beg Him with tears. Time after time the Bible connects tears and prayer. The Psalmist prayed, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears” (Psalm 39:12).

King Hezekiah was sick unto death. Hezekiah prayed to God. How did he pray? The Bible says, “And Hezekiah wept sore” (II Kings 20:3). Of course he cried. He was going to die. He cried deeply. He wept in his prayers. Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah said, “Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee” (II Kings 20:5). “I have seen thy tears.” God saw and felt the tears of Hezekiah’s helpless, begging prayer. And God answered and saved the king’s life.

In the New Testament, a man came to Jesus. His son was demon possessed. Christ asked him if he believed his son could be healed. And “the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jesus cast the demon out of the boy. Often this passage is used to show that one who is weak in faith can get answers. “Help thou mine unbelief.” But the passage also says that the father “cried out” and spoke to Christ “with tears.” This man wasn’t one of the Disciples. He wasn’t even a converted man. He was just “one of the multitude,” just a man in the crowd (Mark 9:17). But he brought his son to Jesus and cried out to Him with tears.

Why did the man cry out to Jesus with tears? He wasn’t a prayer warrior. He wasn’t even saved. It was natural for Him to speak to Christ that way, for he saw his own desperate need. His son was demon possessed and there was no way to free him without Jesus. The man didn’t make himself cry. Out of his need, out of his despair, came his tears. Felt need, an awareness of despair and hopelessness, so often leads to crying and tears. He spoke in real prayer, with feeling.

And that leads us back to our text. Christ prayed in the Garden “with strong crying and tears.” He wasn’t a crybaby. He wasn’t an emotional girl who cried about everything. He was a grown man, over thirty years old. Why did He cry? Because He was moved in His heart. He felt the sin of every man and woman placed on Him. He thought of the awful suffering He must endure on the Cross the next day, or no one could be saved. Yet the weight of human sin almost killed Him. Without God’s grace, He would die in the Garden that night and never make it to the Cross. Christ was overwhelmed in His heart. And so He prayed “with strong crying and tears.” It was normal and natural in that situation. It would be surprising if He didn’t pray with feeling. Jesus prayed “with strong crying and tears.” And our text tells us that He “was heard.” God answered His prayer and kept Him alive to go to the Cross the next day. God answered His “strong crying and tears.”

Christian, I ask you, “Do you pray with crying and tears?” I’m not talking about every prayer you say. But again I ask you, “Do you ever pray with crying and tears?” I have, not nearly as often as I should. Do you sometimes pray with a burden of need, begging God for the answer – sometimes with crying and tears? If you never do, you do not have a good prayer life. If you are that way, don’t stop praying and wait until your prayers are better. That isn’t what God wants. But pray for God to give you conviction of your need, and then you will pray with feeling. If you fast, whenever you feel hunger, think of what you are praying for. Turn to God and pray.

Some of you are lost. You have not trusted Jesus. I ask you, “Do you feel your sin with crying and tears – at least some of the time?” Do you have any conviction of your sin? Crying isn’t the goal – Jesus is the goal. Trust Him whether you cry or not. But I say, “Do you feel any sadness over the sin of your heart?” You should, for your heart is “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Pray for God to show you the awful sin of your heart. Then pray that God will draw you to Christ.

Jesus is the answer to your need. He is the remedy and the payment for your sin. He died on the Cross to pay for every sin, even the sin of your heart. He shed His Blood to cover your sin and wash it away forever. He rose from the dead to conquer death with life, not only for Himself but for you. If you trust Jesus, you will be saved forever. If you would like to speak with us about trusting Christ, please come and sit in the first two rows. Amen.


THE OUTLINE OF

TEARS IN PRAYER

by Dr. Christopher L. Cagan

“Who in the days of his flesh, when he [Christ] had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7).

(Luke 22:44)

I.    First, false prayer with feeling, I Kings 18:26, 28, 29.

II.   Second, false prayer without feeling, Luke 18:11, 12;
Matthew 23:14.

III.  Third, true prayer with and without feeling, I Kings 18:36, 37, 39;
Psalm 39:12; II Kings 20:3, 5; Mark 9:24, 17; Jeremiah 17:9.