What does it mean to “cry out” to God?

Relying on God in desperate times

6 min

Throughout history, believers have cried out to God in times of distress. Crying out is voicing a fervent petition to God, usually aloud. Sometimes after years of praying, a single, desperate, urgent moment of crying out will yield direction or deliverance immediately. There can be powerful results from crying out to God, and the promise is clear: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Psalm 50:15, emphasis added).

Various passages throughout the Bible instruct believers to cry out to God in times of trouble. Here are a few examples:

  • “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:3).
  • “The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17).
  • “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).

Crying Out in Scripture

The following Hebrew and Greek words, their definitions, and the descriptions of how they are used in Scripture give a clearer picture of what it means to cry out.

  • A cry of deep distress: zaaq (Hebrew)
    God “didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry [zaaq] by the Red sea; And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land” (Nehemiah 9:9, 11).
  • To cry out for help: tsaaq (Hebrew)
    When the Israelites could not find fresh water in the wilderness, Moses “cried [tsaaq] unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet” (Exodus 15:25).
  • To call with a loud sound: qara (Hebrew)
    “Jabez called [qara] on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed . . . . And God granted him that which he requested” (I Chronicles 4:10).
  • To shout a war cry: ruwa (Hebrew)
    “Then the men of Judah gave a shout [ruwa]: and as the men of Judah shouted, it came to pass, that God smote Jeroboam and all Israel” (II Chronicles 13:15).
  • A cry for help: shavah (Hebrew)
    “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry [shavah], and will save them” (Psalm 145:19).
  • A cry of deep distress: tsaaqah (Hebrew)
    “. . . He forgetteth not the cry [tsaaqah] of the humble” (Psalm 9:12).
  • To cry out: krazo (Greek)
    When the Apostle Peter walked out on the water at the invitation of Jesus, Peter “was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried [krazo], saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (Matthew 14:30–31).
  • To implore with strong voice: boao (Greek)
    A blind man in Jericho heard that Jesus was passing near him. “And he cried [boao], saying, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. . . . And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 18:38, 42).

Characteristics of Crying Out

Crying out to God is an act of desperation and total concentration. This action is a fervent expression of faith in God and trust in His goodness and power to act on your behalf. Crying out to God expresses the following traits:

Genuine humility

Pride makes it difficult to admit that we cannot solve a problem or overcome an obstacle, but it is always true that we need God’s help. While God does resist the proud who believe they have no need of Him, He delights in a broken and contrite heart that humbly seeks His aid. “. . . He forgetteth not the cry of the humble” (Psalm 9:12). (See also Psalm 10:17.)

Unconditional surrender

When a situation becomes so desperate that only God can deliver you, crying out represents total, unconditional surrender to Him and His ways. Don’t try to bargain with God. Confess, repent, and totally surrender yourself to His perfect will. “I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me” (Psalm 66:17–20).

A plea for mercy

Apart from Christ, we have no value that merits God’s favor. When driven to a point of despair or destruction, your unworthiness before God often becomes more apparent, motivating you to cry out to Him for mercy. It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

Personal helplessness

Do you tend to believe that you need God’s help with only the really hard issues and matters of life? We need God in every situation we are in. Remember: Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Faith in God’s power and resources

Your cry to God acknowledges His ability to do what no one else can do. During the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples acknowledged Jesus’ power to rescue them when they cried out, “Lord, save us: we perish” (Matthew 8:25).

Your cry to God acknowledges God’s ability to do what no one else can do.


Crying out to God is an admission of one’s coming to the end of self and placing hope in God alone. The psalmist declared, “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears” (Psalm 18:6).

Examples of God’s Response to Crying Out

The Bible is filled with illustrations of God answering the cries of His people. Below are a few examples of occasions when individuals cried out to God, and He heard and delivered them:

  • Elijah cried out, and God revived a dead child:
    “He cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (I Kings 17:20–22).
  • Jehoshaphat cried out, and God delivered him from death:
    “It came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, It is the king of Israel. Therefore they compassed about him to fight: but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the LORD helped him; and God moved them to depart from him” (II Chronicles 18:31).
  • Hezekiah cried out, and God gave him victory:
    “Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz, prayed and cried to heaven. And the LORD sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land” (II Chronicles 32:20–21).
  • Jesus’ disciples cried out to Him in a storm, and Jesus calmed the sea:
    “As they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:23–24).
  • Blind Bartimaeus called to Jesus, and He restored his sight:
    “And they came to Jericho:and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highwayside begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: But he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way” (Mark 10:46–52).

An Invitation from the Living God

Psalm 50:15 declares this Word from the Lord: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee.” As children of the living God, our Heavenly Father appeals to us to cry out to Him for deliverance. Let us be quick to cry out to Him in humility, sincerity, surrender, and faith. God “will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them” (Psalm 145:19).

Crying out in prayer is not a way of “twisting God’s arm,” nor is it a method to be employed to get more results than “regular” praying. You do not need to assume a special position of prayer or say certain words. Crying out involves fervent, wholehearted prayer, not just routine recitations. It might be public, but not necessarily. It might be loud, but not necessarily. Crying out simply involves intense prayer unto a Heavenly Father who loves to have His children call upon Him in their times of need. Consider these verses in Jeremiah: “Then ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12–13).

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