9th Sunday after Pentecost July 22, 2018
608, 457, 226:1,4-7, 52
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Editor’s Note: We thank the Lord for the many sermon contributions of Pastor David Schaller. Since being appointed to the staff in 2008 he has contributed nearly 100 sermons to this ministry. We thank him for his service to our Lord and His people and pray that the Lord would continue to bless his Gospel ministry! -NP
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. 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.
Special prayer requests for Sunday morning are common. In one of our worship services we might have one or more added prayers: prayers for the sick, the injured, or the dying; prayers for the anxious or distressed. Now offering a prayer publicly before God’s altar does not make it any more effective than offering one quietly at home, and God does not “hear” it any better just because there are more voices raised. But the practice of prayers in church on behalf of others is good because it reminds us all to pray when we are in need just as God invites us to do, saying (Psalm 50:15), “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” Praying together is also a form of worship, and the Bible urges us to join together regularly for worship with those who confess the same faith and teachings—just as the early church did when (Acts 2:42), “They devoted themselves … to the fellowship.” Praying together also has the added benefit of sharing one another’s burdens. That is, when we pray for others, we put their welfare in mind and become sympathetic to their situations. Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Apostle Paul asked his fellow Christians to pray for him, and when we ask our spiritual brothers and sisters to do the same for us, it can be a comfort to know we are not alone in bringing our requests to God.
There is certainly plenty of things to pray for; plenty of reasons to ask God for help. Just before the verses of our sermon text, the Apostle writes, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23) We see those words “groan inwardly” and we nod our heads in agreement, don’t we? That is exactly how we feel as this decaying and unstable world reveals its weaknesses and problems everywhere we look. We groan at the hatred, the corruption, the deceit, the wars and disasters. You might feel a lot like the Israelites when they were in captivity in Egypt, forced to make bricks without straw. They were burdened by such a great weight of sorrow and frustration, groaning and sighing. Ahhh!
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul said it like this: “For in this tent [our bodies] we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” A groan or a sigh says it all when it comes to the trials we face here and our eagerness to be free of them for good. The sort of sigh we let out when we just don’t feel we can take another step forward. (-Sigh-) Yes, for sure, we have plenty to pray about!
Our sinful nature, however, does not want to pray. And we can fall prey to the temptation to make little or make light of our conversations with God, or even downright misuse them. Do your groans and sighs ever say, “I’m angry with you right now, God”? Do your prayers ever have an “undertone” to them, an undertone that goes something like, “I’m praying, God, but I’m sort of just going through the motions, because I don’t really think you’re going to give me much relief.” Sometimes our sighs do not signal a plea for relief from troubles or our longing for heaven, but rather they communicate irritation, frustration, or doubt. God expects us to trust Him to hear and answer, and when we get discouraged and only look inward—despairing of our troubles without leaning on the Lord’s invitation to bring them to Him and count on Him to bear the burden—then we are “missing the mark.” We are sinning against the One who wants so much to help.
But Scripture encourages us in our weakness with words like Psalm 55:22 where King David says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Or 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
We even have the Holy Spirit Himself, showing loving concern for us and bringing His divine power to bear to help us in our weakness. Especially during those days when we are at our “wit’s end.” Those days certainly come too, days when we are faced with so many different things that we don’t even know what to pray about because there’s too much! “Where do I even begin? There’s trouble with my health, my job, my children, my spouse, my life is just a mess!” How can we even turn to God when we can’t even think what to say we are so overwhelmed. “The waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to be cut off,” Jeremiah lamented once (Lamentations 3:54).
What do I pray? What do I say? But “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.” To "intercede” means to step in and pray for someone else. When we are at a “loss for words,” when we are in such distress that we struggle even knowing what to say to God, the Holy Spirit Himself prays on our behalf. When we cannot express our desires, wants, needs to God, the Spirit sighs for us. He “groans” and “sighs” to the Father for us.
Here too, A SIGH SAYS IT ALL. A sigh from the Spirit communicates to the Father everything He needs to know, because the Father knows the Spirit so well (they are different persons, yes, but together are one God). You parents know how it is with your children. You know them so well that they don’t even have to say anything. All they have to do is exhale in a certain way, sigh or groan, and you know just what they are saying! Even more so with God the Spirit and God the Father. A sigh from the Spirit and everything that our weakness in prayer neglected to do or failed to do adequately or properly has been expressed for us. A sigh from the Spirit and the Father knows just what the Spirit is asking for on our behalf. “He who searches our hearts [God the Father] knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints…”
You can be 100% certain that the Spirit will communicate to the Father exactly what needs to be communicated for your ultimate benefit and blessing. That is, He will pray for you just what He ought to pray for you—the perfect groans and sighs for your situation because the Spirit intercedes “in accordance with God’s will.” He asks just what is right.
And what is right for Him to ask? He will pray whatever is right and best for your eternal welfare, because that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? This is the will of God: Your salvation. It was for this reason that the Father gave up His dearest treasure, His own divine and eternal Son. The Father gave Him up to the torment of death and the punishment of hell. The Father sent His very own Son to die on a cross and to be completely abandoned—the Son He loved. Which of you would even think of doing anything like that to a child you love? But the Father did it for your sake, because of your sinful groans and sighs; because of your sinful prayers, your weakness, your doubt. Because of all your sin and the punishment that it all rightly demanded, the Father gave up His Son to be crucified.
God the Father wants all to look to the Son, to Jesus, who is now risen from the dead, and believe that He has truly paid the price that was demanded. The Father’s will is that now cleansed of your guilt and forgiven you will rise again from the dead like Jesus did—rise to everlasting life in heaven.
When the Spirit sighs for you, He prays with this goal in mind. He pleads for just what you need to reach this goal. You may not even know what is best for your eternal welfare in a particular moment, we probably don’t know best even when we think we do, but the Spirit knows. And the Father knows the mind of the Spirit and hears His groans, His prayers for us.
When you are unable, or too ignorant, or too weak to say it, the Spirit asks the Father for just what we need to stay on the path to glory, things that will strengthen our faith in Jesus and keep us firm to the end.
What a comfort to us when we are weary and discouraged! When we are struggling against hard times, when you wonder if your prayers have really gotten through, when you wonder if you have prayed according to what God wanted, or when you are filled with anxiety and doubt, the Holy Spirit says to you, “Pray on! I am interceding. I am praying too with groans and sighs that you cannot utter!”
Prompt us, Lord, to come before Him With a childlike heart to pray;
Sigh in us, O Holy Spirit, When we know not what to say.
Then our prayer is not in vain, And our faith new strength shall gain. (TLH #226:5)
A SIGH SAYS IT ALL. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, 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.