We are in Romans chapter 8 which is packed with some of the best promises of God you are going to find anywhere in the Bible. If you haven’t already go home and read Romans 8 today or this week. It won’t take you long. These promises speak of the victory we have in Christ.
The past three Sundays we have heard the promises that though we fail we are not condemned by God,
…that the Spirit of Christ lives in us, guiding us in our lives as Christians,
…that though we suffer God is bringing a glory to be revealed that will make our present suffering look like nothing.
This morning we hear a promise about prayer. Prayer is part of our relationship with God. That our God is a personal God, who we can communicate with and he with us, who hears us and will respond, this is a blessed gift. We can be thankful that we have a God who is in our lives and wants us to approach him with our burdens and cares as well as our joys and thanks.
Prayer is an expression of our dependence of God. I pray because I need God. I pray because I need to take his hand and let him walk me through life.
Prayer is a gift, but prayer can also be one of the most frustrating parts of our relationship with the Lord. Most of us probably feel that we should pray more. We know prayer is important but we kind of offer a thought to God here and there, kind of like a text to God when we think about it, and leave it at that. We can feel guilty that we don’t pray enough.
Sometimes we hear that success in prayer is measured by how long we pray. We are supposed to pray fifteen minutes or for a half-hour or even an hour every day. Who can do that? Holding a watch to our prayer life can make it a burden. There is no place in Scripture where prayer is valued based on how many minutes or hours we pray. Martin Luther said prayer should be fervent, intense, and brief.
Or we don’t have the words. Or we don’t know if it does any good.
Jesus prayed. He taught his followers to pray. Throughout the Bible we are instructed to pray. It is part of the life of faith.
If we understand prayer as a way we nurture the relationship God wants to have with us then we are going to want to give prayer some attention. We can’t have a good relationship with a dear friend, or spouse, or child, or anyone else if we never talk to them, communicate with them, or are present with them. Same with God. But prayer is a matter of the heart more than the clock. Praying well is more important than praying long.
A saying that I live by, which I heard one wise person say, is this: “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”
If you can’t pray for ten minutes pray for five minutes. If you can’t pray silently, then pray out loud. If you can’t pray kneeling, then sit. If you can’t pray sitting, then walk as you pray. If you can’t pray with your mind, then write your prayer. If you can’t pray in the morning then pray in the afternoon or evening. If you can’t pray at bedtime pray when you get up.
Pray as you can, not as you can’t. God wants to hear from us. God wants to speak to us. He wants to do things in our lives. There are certain things that are not going to happen in your life unless you pray. Whether that is greater faith, deeper love, wisdom, a change in attitude, some material blessing, or understanding. There are things God has to give that will only come through prayer.
If prayer is new to you I would encourage you to begin praying. Begin praying where you are as you are.
In Romans 8 Paul writes that we have a weakness in our praying (which might not be news for most of us). Who of us can’t use all the help we can get? What is that weakness? We do not know for what we ought to pray.
I don’t think Paul means that we just have no clue what to pray for. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave them what we call The Lord’s Prayer. That is certainly knowing what to pray. Many of us just finished a seven-week class on prayer. We definitely know how to pray, right?
I think Paul means that there are times we don’t know how to pray as we ought. We can’t see it all, we don’t know it all, we can’t figure it all. Paul writes this not to discourage us but to bring some good news. The good news is that in our weakness the Spirit prays for us.
We are seeing that the Spirit of Christ is mentioned again and again in Romans 8. 21 times he is mentioned. Jesus called the Holy Spirit our Advocate. He said that he will abide with us and will be in us. An advocate helps us, takes up our cause, and comes alongside of us. And one of the things the Spirit does in our lives as our Advocate is pray for us.
Paul says the Spirit prays for us in a way that is beyond words. The Spirit prays for us according to God’s will. And the Father, who knows your heart and my heart, also knows the mind of the Spirit. It’s like he reads the Spirit’s mind. There is an intimate communication, deeper than words, going on where the Spirit brings us before the Father.
I’ll be honest, I rarely think about this. I pray, but I often think I am on my own. I’m not thinking that the Holy Spirit is praying for me. I need to remember that prayer does not totally depend on me, but that I have an Advocate praying for me as I pray.
There are at least four ways the Spirit helps us as we pray. First, the Spirit prays when we don’t have the words. There are times we may not know what to pray. The burden may be too heavy, the situation too confusing, the pain too great. And we just don’t have the words. I have been in hospital rooms where the news was just delivered and I really didn’t have words to pray.
When we don’t know what to pray we can take confidence that the Holy Spirit can take what is on our hearts and minds and take them to the Father. We may not know what to pray, but the Spirit is our safeguard. He is our translator, who takes our jumbled thoughts, our confused words, and even our inner pain, and brings them to the Father.
In the passage before this that we read last week we saw that all creation groans and we groan under the suffering of this present life. I think the Spirit praying in wordless groans means he identifies with our groans and brings them to God. He reads us and the Father reads him.
The second way the Spirit helps us in prayer is when we think we know what we need, but we don’t know that what we think we know we need would actually not be good for us. What we pray for would actually be bad for us. There are things that might look good for us but the Spirit knows would actually hurt us.
We think we want that job. We imagine that it would be perfect. But the Spirit prays that we don’t get that job because God knows that there is a hidden toxic environment there. Or the Spirit understands there is an unstable future for that organization. Or it would adversely effect our family.
It’s like three-year old who sees his Mom painting the room. He reaches out his hand asking for the pain brush. He doesn’t realize that if that pain brush got into his hands he would make a real mess of things. He’d get paint on the couches and on the floor, and tip over the can, and get it on himself. We are like that child in that we think we know what is good for us though it might be bad for us.
Or we pray for some trouble to go away that actually God will use for our good. Testing is one of these. God might test us to correct or mature us. He may do this through some adversity. That cranky neighbor, feelings of uselessness, or some other pressure. Or we pray for prosperity but God knows that might make us proud, while the testing might correct us and give us more understanding in life.
Trials and troubles are often useful for our growth. Sometimes difficulties can grow us in patience, expand our love, or make us more reliant and closer to the Lord.
Sometimes God puts us through things to refine us from certain sins and things that block us from a full life with God. We, in our ignorance, ask God to get us out of these things when they can actually be to our benefit. The Spirit sees and knows this and prays for us according to God’s will.
St. Teresa of Avila said, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” Let’s be careful what we ask for, and let’s want what God wants for us. Let’s ask for God to give us things that are pleasing to him.
God is not into making life miserable. But he does want to open us to him so that we become receptive. You want to follow Christ and know fullness in him, you have to be receptive. Sometimes he will leave challenging things in our lives so that we become more receptive to him.
Or, God wants us to rely on him more. Paul shares an experience that we find in 2 Corinthians about how he asked God three times to take away the “thorn in the flesh” that, as he put it, was tormenting him. We aren’t told what this thorn in the flesh was, but it was something that made Paul feel weak. Maybe it was some physical issue. Maybe it was emotional or mental. Maybe it was relational. I’ve probably been a thorn in the flesh to some people. Paul asked God to take this away, but he heard the Lord say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The Lord didn’t take away Paul’s pain but gave him grace to bear it. It was an opportunity for God’s power to show in Paul. When Paul understood this he was able to say that he will all the more gladly boast of his weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon him. The adversity might lead us to more of God’s grace.
A doctor has to do what will restore us to health and sometimes that is not what we want. We don’t want that treatment or surgery. But that is what will be best for us. We may ask God for things that aren’t good for us. Spirit knows better than we do what is for our benefit and for our salvation.
Thirdly, the Spirit helps us pray when we don’t know what we need, and we know we don’t know what we need. We are confused about some situation. We need guidance but don’t know what to do. We feel lost. We don’t pretend to tell God what to do. The Spirit, who is our Advocate, takes this to the Father.
Sometimes my best prayer is “Help!” That’s a good prayer to have in your back pocket. It’s short, easy to remember, and doesn’t take a lot of thought. Anyone can pray it. “Help, Lord!”
We need to keep it real when we pray. The writer, Anne Lamott, shares this as an example of how she has prayed at times:
I am just a mess.
It is all hopeless.
What else is new?
I would be sick of me, if I were You, but miraculously You are not.
I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this. Yet I believe that if I accept this and surrender; You will meet me wherever I am.
Wow. Can this be true? If so, how is this afternoon – say, two-ish?
Thank you in advance for Your company and blessings.
You have never once let me down.
This is where those wordless groans come in. The Spirit hears that “help!” or hears our groans, and the Spirit prays for us, asking for the wisdom and light we need.
Fourth, the Spirit prays when our prayer is too small. Sometimes we pray for crumbs and God wants to give us the whole loaf. Sometimes we want a little cheese and God wants to give us the whole enchilada. We don’t pray big enough.
Yes, there are times God will say “No” but there are times God says “Yes” and goes beyond what we imagined. We pray for copper and he wants to give us gold.
Phil might be praying for a large enough offering to make the plumbing repair, and the Spirit prays for a large, generous donor who will allow more than just survival, but will give a great gifts to open doors for great opportunities for ministry for months and years to come.
You are praying for that job change, and the Spirit prays for a flourishing career. The Spirit will take our small prayers and exchange them for big prayers if he sees fit.
Whether we don’t have the words to pray,
or we are praying for the wrong thing,
or we don’t know what to pray for,
or am praying too small, the Spirit of the living God is praying for you and me. And he does it according to God’s will.
He will sort out our prayers. The Father knows our hearts and he knows the mind of the Spirit and connects the two.
Who better to pray for us than One who is one with the Father? If the Spirit is praying for us we can’t lose.
There is always give and take in prayer. We pray. We wait. We wonder what God is doing. We see fruit. We see things change. We see things get worse. We see nothing happening. It takes faith. That is good. It keeps us seeking and meeting with God. That is where he wants us: trusting in him.
And whatever happens, the Spirit of the Lord is on our side. Maybe one of the ways we need to begin all our praying is “Spirit, help me to pray.”
Lastly, it says the Spirit does this for God’s people. The Spirit does not just pray for anyone. He prays for God’s people. Some Bibles read more accurately, “the saints.” Saints aren’t perfect. They just belong to God.
You’ve got to be related to God. And that happens through the Son, Jesus Christ. God’s people – the saints - are those who trust in God. God’s people are those who walk with God. We are those who are believing and baptized worshipers of him. God’s people are those who live our lives to honor God and ask for his forgiveness when we don’t. We know who Christ is and we bank our lives on him.
These are the ones the Spirit prays for according to the will of God. You might say we have special access. We have this blessing. We have this victory.
And that is a good reason to pray. Say to the person next to you, “The Spirit’s praying for you.”
I hope prayer is part of your life, however you do that because it will look a little different for everyone. Pray as you can, not as you can’t, knowing that the Spirit of God is in the process.
Prayer: So Holy Spirit, help us to pray. Lead us as we pray. Thank you for taking our prayers behind the scenes and praying in ways that are beyond even words. Hear our groaning and translate it to the Father.
Be our Advocate and help us. Thank you for this victory you gift to us as we continue to live by faith in Christ. Amen.
 Help, Wow, Thanks, p. 34