If there is one area in our Christian life where many of us struggle, it is in the area of prayer. Many find their prayer lives to be labored, inconsistent, and far less than what they would like them to be. C.J. Vaughn wrote, “If I wished to humble anyone, I should question him about his prayers. I know nothing to compare with the topic for its sorrowful confessions” (Hughes, GREAT STORIES p. 316)
We understand the importance of prayer. We know the power of prayer. However, we often struggle with the practice of prayer. From our text this morning it seems apparent that God is well aware of our dilemma.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Our passage begins with the words, “in the same way”. This is a reference back to the groaning of creation that waits for its’ liberation from bondage due to sin and to our own groaning as we await our final redemption. Paul points out that in the same way the Holy Spirit is groaning . . . yearning for the day when we will be purified and made whole
Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. There are lots of areas where we are weak. We are weak physically sometimes. We are exhausted and feel we can’t continue. We are weakened by the remnants of sin in our life. We are weak emotionally when we find ourselves overwhelmed. And we are often weak spiritually because we lack faith in the goodness and wisdom of God’s character and Word. But the weakness that Paul points to is our intellectual weakness. We have an inability to know what to ask God for in prayer. These times are frequent. Let me give you some examples
- We don’t know whether to pray for a person’s healing or to pray that God would prepare them (and us) for the journey home. We know people aren’t meant to live forever.
- We don’t know whether to pray for God to provide for our financial needs or to ask Him to help us live more simply within our resources.
- We don’t know whether to pray for a relationship to develop or for to ask God to help us wait for something better.
- We face a crossroads in our lives and we don’t know which way to turn.
- We face an opportunity and we don’t know whether to pray for God to give us boldness to step out in faith, or the patience to wait on Him.
The reality is that we don’t know what to pray because we don’t know what the future holds. Let’s face it, if you knew you only had one year to live, you would pray differently than if you knew you had 25 years of life ahead of you?
Think about our current situation as a church. We are pondering a building program. It would be easier to know what to do and how to pray if we knew what the economy will do and whether the church will continue at its present rate of growth. Because we don’t know the future, we aren’t sure the right way to pray.
We also don’t know what to pray because at any given time we don’t know what is best for us. We know what we prefer at any given moment but we don’t know what is best for our ultimate good. If you offer most children the choice between a nachos, chips and candy and a plate of vegetables and fruit, most children are going to choose the candy. Likewise, we will always choose to avoid difficulties even though strength and patience is developed in the trials. God sees the big picture and we don’t.
Paul tells us that God has given us His Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness. The word for “help” is a rich word that carries with it the idea of a person who comes alongside another to take part of the heavy load and help him bear it. God has given us His Holy Spirit to help us in our prayer lives.
Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. When one person intercedes for another they go to another on their behalf in order to reconcile the two parties. In this sense the Holy Spirit is said to go to the Father on our behalf to interpret and give voice to the prayers of our heart.
The Holy Spirit intercedes with groans that words cannot express. Some people believe this verse is talking about what is often called a “prayer language” or a form of speaking in tongues. That’s not the case because we are told that the groaning is of such nature that words (in any language) cannot express. The Holy Spirit communicates with the Father in a deep, intimate, and wordless language that we can’t comprehend or express.
Paul also tells us that Holy Spirit prays effectively on our behalf because the Spirit prays in accordance with God’s will. The Holy Spirit knows what is best for our life. He knows God’s plan for us. He knows the purpose of every event and situation in our life. The Holy Spirit
prays for God to accomplish His work in us.
Jump down to verse 34 and notice something else. Not only is the Holy Spirit interceding for us here on earth, but “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” We have earthly assistance and heavenly assistance! God understands our weakness in prayer and has provided all kinds of help!
Let me try to draw a picture or an analogy of the work of the Holy Spirit. I picture the Holy Spirit working much like an editor does for a writer. The writer puts words down on a page with the intention of conveying a particular truth or concept. The editor takes the work of the writer, corrects it grammatically, and makes changes, cuts, and revisions that will help the real message come through the pile of words.
When I wrote Faith Lessons, I submitted my manuscript to an editor. When the edited manuscript was returned for my approval, I was pained by some of the cuts. However, as I studied the before and after versions of the manuscript I saw that the editor’s work made the book sharper and more focused. The work of the editor better expressed my heart and intention than my own words did.
It seems to me that in a similar way, the Holy Spirit edits our prayers and makes them more effective. The Holy Spirit polishes our work and sends it on to the Father in perfect form.
SOME HELPFUL PRINCIPLES FOR PRAYER
Let’s list some principle about prayer that we can draw from this passage. First we need to see that God wants us to pray. After all we have just said it is tempting to conclude that prayer is really superfluous. If the Spirit is praying for us, and doing so more effectively than we can do ourselves, then it would appear that we don’t need to pray.
Remember we are told the Spirit helps us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit does not eliminate the need of prayer; He helps us as we pray. No matter how good an editor is the editor can do nothing without the original words of the author. In like manner, the Holy Spirit cannot augment our prayers if there are no prayers to augment. In accordance with God’s sovereign plan He has summoned us to pray. God knows our weakness. He understands our limited perspective. In spite of all this He still calls us to talk with Him.
Do you really wonder why? Your little toddler sometimes comes up to you and starts chatting away and doesn’t make any sense in what they are saying; do you tell them not to talk to you? Of course not! Your older child may ask you for something that you cannot give them because you know it is something that is bad for them; do you tell them to stop asking because they are asking for the wrong things? Of course not! We love spending time with our children. We love talking to them at any time. God wants you to talk to Him because He loves you. He isn’t grading your prayers; He is listening to your heart.
We need to understand the purpose of prayer. Sometimes we are frustrated because we misunderstand what prayer is. We think of prayer as getting God to change His mind. That’s ridiculous. God does not change Him mind. His way is always perfect. To change His mind would be to turn away from what is right and good.
We don’t have to coerce or cajole God into answering our prayers. He delights to answer the prayers of His children, just like you delight to meet the requests of your child.
Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind, but it does change us. Prayer gives us the opportunity to talk things through with the Almighty. Prayer calms our hearts, gives us perspective, and points us in the right direction.
Prayer also changes circumstances. God in His Sovereignty has chosen to use our prayers as a means to accomplish His will. Prayer is the way we can bring God’s blessing into our life and the lives of those around us.
When we pray for someone, God imparts strength and healing to that person. When we pray over the difficult circumstances of our lives God sometimes changes the circumstances and sometimes changes us so we can benefit from the circumstances. We have seen the effect of prayer and there are many here today who can testify to the effectiveness of prayer.
We need to pray. Effective prayer seeks God’s will (as the Spirit does). Our struggle is finding God’s will. One of the great prayer warriors of the church, George Mueller gives his simple method for determining the will of God.
- Get your heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in a given matter. When we are ready to do the Lord’s will – whatever it may be—nine-tenths of all the difficulties are overcome
- Ask God to reveal His will to you.
- Resolve not to rely on feelings alone (“I just feel this is what God wants me to do” or “I have a peace about this”). Our feelings are short-sighted, often self-centered and fickle. Relying on feelings may make us subject to delusion.
- Ask for the Spirit’s guidance as you study the Scriptures. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If the Holy Spirit guides us, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.
- Look at the circumstances of your life. Are there open doors you may need to walk through? Are there some other circumstantial signs as to the direction the Lord may be taking you?
- Consider all of these things and make the best decision you know. If after bringing it to the Lord, you have His peace, act accordingly.
These verses in Romans 8:26-27 are wonderful promises for those who trust in Christ. But they are promises to followers of Christ alone. The only person who has been given the Holy Spirit as an intercessor is the one who has received Christ as Savior and follows Him as Lord.
The Bible tells us “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.” God only hears the prayers of those who pray within this relationship with Christ. That’s what it means to pray “in Jesus name”.
The first step to an effective prayer life is to turn to Christ as your Savior and your Lord. Admit your sin, acknowledge His provision for that sin, and receive God’s Spirit to transform your life.
For the believer, we must understand that God does not want us to stress-out over prayer. He is not concerned about the words we use, the fluency of our speech, or even whether or not we understand what His will is for us in a particular situation . . . He just wants us to talk to Him! The Holy Spirit within us and the Savior in Heaven will do the rest.
Do you see how much pressure this takes off our prayer life? Instead of being afraid we will say the wrong thing, we can pray honestly and boldly. Instead of being preoccupied with the words we use, we can focus on the God who understands our heart. Instead of making prayer the issue, we will make the Father the issue.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn more about prayer. We should. The babbling child must learn to talk clearly; the teenager must learn to make wise choices. In the same way we should mature in our communication with the Father.
When a couple first gets married communication they always say, “We communicate about everything!” But within a year they often return and say, “We don’t communicate any more.” We say things and they aren’t received the way we meant them. We try to be honest and we get in trouble. In a married relationship we have to learn how best to communicate with our spouses. Most of us would love to have the Holy Spirit filter and refine our words as we talk to our mates!
What takes time in our marriage also takes time in our spiritual life. We need to work at learning to pray. However, we don’t need to be afraid of prayer. Our prayers may not be fluent. They may not be quite on target. God is not offended! He listens to your heart rather than your words.
We must be careful about judging the prayers of others. A sincere prayer whether offered by the child who prays for their puppy, the adult who has trouble speaking in public, the Pastor who prays long (often too long!), or the seasoned saint who speaks a few words that are filled with intimacy and carry the sense of the Spirit’s power; each of these prayers is welcomed by the Father.
We need to think differently about prayer. It’s like an education. Sometimes we conclude that the person with the best grades or most degrees is the most educated. That’s not always the case. Some people don’t do well with tests. Some people learn more from experience than from books. Some people have a lifestyle of learning. We must not judge a person’s education or ability simply by the certificates on their wall. In the same way we must not judge a prayer by the words, but by the heart.
The point is God doesn’t want us putting our focus on how we pray to God. He wants us to focus on whom we are talking TO! When we focus on the Lord we will be able to stop focusing on our words and simply enjoy our conversation with our Father.