Pentecost 10 August 16, 2020
234, 235:1,6, 454, 45
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
“Greg” had a problem. Greg knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose from the dead on Easter. Though Greg knew he was a sinner and openly confessed his sins, he rejoiced to hear that Christ Jesus had come into the world to save him.
But, as Greg sought to follow Christ, he struggled with his weakness—especially in his prayers. Greg knew the major Bible passages about prayer. He wanted to pray unceasingly and cast all his burdens on the Lord, but he struggled mightily with those prayers. He would start the Lord’s Prayer focusing on the words, but by about the 3rd or 4th Petition his thoughts drift to his plans for the afternoon or what someone else was wearing in church. He kept telling people, “You’ll be in my prayers” but then would forgets to pray for them. He would lie awake at night trying to formulate a prayer, but it would makes no sense. Greg found himself doubting his faith as he struggled in his prayers.
Are you a Greg that struggles in your prayers, struggling with what to pray for, disappointed in how frail or weak your prayers are, or that you can’t stay focused on what you are praying about?
As we consider this topic of prayer in Romans 8, we must remember that the theme of Romans is that we are not righteous because of what we do, but because of faith in Christ. This applies to also to our prayers. Our prayers do not make us righteous, Jesus does. This morning as we consider Romans 8:26-27, rejoice knowing that God the Holy Spirit Himself helps us in our weakness. Hear now, the Word of God:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
So far God’s Word.
When we talk about prayer in Catechism Class, we describe prayer simply as a “heart to heart talk with God.” The Bible is FULL of such “heart to heart talks with God.” Abraham prayed that God would spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of the believers there. Hannah prayed for a son and Samuel was born.
Sometimes prayers are long—such as Daniel’s prayer of repentance in Babylon. Sometimes prayers are short, like the tax collector who said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Sometimes prayers are verbalized and sometimes they are spoken within one’s self. Sometimes prayers are repeated, like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane or Paul’s prayer about the thorn in his flesh.
Whatever the prayer, however it is spoken, and whatever the length, the prayers that are heard by God in heaven all have this in common: the prayers that are heard by God are those that are spoken believing in Jesus. That is what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” Praying “in Jesus’ name” is praying in faith—faith that God is real, and that God hears those prayers because of Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews says, “he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
These are things we want in our lives as we follow Christ. We want to have many heart-to-heart talks with God. It sounds so simple! Talking to Him like dear children speak to their dear fathers on earth, is something we want to do. But what do you find? Are you like Greg who feels like his prayers fall short of what they should be or that your thoughts get jumbled up when you pray? Or maybe you feel like you want to talk to your heavenly Father about something, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is.
Paul calls this “our weakness.” In our text He says, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought.” The Greek word for “ought” in verse 26 refers to what is proper or necessary. So many times we don’t know what is proper or necessary to pray for. Or maybe you do not know how to put into words to your heavenly Father what’s going on in your head or your heart.
Well, for the saints of God, there is good news! Who are the saints? Revelations describes them as the ones who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. In Ephesians, Paul describes them as the ones Christ gave Himself for “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of the water by the Word.” (Ephesians 5:26) The saints are those who live by faith in Jesus Christ and through faith have been declared righteous by God. The saints are the believers in Jesus Christ. You, dear Christian, are a saint. You have been washed and made clean by the water and Word of holy Baptism, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sins.
And listen to what God does for the saints: “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” There is a lot of groaning in Romans 8. Creation is groaning, as though going through childbirth, waiting for the children of God to be revealed on the Last Day (8:22). We groan within ourselves as we see the pain and chaos of the world, as well as our own weakness (8:23). Creation groans. We groan. Now in 26 we hear the Spirit groaning.
The Spirit groans as He intercedes for us. To intercede means to speak on behalf of someone else for their benefit. Queen Esther spoke to King Xerxes on behalf of her uncle Mordecai and her fellow Jews throughout the land. When Queen Esther spoke to the King on behalf of her people, she was INTERCEDING for them. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He prayed “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was interceding for those who were killing Him.
The Holy Spirit is doing just that for you! He is speaking to God on your behalf. He intercedes for you with groanings too deep for words. This means that as the Spirit speaks to God about you, it arouses such strong emotions that one cannot find the words to express it.
As God the Holy Spirit groans for you, you can know He is expressing exactly the right thing every time. Verse 27, “He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” It is God who searches the hearts. The Bible says that “the LORD searches all hearts and understands the intent of all the thoughts.” (1 Chronicles 28:9) Psalm 139 says that even before there is a word on our tongues, the LORD knows it all.
Now, depending on your relationship with God, this can evoke a different reaction. If you despise God’s Word and will for you, if you ignore what He says about sin and repentance, then this should be a terrifying thing to hear. He knows your heart and understands the intent of your thoughts.
But for those who are living by faith and are struggling with their prayers, struggling with what to say or how to say it, or struggling with understanding what is going on inside of themselves—this is a source of great comfort! God who loved you so much that He gave His beloved Son into death for your sins, is searching your heart—He is digging around inside of you to see what’s going on and what is burdening you.
And this God who searches your heart, knows the mind of the Spirit who has those groans “too deep for words.” God knows what you are going through and God knows what the Holy Spirit is expressing about you. What a marvelous thing this is! The God who created you, the God who died to save you, and the God that called you to faith in Jesus, continues to care about you and your deep needs—needs that you may not even understand yourself!
It should come as no surprise, then, that as the Holy Spirit speaks to God on your behalf, everything He asks for is “according to the will of God.” And that’s what we really want, isn’t it? “Not my will, but YOURS be done, dear heavenly Father.” Our will is so often weak and confused about what is best for us. So often we can only see what is right in front of us as we pray about those things.
But God the Holy Spirit, who called you to faith in Jesus Christ, who keeps you in the faith, always knows what is the perfect and holy will of God. His ultimate goal is the salvation of souls—your salvation and the salvation of all who hear the Gospel. And as the Spirit intercedes for you, you can know that the salvation of your soul is His ultimate goal as He groans for you.
Thus Paul writes “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” That word “helps us” is only used twice in the New Testament: here in our text and in again in the account of Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10. Martha complains that Mary is doing nothing to help her get ready and she asks Jesus to “tell her to help me.” It bothered Martha that Mary wasn’t using her hands to help her.
As you wrestle with God in prayer, don’t stop praying in frustration, but rejoice knowing for certain that God the Holy Spirit is groaning with you. God knows what is on your heart, even if you don’t, and the Spirit is interceding according to the will of God. As you live by faith in Jesus Christ, rejoice that God the Holy Spirit helps you in your weaknesses! All praise be to our Triune God. Amen.
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