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. Romans 8:26-27
A little boy, saying his prayers by his bedside, turned to his mother and said, “I think I’ll just go to bed. I keep getting a busy signal.”
Have you ever been frustrated praying, seeming to constantly be getting a “busy signal”? I know that I have.
I’ve prayed for the conversion of someone over the years, but nothing has happened.
I’ve prayed for a couple I’ve counseled, yet they walked the lonely road toward divorce.
I’ve prayed for a woman dying of cancer, still needed by her family, yet she died anyway.
I’ve prayed about family situations that don’t seem to change.
Perhaps you have prayed for a child or a parent or a friend – or even yourself.
Perhaps you have prayed about a financial situation, or a political situation – like the abortion or homosexual issues – or whatever else that may be very important to you, and nothing seems to have effect.
Have you ever been frustrated in praying – wondering if anyone really is out there, anyone is listening – or are you seeming to get a busy signal?
Oh, yes, we are acquainted with the usual answers and have even said them to ourselves at times: “It’s not the proper time yet” “God won’t force His will on anyone” “God has a better plan in mind” “God is working, although you can’t see it just yet.” Or the answer, if, say for instance, the prayer is about a financial situation: “God has specific promises attached to your stewardship practices and once that is straightened out, you will be blessed.”
What is difficult is that more than likely many of these answers are very true. Yet how often it can seem as though we have literally been put on “eternal hold.” There would be times when it would be nice if God were to at least send back a message, even if it were on the order of “your prayer is 1,958,467 in cue, but we will get to it. Be assured that your prayers are very important to us.”
And then don’t you just love it – along comes someone whose prayers seem to be answered right and left; they seem to speak directly to God and get answers directly back. You can’t help but wonder if they aren’t padding their account a bit to make it appear as though they have their lives and prayer-lives well in-hand, when really they are hiding all their failures. It may be true that there are some out there who do just that because they are afraid to recognize their “failures.”
But then there are those that are very genuine, whom God seems to have chosen to give a special audience, an inside track with Him. You can’t help but feel frustrated and even a bit jealous.
So we immediately start beating ourselves over the head, “What’s wrong with me? did I not pray hard enough, did I not pray long enough, did I not pray the right way (what IS the “right way”?), did I not pray with enough or the right kind of faith (after all, James 5:15 says that the “prayer of faith” will raise up the sick person!). What’s wrong with me??”
Well, it is true that we have a major problem called SIN. We have broken God’s Law, we have twisted His will, we have resisted and rebelled against His way – whether it be His way of salvation or His way of living life; we have refused to do what is necessary and proper for even the daily relationships of our lives.
Isaiah 59:2 declares that “your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” But since that’s true, then why would He ever listen to us? After all, on this side of heaven we will never be totally free from our sin – we might as well just give up.
Yet that can’t be the whole story! If sin totally blocked out the sinner, then no one would be listened to. Yet God does seem to listen sometimes, and there are some people whom He seems to listen to a lot, even though they are just as much a sinner as we are. Then how do we make sense of this?
First, it is important to realize that this is where Jesus comes in. After all God promised – that when Jesus died on the cross, He died for our sins; God promised – that when we believe AT ALL in what Jesus did for us and to us on the cross and in the resurrection, when we repent, then we will be cleansed “whiter than snow.” God promised – that in Baptism we would become “newborn”, we would become “justified” – where God proclaims before the universe that we are “just-as-if-I’d” never, ever sinned – He makes us that clean, “without spot or even a shadow due to sin.”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..” is how St Paul began the chapter from which our text comes. No condemnation – that means that there is now no barrier that separates us from God, no barrier which prevents Him from hearing our prayers!
We are told we can go running into the throneroom of the universe crying “Abba! Father!” Paul has just said earlier in Romans 8 that we are made “co-heirs” with Jesus – we stand in the middle of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, receiving everything that God the Father pours out in love toward His beloved Son, Jesus. This is even more intensified because Jesus has entered us, living in us – you and I are in the middle of Jesus’ relationship with the Father, if indeed He is living inside us as He said He would be.
The text for today declares that God the Holy Spirit has also been placed into us, with an important part of His task being clear communication with the Father. This steps beyond the idea that God CAN listen to my prayer to the idea that God ACTIVELY WANTS to listen to us, even those things we cannot express into words.
In fact, the Spirit is the guarantee that our prayer will be in the form which God approves of. We don’t know what language to speak – but the Holy Spirit is our interpreter; we don’t know what should be included or omitted in our prayer, but He is the One Who puts it in just the right form; we don’t know what words to use nor how formal or informal the words, but He makes it so that the Father can’t miss our meaning; we don’t know how emotional or matter-of-fact should be the plea, but the Spirit brings His dwelling place, our hearts, into the context; our prayer comes tainted with our weaknesses, our selfishnesses, our faulty attitudes, but He cleans it up, washing it in the Blood of our Lord Jesus, making it shine to the approval of the Father.
Here in our worship, God Himself bears witness of His extreme interest in us. Jesus from the throne of power and Glory, from the ruling hall of the universe, from the royalty of the throneroom of creation – Jesus, in Person, comes NOW to spend time with you and me, with all of us – we have gathered in His Name and, as He promised, just like He was with His disciples that first Easter evening, He is right here among us.
There in the person next to you, Jesus said He is to be found – He lives in that person’s heart, He lives in your heart. Here is unmatchable proof of God’s extraordinary interest in me and you. The God Who is willing to hand Himself over to you and me, living in us, is not going to immediately turn around and act as if we don’t exist or as if we don’t matter very much. Instead there is nothing in heaven or earth that God could have used more to indicate that He is already involved with our lives and with the things we pray about.
God has more than removed the barriers, He has more than merely not hidden “His Face from our prayers.” He has gone extra steps to make sure that He goes far beyond just “hears our words,” He feels our hearts and understands the depths of our minds. The Holy Spirit captures our heartaches – as well as our joys, as well as our worries, as well as our hopes, as well as our dreams, and is even there in the midst of our bewilderment when prayer seems to be going nowhere. There just is no way to improve the communication from the Lord’s side!
Why then does it sometimes feel that the line is busy, that no one is listening? I don’t know. All I do have is His Word and the wonderful and various proofs He has given, that despite the occasional appearances, He really is listening, and He is acting because of our prayers – not always is He doing what we have all scheduled out for Him, but He is acting because we have placed this problem into His hands and shown that, as His beloved children, we are concerned about this.
And again, Jesus is present – Holy Communion was the proof He gave us, real tangible proof. When He says that this bread is His Body and that this wine is His Blood, He declares in physical means that He is fully here among us, among the concerns of our hearts, among the relationships which surround us, among the experiences of our physical worlds. It is His firmest guarantee that no matter what we feel like, no matter how clouded our relationship with Him may seem, we will never be without a hearing with our Lord nor without His loving action on our behalf.
I guess this is what faith is all about. We are confronted by a choice: do we trust in God’s Word, His promises despite the sometimes painful situation we may be in – or do we trust in appearances? Do we trust in the Biblical evidence of His personal interest in you and me – or do we trust in our often jumbled feelings and faulty impressions? Do we trust in the reality of the cross – or do we trust in the suspicions of our sinful nature?
I don’t have the mind of God in order to tell you the whys and wherefores of God’s plans. But I can tell you that prayer is no exercise in futility. The same God that would put His Son on a cross for your sake does not treat you as if you do not matter. He hears your prayer and He has given His Word that He acts. Your prayer opens the doors of His power, and especially of His love in this world. God’s Word to you this day, is “keep on praying!”