Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. --Romans 8:26-28
These verses, I think, are some of the most important when we think about the subject of prayer. Paul is saying that because we are weak we don't really know what to pray for. You say wait a second, Pastor, are you telling me that I don't know what to pray? Not me! Paul is telling us that we don't know how to pray for what we need.
Let's see what he has to say...
First, who is Paul writing to?
Romans 8:1 says that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus which walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Yet in verse 26 it says that the Spirit helpeth our "infirmities" or weakness.
Paul is writing to weak Christians who...
- ...have no condemnation.
- ...are in Christ Jesus.
- ...walk after the Spirit.
- ...are weak praying.
These Christians have no condemnation, are led by the Spirit, have been make free from the Law of sin and death, but Paul says they need help in praying!
Do you know that Jesus needed help in His last days on earth because of weakness?
"And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him." --Luke 22:39-43
If Jesus Christ came to the place in His life where He needed God's help, then we must realize that we need help!
Two reasons why we need help praying:
- We can't pray right because we can't see the future .
- We can't pray right because we don't know what's best for us.
C.H. Dodd puts it this way. "We cannot know our own real need; we cannot with our finite minds grasp God's plan in our own way."
We know what to pray for as to objects, but we do not know what to pray for "as we ought" it is the manner of the prayer which perplexes us. The word of God does teach that we need to ask.
"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." --Matthew 21:22
The word does say "Knock and it shall be opened unto you."
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." --Matthew 7:7-8
If we ask, and if we knock, what will be given, or what shall be opened? The Will of God.
Praying isn't like a food bar at a restaurant where we can pick and choose and most of the time get things that we don't need and make us sick, but rather it is like a hospital where we get what the doctor orders.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." --Romans 8:28
Jesus saw the need of placing everything in the hands of God the Father. "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit, Not my will but thy will be done."
I know not what it is my inmost spirit needs; or if I know it, I know not how to frame my petition aright before thee. It is in such a plight as this that the Holy Ghost aids us with his divine help. and hence he is "a very present help in time of trouble." Our difficulty is that we know not what we should pray for; but the Holy Spirit does know, and therefore he helps us by enabling us to pray intelligently, knowing what we are asking for.
The text speaks "of the mind of the Spirit." What a mind that must be—the mind of that Spirit who arranged all the order which now pervades this earth! There once was chaos and confusion, but the Holy Spirit brooded over all, and His mind is the originator of that beautiful arrangement which we so admire in the visible creation.
What a mind His must be! The Holy Spirit's mind is seen in our intercessions when under His sacred influence we put our case before the Lord, and plead with holy wisdom for things convenient and necessary.
What wise and admirable desires must those be which the Spirit of Wisdom Himself works in us!
The Holy Spirit's intercession creates prayers offered in a proper manner. I showed you that the difficulty is that we know not what we should pray for "as we ought," and the Spirit meets that difficulty by making intercession for us in a right manner. The Holy Spirit works in us humility, earnestness, intensity, importunity, faith, and resignation, and all else that is acceptable to God in our supplications
C.H. Dodd said: "Prayer is the divine in us appealing to the Divine above us."
The Holy Spirit puts such force of His own mind into our poor weak thoughts and desires and hopes, that He Himself maketh intercession for us, working in us to will and to pray according to His good pleasure.
All the prayers which the Spirit of God inspires in us will succeed, because:
A. There is a meaning in them, put there by the Holy Spirit which God reads and approves.
When the Spirit of God writes a prayer upon a man's heart, the man himself may be in such a state of mind that he does not altogether know what it is. His interpretation of it is a groan, and that is all. Perhaps he does not even get so far as that in expressing the mind of the Spirit, but he feels groanings which he cannot utter, he cannot find a door of utterance for his inward grief. Yet our heavenly Father, who looks immediately upon the heart, reads what the Spirit of God has indited there, and does not need even our groans to explain the meaning. He reads the heart itself: "He knoweth,' says the text, "what is the mind of the Spirit." God knows what is in the heart and He knows what is in the mind of the Spirit!
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. --Romans 8:27
B. We cannot succeed in prayer until we are willing to accept what God has for us.
When we accept what God has, we find peace about what we are praying about. If we struggle against what God wants to do , then we go against His will and purpose. If a person loves and trusts and accepts God , and He is convinced that God is the all wise and all loving Father, then he can humbly accept all that he sends him.
"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" --Romans 8:31-32
I want to share three short stories in closing:
A heart-broken little girl began to kneel and pour out her heart to God in the altar at her local church. She did not know what to say. As she wept speechless, she began to remember what her Father had told her, "God knows your needs even before you pray, and he can answer when you don't even know for what to ask."
So she began to say her alphabet. A concerned adult from the church knelt beside her and heard her sobbing and saying her ABC's and inquired what exactly she was trying to do. The little girl told this caring adult, "I'm praying to God from my heart."
But the adult answered, "It sounds to me more like your are saying the alphabet!"
"Yes," she said, "But God knows more about what I need than I do, and he can take all these letters and arrange them in just the right way to hear and answer my prayers!"
In the Guideposts in 2005 Jimmy Stewart shared the story about the filming of the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. "It's hard to explain. I, for one, had things happen to me during the filming that never happened in any other picture I've made. In one scene, for example, George Bailey is faced with unjust criminal charges and, not knowing where to turn, ends up in a little roadside restaurant. He is unaware that most of the people in town are arduously praying for him. In this scene, at the lowest point in George Bailey's life, Frank Capra was shooting a long shot of me slumped in despair. In agony I raise my eyes and, following the script, plead, ‘God . . . God . . . dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I'm at the end of my rope, Show me the way, God. . . .' As I said those words, I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn, and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless, had reduced me to tears."
There was a man marooned on an island who was desperately looking for a boat to come by and rescue him. After many days praying and asking God to send a boat to rescue him, he sighted a ship and his hopes were lifted. He ran out on the beach took some shirts and began waving them to get the attention of the boat. But they didn't see him signaling and went on by. He was so downhearted and so downcast he began to accuse God. "God, why didn't you answer my prayer? God, why didn't they see me?"
As he walked back to the hut he had constructed, he saw that the hut had caught on fire and was going up in smoke. He said "Now, God. What have you done? The boat passed by and missed me and the hut that I'm living in has burned down, " About that time he heard the ship coming back. When he was rescued he asked them, "I waved my shirts until I was exhausted. Why didn't you stop the first time by?" Their reply, "We didn't see you we saw your fire."
It's time that we understand that we need help in prayer and the Holy Spirit is waiting to help us.