Tears (The Gift of Tears)

The "gift of tears" is also known as "compunction," "tears of prayer," "prayer of tears," "tears of the Spirit," "baptism of tears," and other phrases. The Bible says a lot about tears. Did you know that shedding tears was so important to show mourning that in Old Testament times, professional mourners were hired for funerals? Jeremiah 9:17-21 talks about skillful "wailing women" teaching their daughters and one another to lament. Amos 5:16 talks about even the farmers being "summoned to weep and the mourners to wail." In the Jewish Mishnah, the first recording of the Oral laws and traditions of the Jews written around AD 200 compiled by Rabbi Judah, he said that "even the poorest in Israel should hire not less than two flutes and one wailing woman" for his wife's funeral (Ketubot 4:4). This tradition is found in the New Testament when Jesus enters a Jairus's house in Matthew 9:18-26 (also found in Mark and Luke) and it says "Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing" (Mt 9:23) and Mark remarks that the crowd has people who "wept and wailed loudly" (Mark 5:38).

In Psalm 56:8 we read, "You number my wanderings; Put my tears into your bottle; are they not in your book?" "Bottle" is also translated wineskin. The Hebrew word for bottle (no’d) comes from an unused Hebrew root meaning skin such as a wineskin (see Josh 9:4, 13; Judg 4:19; 1 Sam 16:20). [1]In Roman times, it was apparently a custom of some people to save their tears, although it is disputed that they saved them in "lachrymatories" or tear bottles. The confirmed use of bottles during this period by apothecaries lends credibility to the argument that lachrymatory were actually never used to capture tears but rather used for medicine and perfume. However, it is clear that the concept of capturing tears existing in the popular culture of the time.[2] "During the American Civil War, the women would collect their tears in tear bottles and saved them until their husbands returned from battle. Their collected tears would show the men how much they were adored and missed. In Victorian times, fanciful tear botles were created with special stoppers. Mourners would collect their tears. When the tears evaporated and were gone, the mourning period was ended, but the bottle remained as a token of eternal devotion." (http://oldtestamentpassion.blogspot.com/2007/09/on-tuesday-morning-chapel-stm-lecturers.html)

It is important to mention that there is a difference between being emotional and receiving the gift of tears. The tears are not based on emotion but are an exterior sign of an inward work by the Spirit of God. For example, most people don't realize how emotional Joseph was. We read in Genesis 42:24, "And he turned himself away from them and wept." Then in Genesis 45:1-2 it says, "Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Make everyone go out from me!” So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it." In 45:14-15 we read, "Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him." In the next chapter he meets his father and it says, "he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time." Joseph did go through a lot but it's interesting in just a few chapters he is weeping so much. These tears appear to come from what he was going through. On the other hand, the prophet Jeremiah has been called "the weeping prophet." This weeping appears to be a work of God upon his heart but it could have come from his anguish (Jer. 4:19; 9:1; 10:19-20; 23:9). Jeremiah's name means "The Lord throws," in the sense that either he was thrown into a hostile environment or nations being thrown in divine judgment for their sins. With the gift of tears, it's not uncommon to be emotional but it is based upon a work of the Holy Spirit and not your emotions.


In wasn't until I began writing this article that I discovered that the gift of tears has a long tradition, particularly with the Catholics, Church Fathers, and Eastern mystics; people such as St. John of the Cross, St. Symeon, St. Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Thomas a Kempis and Augustine who composed a prayer for "the gift of tears." William James, in his famous work  The Varieties of Religious Experience, noted "Many saints, even as energetic ones as Teresa and Loyola, have possessed what the church traditionally reveres as a special grace, the so-called gift of tears."[3] Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick, wrote extensively about what appeared to be a gift of tears.[4] The old Puritans also used to pray for "the gift of tears."[5]

The following paragraph is from the life of Saint Ignatius:

"He sometimes Cried so much at Mass that he could not go on, nor even talk for some time, and he was afraid that his Gift of Tears might cause him the lose of his eyesight. Gonclaves de Camara said, 'When he did not Weep three times during Mass, he considered himself deprived of consolation.'"

Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, says these drops "are like the breaking of the waters of the womb before the birth of a child." That's a wonderful way to describe the connection between pain and joy.[6]

Fr. Maloney SJ, in Inward Stillness, records the teaching that this term is used because the waters of baptism only dealt with past sin, while the waters of our tears often relate to God's washing away of our present sin.

'First pray for the gift of tears, so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul. And having confessed your transgressions to the Lord, you will obtain forgiveness from Him' (Evagrius of Pontus, On Prayer, 5).

Symeon, the New Theologian, (a.d. 949-1022) shared the belief of his contemporaries about the gift of tears marking a 'second baptism.' He said, "God has removed all tears from the face of this earth by means of baptism, having poured out richly His Holy Spirit. But, as I have heard from the Holy Scriptures, certain adults, upon being immersed in this baptism, have shed tears, because they were pricked by the descent of the Spirit. They were not painful and laborious tears, but sweeter than honey by virtue of the working and the gift of the Holy Spirit."

St. John Climacus saw tears as more powerful than baptism: "The fountain of tears after Baptism is greater than Baptism itself, although this may seem a bold thing to say…. Our first Baptism we received as babies, but we have all polluted it; through tears we regain the purity of our first Baptism" (Ladder of Divine Ascent, 7 (PG 88:804AB); tr. Luibheid and Russell, 137) St. John Climacus concludes by saying: "If you put on blessed and grace-filled mourning as a wedding robe, you will know the spiritual laughter of the soul" (Ladder of Divine Ascent, 7 (PG 88:804AB); tr. Luibheid and Russell, 140). Thomas Bailey Aldrich says in his peom Two Moods, "Dear Lord, though I be changed to senseless clay, And serve the Potter as he turn his wheel, I thank Thee for the gracious gift of tears!"[7] It's this strange dualism which Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians when he said:

"Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

St. John Chrysostom explicates, “The fire of sin is intense but it is put out by a small amount of tears.”

Tears are like "blood from the wounds in our souls," according to St. Gregory of Nyssa (Funeral Oration of the Empress Flacilla: ed. Spira, 477)

There is a Jewish proverbs which says, “What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul.” Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninow writes, “A dirty garment cannot be washed without water; and without tears it is impossible for the soul to be washed and cleansed of its defilements and impurities.” St. Symeon the new Theologian writes, “To wash a soiled garb without water is impossible; to purify a rusty, stained soul without tears is even more inconceivable.


I am not sure where I heard the term "gift of tears" but I'm sure I had. However, it became a real gift when I began praying for it. Sometime after I got converted in High School, I was burdened at one point because I wasn't as emotional as I was when I first got saved. I loved being emotional, particularly in worship, and I began to deliberately pray for the gift of tears. I probably have it marked in a Bible or journal, but I soon began to get very emotional, and it was probably during a time of "seeking God's face."It's strange but during these times I always become like a crying baby! I cried often as the Holy Spirit moved on my heart. I cried often during worship and would get "lost" in it, often for long periods of time. I cried in prayer and intercession, and sensed that I was gifted and called to the ministry of intercession because of how remarkable this became. Again, the tears are not based simply on emotion but are an exterior sign of an inward work of the Spirit of God.


1. REPENTANCE - When I was converted, the Holy Spirit moved strongly and I cried for hours on the phone. The Holy Spirit will sometimes move you in repentance over your sin with conviction along with the gift of tears.

2. WORSHIP - Worship and music really stir my emotions and I sometimes get "lost" in worship, unaware of my surroundings and focussed on the Lord and communing with Him. I love to listen to long worship mixes all by myself somewhere completely quiet (except for the music and me occasionally) and away from all distractions.

3. PAIN/BREAKING - The Lord also uses pain and even "breaks" us emotionally. Like the pressure exerted on a piece of coal to yield a diamond, the Lord exerts tremendous pressure on us to make His glory come forth from us.

4. SEEKING GOD'S FACE - There are special times when God calls us out of the routine of our daily lives and His only command is simply to "seek his face." I encourage you to read my page on "seeking God's face" here.

In heaven there will be no more crying but there may be tears of joy (Revelation 21:4), regardless, lets enjoy them while we can!


1. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 5 pg. 400
2. http://www.lachrymatory.com/roman.htm Accessed October 28, 2010
3. http://www.psychwww.com/psyrelig/james/james10.htm Accessed October 28, 2010
4. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/manup/tsc/2007/00000022/00000002/art00006 Accessed October 28, 2010
5. http://utmost.org/repentance/ Accessed October 28, 2010
6. http://www.beliefnet.com/Holistic-Living/2005/09/Tears-Are-For-The-Soul.aspx Accessed October 28, 2010
7. http://www.archive.org/stream/poemsofthomas00aldrrich/poemsofthomas00aldrrich_djvu.txt Accessed October 28, 2010

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