Just as parents hear the slightest sighs of their children as if through a megaphone, God hears our own sighs as loud cries.
I’ll never forget hearing our first child whimpering in the bassinet by our bed. To me, the whimpers sounded like shrieks that were nearly unbearable. My parental ears magnified barely audible sounds of pain or worry. Even now that we have three more autonomous grade schoolers, I’m still able to hear the slightest sigh of worry, embarrassment, or deep fear from the sidelines of a soccer field or across a crowded playground.
Thankfully, our heavenly Father hears our sighs as cries across far greater distances than soccer fields and playgrounds. Thanks to his indwelling Spirit — who is nearer to us than the air we breathe — we have a sigh translator before the throne of God.
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27)
In the context of this passage, Paul is describing our life in the Spirit while we live on this groaning, broken planet, longing for full adoption as sons. Paul assumes Christians will face suffering in its broad spectrum — from daily inconveniences and exhaustion to unbearable diagnoses and unimaginable tragedy. Sighs, both trivial and tragic, are expected and anticipated; however, they are heard in stereo by a compassionate and caring Savior, who longs to bear the brunt of the weights that fall upon us in this long march to our forever home. J.C. Ryle says, “Fear not because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and your language poor. Jesus can understand you.”
The unseen and unheard sighs of a tired mother in her laundry room are caught and translated by the Spirit of God. The sighs of refugees forced out of their cultures and nations by violence resound loudly in the ears of our heavenly Father. The sighs of breadwinners weighed down by the burden of providing for their families, the exhausted sighs of single parents, and the labored sighs of the sick and dying are noticed by our God.
From the Wilderness to the Sea
Even before the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the children of God, he was accustomed to hearing the sighs of his people as cries. In Genesis 21, God heard Hagar and her cast-off son whimpering in the wilderness.
God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.” (Genesis 21:17)
Later, Moses found himself at the helm of an entire nation of escaping people. Just hours after their break from Egypt, Israel stood on the edge of an impassable sea with the strongest army in the known world gaining on them.
With his petrified people looking to him in fear, outwardly Moses does what any great leader would do: he composes himself and calms his people, saying, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Exodus 14:13). Yet inwardly, the heart of Moses must have been sighing in silence to God. Immediately after Moses’s charge to Israel, God tells Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15).
Regarding this scene, Martin Luther wrote,
Moses has not cried unto the Lord. He trembled so he could hardly talk. His faith was at a low ebb. He saw the people of Israel wedged between the sea and the approaching armies of Pharaoh. How were they to escape? Moses did not know what to say. How then could God say that Moses was crying to him? God hears the groaning heart of Moses and the groans to him sounded like shouts for help. God is quick to catch the sigh of the heart. (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, 61)
Ten Little Words
Those ten little words have comforted my soul of late: God is quick to catch the sigh of the heart. He hears our silent sighs under the heavy mantle of leadership or parenting. He hears our short sighs of loneliness or exhaustion or choking grief that go unnoticed by others, and he seeks to comfort us.
The Spirit is translating those sighs into prayers according to the perfect will of God. May we be comforted to know that our Father hears our slightest sighs as loud cries. He will continue to do so until our sighs of worry or pain or exile are swallowed up by our sighs of relief when we see our Christ fact to face in his new heavens and new earth.