"I Don't Know How To Pray" Romans 8: 26-39 July 27, 2008
The 8th chapter of Romans is one of the goldmines of Scripture.
The powerful assurance of Romans 8 begins with Paul’s conviction that God’s Spirit senses our deepest, as yet inexpressible, yearnings to pray, and intercedes for us, speaking in our behalf (vv. 26-27).. Paul refers to the “groaning” of the creation in verse 22. In verse 23 he speaks of the “groaning” of the Christian. And finally in verse 26 he speaks of the intercessory “groanings” of the Holy Spirit. “Likewise” connects these verses to verses 22-23’s “groaning in labor pains” of the whole creation and to our “groaning inwardly,” as we await God’s deliverance
The hope which we look forward to we looked at in last week’s sermon, “Hope Springs Eternal.” This week we’ll look at the Spirit’s work in us, sustaining us, during our faith journey toward our future hope.
What is groaning? Groaning is a deep, inward response to suffering. It is both personal and intense, an agony so deep it cannot be put into words. Groaning is a universal language. Yet, groaning will be swallowed up by the glory of the sons of God which is yet to come. For the Christian, groaning directs our hope heavenward to that which is not yet seen.
Apart from God’s Spirit, the groaning Paul speaks of would be impossible for any mortal. This groaning is due to sin and its consequences. The Spirit within us bears witness that we are sons of God (our comfort). He also bears witness that the world in which we now live is surely not the kingdom of God (our groaning).
The Spirit’s presence and power produce groaning in the Christian because we understand not only what we now are, but what we will someday be. Presently we are aware that something is very wrong with the way we are and the way our world is. The Spirit testifies to this, producing groaning from deep within us.
Being a Christian, does not exempt us from suffering and groaning. In fact, the Christian’s suffering and groaning is intensified because he or she is a Christian and because the Spirit of God dwells within. If ever you feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world, it may be that in some small way, your spirit is identifying with the agony Jesus felt over the lost sheep of Israel on his way into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We can sense in our spirit when something is drastically wrong and we are grieved.
In several settings, I have heard people say, "I don't know how to pray," or, "I don't like to pray out loud.” I think sometimes we think that others might think we sound foolish. Some have the opinion that prayer needs to be, or sound, a certain way; that some words or phrases are more holy than others.
But God knows your heart. Rest in his love, knowing the Spirit communes with the Divine beyond your ability to form a coherent thought or a grammatically correct sentence.
We do not know how to pray, yet the Spirit transforms our weak groanings into prayer.
Prayer is learned in relationship with God and each other, not out of a book. We must do it to learn it. And as we do, we get to know God better, and as we get to know God better we feel more comfortable and begin to pray easier.
Anne LaMotte, author of several novels, has also written two books describing her faith journey. An alcoholic, coming from an intellectual, but dysfunctional home, she came to know Christ in her 30s. She writes unashamedly that her earliest prayers were, “Help, Help, Help” and “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.” And God heard her prayers.
As young Christians, my friend Paulette and I used to get together to pray as just to see what God would do. Both of us had come to know the Lord in our late 20s. We were excited, full of new life, full of hope. I believe God smiles on us and our efforts to pray just as parents proudly smile at their children’s efforts to crawl, walk and then run.
27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
When we lay in bed (illness, confusion, exhaustion), we can commune in the silence of our hearts as the Psalmist writes. We can communicate with God through the thoughts in our minds or the impressions of our heartfelt yearnings. Whether at home, in a hospital, nursing home, or unfamiliar, uncomfortable place, God hears our prayers if we will but turn to him in faith. All that is required is our turning our attention to God, in whatever way we are capable of at the moment.
In Reformed Theology we believe and encourage the priesthood of all believers. God will hear any of our prayers—there is no hierarchial spiritual order in Ref. Theo., or in the Presbyterian Church. Therefore, no one needs to feel inadequate or unqualified to pray on for another, whatever the circumstance, including in public or in a room full of people.
Trygve David Johnson, wrote in “Blogging toward Sunday,"
"When I can’t pray I often turn to the end of Romans 8. Here Paul pulls back the velvet curtain of revelation. What we see is amazing: a never-ending festivity where there sounds a strained, melodious, mysterious prayer that all the suffering in this present world cannot drown out." ("When I Can't Pray,"
In "Blogging toward Sunday," Theolog: The Blog of The Christian Century, 2008)
THE SPIRIT HELPS US TO PRAY:
In Romans 8:26, enlightening the mind in the knowledge of our needs, and those of others. The Spirit brings into our remembrance these things, suggesting them to us according to the word, together with the promises of God, on which prayer is grounded.
Jesus said in John 14:26, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." Hence it is that the saints are sometimes carried out in prayer for things which they had no view of before, and carried by some things they had.
In Psalm 10:17 we read, "Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear."
As leader of the 1st century Jerusalem church, James writes these words of instruction to the early church, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." (James 5:16) The word "effective" is from the Greek word "inwrought," as in Romans—the spirit groans in us.
The ministry of the Spirit is to us in our weakness: Our weakness lies in our complete inability to verbalize our groanings—or to know what to ask in prayer. Our groanings are beyond the ability of words to communicate—any words. When we cannot speak, the Spirit speaks for us, to God. The Holy Spirit is the communicative link between our own heart and the heart of God. He ministers to us in our present weakness.
As strange as it may sound, groaning characterizes the life of the Spirit-filled Christian. All creation presently groans. Every Christian should be groaning. Even the Spirit groans on our behalf. This is because our redemption, while certain, is not yet complete.
We are living in a world subject to corruption and futility. We are living in bodies subject to corruption and futility. We should be struggling with our own sin and imperfection. We know that what we are presently falls far short of what God yet intends to make of us when He completes His redemptive work in us.
Suffering is preparatory to sonship. Groaning is a prerequisite to glory. God intends for those things we see as wrong within us and in the world in which we live to create in us a hunger for heaven. …
Has suffering and groaning found its way into your life? Are there deep inner agonies you cannot even verbalize? Your experience is not unique. It is that of all creation. It is that which should be happening to every Christian at various times and with various levels of intensity. You should not feel guilt-ridden or unspiritual over your groanings.
If you have come to recognize your own fallenness and that of the world in which you live, you have come to see life as it really is. You are sharing in that same kind of suffering and groaning which our Lord experienced as the Son of God.
In this life, we are not what we wish to be or what we ultimately will be nor is creation. This produces in creation and in the Christian suffering and groaning as well the hope of that future redemption which God has promised. Because of Jesus Christ, nothing can ever ultimately come between God’s love for us and our love for God. Let us pray.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz