Do you ever cry when you pray? Have you wondered if it is okay to cry while you are praying?
What is it about prayer that can bring on tears in people?
Our emotions, that of joy or sorrow, can often rise to the surface as we pray, causing physical reactions such as crying. It is okay to cry when you pray, as praying is being vulnerable and transparent with God. Crying during prayer can give us relief and bring us closer to God.
To discover more about how and why we cry when we pray, please read through this whole article. You may find out that weeping tears is, in and of itself, a form of prayer. You may also discover that crying and praying are inexorably linked together.
So, you need not be afraid of crying when you pray, or surprised if it occurs. It’s a natural emotional process and it may serve as a help to you as you grasp the depth and seriousness of the issue to which you pray to God.
Praying and Crying in Scripture
There is much crying that occurs in the Bible, with much of it happening when people are praying in some form or another. I won’t list all of the instances here, but we can gain some needed insight as we examine a few of the passages.
“Hear my prayer, Lord,
listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping” (Psalm 39.12, NIV).
Here, the Psalmist is not only crying out to God (discussed later in this article) but also literally crying tears. Did you notice the wording? “Do not be deaf to my weeping.” The person praying is beseeching God with words, but also with tears. The person’s tears are a part of their prayer, as much as the words are.
This tells us that crying and praying are not only appropriate, but a part of prayer.
In this next passage, also from Psalms (which is like a giant prayer book in the middle of your Bible). Here we witness the depths of distress in the person praying. Whatever they are praying about, it is clear it is not a surface-level type of issue. They are praying a gut-wrenching kind of prayer.
“I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6.6, NIV).
Weeping and praying. Praying and crying. Both are ebbing and flowing in the Psalmist’s prayer time, where one begins and the other ends is not clear. It appears that saying words and crying tears happen together as one movement and action and reaction. Have you ever had to pray in this manner?
When we look at the story of Job, we can easily understand why he would be crying while praying. He undergoes a heavy spiritual testing and much trauma in his life. In this passage, we see him describing his physical condition, in the middle of a lengthy prayer in chapter 16.
“My face is red with weeping,
dark shadows ring my eyes” (Job 16.16, NIV).
If you’ve ever experienced deep or prolonged grief, you might recognize Job’s condition. When there is nowhere else to turn, praying to God seems like our last option and so we can identify with Job’s tear-ridden countenance. He pours his heart out to God in his prayers and through his tears.
The book of Lamentations is titled to be fairly self explanatory. It is a book of laments, the passionate expression of deep grief or sorrow. We see a poignant description of crying while praying from the prophet Jeremiah:
“Streams of tears flow from my eyes
because my people are destroyed.
My eyes will flow unceasingly,
without relief, until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees” (Lamentation 3.48-50, NIV).
It is also in Lamentations that we see one of the greatest expressions of God’s faithfulness.
As Jesus taught his disciples, he spoke with hope to those who need to cry when they pray:
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh” (Luke 6.21, NIV).
He is telling us that while there is cause for weeping now, one day all of that will pass away. There will be no more crying or pain, for we will be whole. What that tells us in the present time is that crying tears when we pray is necessary at times and appropriate.
Have you ever been so overwrought with emotion or the circumstances you face that you couldn’t even summon words, just tears as you wept in prayer?
God Hears Your Tears As Prayers
Did you know that your tears are prayers themselves? The Psalmist reminds us that God collects our tears in a bottle. Your tearful prayers are held by God.
“Record my misery;
put my tears in your wineskin—
are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56.8, NIV).
Can you picture the imagery of this? You are there, crying and weeping and the very tears that fall down your face are caught by God and collected, as God “hears” your weeping in prayer. What a loving God we worship!
Even Jesus prayed to God with his tears:
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Hebrews 5.7, NIV).
Doesn’t it give you a measure of comfort to know that if all you can do is cry, God hears those tears as prayers? Doesn’t it give you hope that you don’t have to come up with the perfect words, or words at all when the situation you face is so distressing that all you can do is weep?
There also may be times when you are crying out to God, in full emotive declaration, about what you face.
Crying Out To God In Prayer
Throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, you see people crying out to God in prayer. Should it be any surprise that when you pray, that you may experience tears running down your face?
The Hebrew people cried out to God in the midst of their slavery:
“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 (Exodus 2.23, NIV).
The Israelites cried out to God because of their sin in worshiping other Gods:
“Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals” (Judges 10.10, NIV).
Pagan sailors cried out to God for mercy for their actions involving Jonah:
“Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased” (Jonah 1.14, NIV).
Jesus’ own disciples cried out in fear when they thought they were going to drown in the middle of a storm:
“When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear” (Matthew 14.26, NIV).
These are but a few of the many examples of people facing very difficult circumstances crying out to God with all that they are. They use no fancy words or patterned prayer. They don’t follow a practiced sequence or speak in measured tones. The sum of their prayers is basically, “Help me, God!”
Have you ever been in a situation where you prayed a prayer like that? If you haven’t, you probably will at some point in your life. Know that it is okay to cry out to God, scream for help, and be completely open with God in your distress.
In this exchange with a doubtful father, Jesus heals the man’s son, even though the father begins by not being sure Jesus can do it. Note the father’s transparency as he turns to Jesus as his only hope:
“Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9.21-24, NIV).
You may rant and rave to your spouse about some topic, or grouse with your buddies about something that ticks you off, but only with God can we truly cry out. Only with God can we humble ourselves, and empty ourselves of the strong emotions we have as we pray.
It’s almost as if the act of praying, bowing your head, and acknowledging that you are speaking to the God of the universe, allows you to remove the obstacles and walls you may put up with other people.
So, whether we are literally crying tears, or passionately crying out to God from the depths of our pain and hurt, we are seeing that such actions and reactions are completely normal for praying to God, even encouraged. The whole of scripture points to weeping as we pray as a natural part of praying to God at times.
Now that we understand spiritually and biblically about prayers and tears, what is going on physically when we cry as we pray?
Why Do We Cry As We Pray?
We have different types of tears, depending on the needs of the eye, mostly. Emotional tears contain proteins and hormones that regular tears do not. In the midst of praying, you may be under stress about a situation in your life. Your limbic system kicks in, and emotional tears are cried, which may help lessen the stress.
Your limbic system oversees actions and responses needed for survival, like feeding, and fight or flight. It’s not too much of a stretch to see that crying as you pray is a vital part of your spiritual survival and growth. You need to cry at times when you pray!
As well, you often pray for other people that you love are care about a great deal. You are also likely praying for them because they are in a bad situation or need help (such as facing a health scare, disease, violence, or financial ruin). Your empathy and compassion for the person you love can overwhelm your body.
So, when you begin to pray, your body needs to release endorphins to help regulate all of this, and then you may find yourself weeping as you pray for the person as a result. This is not a hard equation, mind you, like: care for person + prayer = tears and weeping. Crying is not something you need to force or manufacture when you pray, but you don’t need to be ashamed of it when it happens.
It’s more about understanding that prayer is more than just talking to God. Prayer involves our body and emotions and our mind. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was overcome with emotion when he encountered Mary in the wake of the death of his good friend Lazarus:
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept (John 11.33-35, NIV).
We don’t know all of why Jesus wept, but it is enough for our purposes here to know that he wept. Given that Jesus lived as human as we do, just without sin, we can take comfort in knowing that when we cry in prayer, Jesus truly does know how we feel.
We don’t follow a distant or impersonal Savior. We worship and follow a Redeemer who knows what we go through and understands us and what we face in a very real way.
You may think that if you cry in front of others, they may think that you are weak, or can’t handle the situation. But isn’t that the point of why we pray to God? Aren’t we, simply by turning to God in prayer, acknowledging to God, ourselves, and anyone around us when we pray, that we can’t do this alone? Don’t we need to be okay with being transparent and stop trying to put up a fake facade?
It’s not like we can pretend that what has brought us to our knees (literally or figuratively) is not overwhelming to us. We sure are not going to fool God by acting as if we have it all together–God sees right through all of that:
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4.13-15, NIV).
God the Son, Jesus Christ can empathize with us. Do you catch the great significance of that? Because of Jesus, God the Father knows that what we face is more than we can deal with. God knows that our life is a mess at the present moment and we are powerless to do anything about it. God welcomes our prayers because it means we are honest enough with ourselves to know that we need God. It is in the expression of true need that true intimacy with God is found.
In such moments, we will likely cry. We will not care what other people think because all we know is that we are drowning in a sea of events and actions that are frightening and all we want is someone to hear our cry for help. We know that only God can truly be that lifesaver. Everything else fades into the background as we turn our eyes to the One who has the power and the authority to do something in our situation.
Why would we not weep tears of relief at such a moment? Why would we try to stifle our weeping in the midst of our weakness as broken human beings? Isn’t that what the children’s song reminds us of: “we are weak, but he is strong”? Are we not like little children when we come to God the Father in prayer, about anything?
“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears.”
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
You can cry when you pray. In some cases, you probably should cry when you pray. It is okay to cry when you pray. It is okay not to cry too. The act of coming to God with a need you have may bring forth tears from your eyes. This is normal. This is appropriate and okay. If it happens, don’t worry about it. Just go with the emotion of the moment.
Whether you cry or not when you pray is not the point of this article. The point is to let you know that prayer and weeping are often linked together, and if it occurs, you don’t need to be concerned or self-conscious about it.
You should never be ashamed of being honest before God when you pray. May your prayers keep coming, and may your tears keep flowing as needed.