13th Sunday After Pentecost September 11, 2011
11, 234, 454, 457
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Dear fellow-redeemed through Christ Jesus:
Sometimes I will be sitting in my office and let out an audible sigh. My wife will hear it and say, “What’s the matter?” I might well answer, “Nothing in particular, it was just a general sigh.” That’s how we feel sometimes when we look at the world around us. When we consider our place, our job, our circumstances we see that there is often so much that is imperfect and frustrating about living in this fallen world. Perhaps you too have days when nothing seems to work right or go right—times when you just let out a sigh for no reason at all.
As we trek through this life we come to understand the reality of Paul’s words in Romans 8:22-23: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (NIV). We look forward to the day when our bodies will be raised and we will live in perfect glory with God forever, but until then we must wait and the wait is full of pain, sorrow, and disappointment. We are even now groaning and sighing, longing for the full revelation of our salvation and its blessings.
Sometimes the troubles of life come upon us with such force that we do not know what to do or what to say. We wonder who is going to help and comfort us. Yet even then in our weakness the Holy Spirit is working on our behalf in a very special way. THE SPIRIT PRAYS FOR YOU I. He intercedes when we do not know what to pray for and II. He intercedes in accordance with God’s will. May this be an encouragement to each of us.
The Christian who is in trouble can often be found praying. This is good, because God Himself invites us to do this with the words from Psalm 50:15, “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” But as we pray, we can be distracted by our great sorrow or turned aside from our purpose by our doubt. Although we know about our salvation and we understand in our minds that our God will rescue us from every evil attack, we can still find it difficult or even impossible to pray the way we ought to pray with full confidence in the Lord. We want and ask for such grand and magnificent things, we ask for release and comfort in serious and difficult situations, yet our prayers are feeble and lacking in trust.
Nor are we always very good at knowing what it is for which we should pray. Those of you who have children or have spent time with children know what it is like to walk through a toy store with them. They are pointing with excitement saying, “I want that…I need that!” but they do not realize that they are not ready for that wood burning set, the air gun, or the model rocket kit. Similarly when we come to God with our requests we are not always very good at knowing what to ask for. Are we really ready for all the things we want? The Apostle Paul put it this way: “We do not know what we ought to pray for.” [v.26]
We so quickly pray for the things we do not need and neglect to pray for the things that we could use so much. We might pray hard for God to give us food and money but fail to ask Him for a stronger faith to calm us in our days of uncertainty. We might pray for good health when what we really need to pray for is patience to endure. We might pray that stress in our lives would be taken away when what we need are open ears to hear the comfort He has already given. We may pray for ourselves when we really ought to be praying for the welfare of someone else. We don’t always know the things to ask and when we should ask them. We don’t always have the wisdom to see what things would be helpful and what things would be harmful for us.
At other times, we get so bound up with fear, concern, and distraction that we really don’t know what to say to God. In the movie, The Sound of Music, there is a scene in which Maria, a first-time governess, arrives at the house where she will be watching over seven children. As she turns around and sees the mansion to which she has been assigned, she barely croaks out the words, “Oh, help.” As we journey through life, we will have those moments too—when we just won’t know how to pray or what to say, when things will come crashing down so fast that we have no idea what requests to utter and a feeble cry of “help” seems all we can do.
But when we are weak, God is strong. We cry “help” and He has helped. He has washed us clean of our guilt in the blood of His Son, purging our sins from His sight forever by the death of Christ on the cross. He has made us His own dear children, giving us faith which allows us to come before His throne in prayer, and He promises to hear us! Then there is this: “…The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” [v.26]
When we stumble and falter in our heavenward walk, when we groan and sigh in this world as we wait for the redemption of our bodies and our life forever in Heaven, what do we find but God’s Holy Spirit doing an amazing thing for us: “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” [v.26, NIV]
Think about what that says. It means that you are not the only one praying. The Holy Spirit is also interceding for you. The Spirit is also going to God on your behalf, sending His requests to the Father in Heaven for your benefit.
We often pray for one another. Sometimes we pray for one another in a public worship service, sometimes privately. There is a certain comfort in knowing that your fellow Christians are praying for you—that they are interceding for you on your behalf—because God says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV). How much greater comfort, though, to be assured that the Holy Spirit is also interceding for you!
Your prayers may be weak and frail, filled with doubt and apprehension. You may not always know what to say or how to say it. You may just sigh, unable to voice anything more than “Help!” but the Spirit Himself intercedes for you with groans that words cannot express.
When you cannot find the proper words to pray, or do not know the proper things to pray, or do not realize the proper time to pray, or you have not been as conscious of your prayer life as you ought to have been—the Holy Spirit is there, praying for you in your weakness, expressing things that even your words cannot.
Do you think the Spirit will make mistakes? Do you think He will make poor requests on your behalf? Will His pleading ever be to your harm? Of course not! The God who sent His only Son, Jesus, to suffer and die that you might be cleansed from the guilt of your sins and enter the eternal rest promised—He will not leave you alone in your trials or make the help He sends to you less than adequate. He sends His Spirit to live in His dear children who have now been made holy in His sight by Christ’s offering on Calvary, and His Spirit takes up residence in all those who are called to faith in Jesus. That Spirit will be with you and make the most perfect utterances for you. You may make imperfect prayers, asking in ignorance for things that are not in your best interests, but the Spirit will always make perfect requests. As Paul says: “He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” [v.27]
When the Holy Spirit pleads for you, His pleas are always the most helpful that can be made for you in your situation. The bottom line is: He always knows what to ask for. His requests always match the will of God and will be granted.
When we pray we often add the words “your will be done” to our prayers. This is proper when we do not know if it is God’s will to grant our request or not. It is a way of saying our prayer and leaving the answer in His hands. But we can also pray with this confidence: the Spirit too is expressing His thoughts to the Heavenly Father and He can pray for things that we are not even aware we should be praying for! He makes requests for us that are always according to God’s will, that are always in line with God’s thinking.
When your crosses become heavy to bear, when you feel forsaken and alone, when you simply cannot express your longing, sighing, and crying for Heaven, when you try to pray but you do not know if your prayers are the wisest or whether you have asked for what is good and right—know and rejoice that the Spirit is doing for you what you cannot do. He is pleading before God’s throne with everything that is right, good, and needful for you and He knows exactly what to say.
Recently we had the opportunity to see pictures shown to us from our synod’s mission helper trip to Nepal. We saw pictures of a strings tied between two trees and hanging on those strings were a number of small plastic flags. This is what the Buddhists do up in the Himalayan Mountains. Whenever the wind blows and their flags flutter they believe that prayers are being offered on their behalf to the gods. Sadly, there are no prayers in those breezes, but in the breath and wind of the Holy Spirit we find a different story. When He sighs for us, exhaling before the throne of grace, the Father sees and hears. For we are told that “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is.” [v.27]
God the Father, who knows everything, knows the mind of the Spirit. They are the one, eternal God. So there is never any danger of the “connection” not being made between the two of them. There is never any danger of the Spirit being unable to get His requests to the Father or of the Father misunderstanding the Spirit when He intercedes for us. When the Spirit breathes His prayers on our behalf, it is more than just pieces of plastic blowing in the wind, it is the sound of effective prayers that will most surely be answered. It is the sound of that which is offered in accordance with God’s will.
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said (John 16:33), and that trouble will often drive us to prayer. Remember and be encouraged by this: the Holy Spirit who moves you to prayer also kneels with you, interceding on your behalf. So you can always be confident that what your heavenly Father needs to hear, He will hear and His answers will be for your good. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.