Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. 2 Cor. 5:2
Paul uses an interesting combination of words here to describe the push and pull of our spiritual lives— “groaning” and “longing.” These words represent the two main thrusts of our spiritual direction. The first is a desire to move away from the place or condition we are presently in, and the second is a movement towards that which our hearts ultimately long for. In their many varied expressions, these two movements of the Spirit propel the spiritual direction of every human life.
The word “groaning” well describes the heart’s experience of the first movement. It is a restlessness that seeks to push us away from “what is.” We are tired of who, or where, we are in life and we long for change. The Greek word used here is stena. It means to complain, usually with a sense of grief. We hear something of this type of sighing in the words of the Psalmists. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3) “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Ps. 13:2). “How long must your servant wait?” (Ps. 119:84). Perhaps you’ve also heard similar sighs in yourself at times. “How long must I remain in this condition?” “When will things ever change?”
Groaning is a birth pang that bemoans the ill-fitting state we find ourselves in. We long to leave the status quo in favour of the new creation that we picture possible for ourselves. It is a God-given restlessness that causes us to yearn for something beyond the “old order of things.” Even if we enjoy this life, our instincts tell us that it must surely pale compared to what lies ahead. The more we recognize the poverty of our situation in relationship to our “heavenly dwelling” the more our hearts will pine for our eternal inheritance.
If groaning represents the first movement of pushing away that energizes our spiritual direction, the second one comes from our forward-leaning desires. Paul says that our spirits “long to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.” The Greek word translated as “longing” here is epipotheo¸ which describes a deep yearning for what lies ahead. Much more than simply waiting for something to happen, it means to live in active participation with that which we hope for. Because we greatly desire it, we lean forward, anticipating the promise that awaits us. We hear something of this intense longing when the Psalmist cries out, “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps. 84:2). It is physiological. Even our bodies cry out for eternity as we long to be united with God.
Our hearts anticipate the fullness of joy that awaits us in God’s presence. We instinctively long to be more fully alive and everything in us resists the blanket of death that threatens to smother this hope in us. Because of Paul’s confident assurance that such is the destiny of every Christian, he is able to say to the Corinthians that “God has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2Cor. 5:5). No wonder we long for such things. They already belong to us!
Someday soon there will be no need for either of these yearnings as all will be fulfilled in Christ. In the meantime however, we will often experience groaning and longing in the push and pull of our spiritual lives. They are the two movements of the heart that carry us forward in our spiritual direction. Because we are restless for eternity, and because we groan at the unfulfilled state of our present lives, our pilgrimage will continue until we are one day finally “clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phil. 3:12-14
Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
(written for July 2nd, 2009)
For Group Discussion:
- Consider the movement of ‘pulling back from’ or looking for change in our lives. What are the things in your life which cause groaning in your spirit? Do you recognize what the groaning moves you TO?
- What is a yearning in your heart? As you examine that desire, what does it awaken in you? Is there an invitation from God?
For Prayer: Look at these movements in your life together with God. Ask God what direction He might be encouraging in you.