9th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, how do you feel about prayer? What is your prayer life like? Are you content with the quality and quantity of your prayer life? As a Christian, you know the importance of prayer, but perhaps you carry around with you guilt about your lack of a prayer life or underutilized prayer life. Today we’re going to review what prayer is, then we’re going to look at the amazing promise that God gives about our prayers in our text, and lastly take a look at a few take-aways.
First, what is prayer? God doesn’t speak to us in our prayers. God speaks to us through His Word, He comes to us in His sacraments, He feeds our faith and as He does so He moves us to pray. Prayer is something only believers in Jesus are able to do. It is our way of talking with God. We talk to God about who He is, we praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us. We confess to him our sinfulness and unworthiness and our guilt. We come before God with thanks and gratitude most of all for the full and free forgiveness and salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord. We lay before God our hearts, our needs, our cares, our desires. Is prayer a duty or a privilege, a burden or delight? If a billionaire gave you his phone number and said, just call whenever you need anything at all- no matter how small or big – would you view that as a burden or a privilege? God, the almighty, powerful, ruler of the universe WANTS us to come before Him in prayer, LOVES to hear our prayers, and even promises to use our prayers, take our prayers into account into His masterful ruling of the universe. Our prayers are powerful and effective, they cause things to happen!
Perhaps one of the best illustrations that I’ve heard for prayer is that it’s like a loving parent’s relationship with their child. Every good parent wants their children to be able to talk to them about anything and everything. In fact, a good parent will be glad to hear their child’s voice at just about any time. A good parent will let their child just talk their ear off about the most inconsequential and mundane things and not mind it at all. But that same parent wouldn’t just let anyone do that, only his or her child, with whom they have a relationship gets that privilege. And a good parent will give their child not everything and anything their child wants, but always give their child what’s best, what’s needed. Why so? Because a good parent loves his or her child. That’s kind of like the relationship we have with God through prayer. He listens always, he loves to hear His children, and he always gives us what is best. There’s no reason NOT to pray.
Yet, there are times in life when we WANT to pray, but we just don’t know WHAT to pray for. And perhaps it’s most clear to us when we’re in the midst of very difficult suffering. On a personal note, when my father-in-law was fighting cancer, there were times when we didn’t know what we should pray for: should we ask god to give him a release from this suffering by taking him to heaven? Or do we ask God to give him the strength to go on bearing this trial? What should we pray for?
That’s exactly what the apostle Paul is dealing with in this section of Romans. He tells us “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The Holy Spirit lends a helping hand to us in our weakness. Our weakness is that when it comes to our prayers we don’t know what we ought to pray for, we don’t know what is in line with the will of God.
It’s here, though, that God the Holy Spirit steps in. He pleads our case on our behalf. I’ve never had the experience of being the defendant in a court case. I’d be certainly happy if that remained that way. But I somewhat enjoy being a spectator of the court and court functions. Many of the shows that I enjoy often have something to do with the court. But I imagine that there’s a certain difficulty. Because of the court procedure, protocol, understanding of the law, if you were on trial and you had to stand before a powerful judge for a serious crime and had to speak in your own defense, if you didn’t have any training you’d be at a loss about what to say because you don’t know what the judge expects you to say. That’s why the government has established the 6th Amendment that says that every person has the right to an attorney.
What God is telling us here is that we have such a spokesman before Him. We have someone who stands up and says the right thing for us. In regard to our sins, we have a Savior who stands up for us. In suffering, we don’t know what God’s will is so we don’t know what to ask for. At such a time, the Spirit speaks for us and asks for the right thing on our behalf.
In a way there are kind of two components to our prayers. There’s a core part to our prayer and then there’s the dumb, ignorant part of our prayer. I’m sure this has happened to you and me many times in life, but to illustrate this I think of a situation that my younger sister was in. She had her heart set on the ministry, went through gradeschool, high school, and then went on to MLC to become a teacher in a school in our church body. She was a good student, worked hard, good grades. Since she wasn’t in a relationship or engaged or getting married at the time, she was able to go to any gradeschool in any part of the nation to teach. And I’m sure there were prayers to the Lord, fervent ones, she was ready to go wherever the Lord would send her. Call Day comes at MLC where they assign the graduates to different schools across the nation. And she was informed that there were not enough places to send graduates and that she was one of those who wouldn’t be assigned to any school. Do you know how devastating that can be to a recent graduate? She spent the next year working in an office and living at home with my parents. I’m sure there were many prayers that she said and her family said. But we didn’t know what to pray for. The following year she received a call to teach in a multi-grade classroom as one of the first teachers in a rapidly growing school in West Melbourne, FL. A position fit just for her, which she loved and not only that, but it was there where she met a wonderful Christian man and got married.
In a sense there are two parts to our prayers: there’s the core part and then there’s the ignorant part. In my sisters case the core of our prayer was: my sister is ready to serve you Lord, give her a place in your kingdom to serve full-time. The ignorant part of our prayer was: And this is the timetable that we want to see this happen. Then we wonder if God really heard our prayer when it doesn’t happen the way we want or prayed for.
But wouldn’t it be great if God always gave you what you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knows? Wouldn’t it be great if God was so gracious that every time you prayed he would give you and only give you- thank goodness! – what you would have asked for if you knew every single thing He knew and you saw everything He could see?
The truth is, we do have a God like that. That’s what this text is telling us. It says, “Even when you don’t know how to pray the Spirit prays as you should be praying before the throne. That means you can come before God with confidence, to know he is going to give you what you would’ve asked for in spite of the fact that right now you probably don’t think that what He is letting you experience is a good idea, but he is going to give you what you would’ve asked for if you knew everything he knew. God cares for you that much, that means you can approach God in prayer with incredible peace and calmness.
But how do we know for sure that God cares that much about us? Suffering is often that which prompts us to pray and pray hard, right? Perhaps we need to pray when we feel like it and even more when we don’t feel like it. We pray when we groan, we groan because we’re in pain. But here it says that the Spirit “groans” and the Father hears it and knows because the Father is on the same line of thought as the Spirit. In a way the Spirit shares our pain, picks up our groans and speaks to the Father on our behalf in a way that conveys the suffering we’re undergoing.
How can God understand the suffering we undergo? He can because he himself has suffered the epitome of all suffering. This word “groan” has the connotation of groan in pain and is also used for Jesus. Jesus “groaned.” He did so throughout his life but most severely when he hung on the cross and was abandoned by God the Father. He was plunged into suffering and groaning into depths no one has ever known. Why so? So that he could take the abandonment of God for all our sins in our place so that you can know that God will never abandon you. Because Jesus suffered and died and rose for you, God treats you like His very own child. He loves to hear from you any time, any place, with whatever you want to tell him. He loves you so much that he will even take your prayers or even when you don’t know what to pray for and pray on your behalf so that in every instance He will give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything that He knew. So pray, talk to your Father in good times and in bad, when you feel like and especially when you don’t feel like it, the best way to pray is to pray and the way to pray well is to pray much. Amen.