August 28, 2011

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This summer we’ve been working through the book of Romans. Today we take up our second look at chapter 8.

Last Sunday, we looked at Romans 8:14-25. There the apostle Paul said that even though we are Children of God through faith in Jesus, we will still suffer in this life before we reach heaven.

It’s not that we have to suffer in order to EARN our salvation, Jesus already did that for us. He completely won our forgiveness of sins and gave it to us free of charge. It’s just that after we come to faith in Christ, we’re still living in a sin-broken world. This is a place where evil rules and pain lives, and if God still has things for us to do here before he takes us home, we’re going to feel some pain.

But in our reading from last Sunday Paul also pointed out that we have comfort in our suffering. And this comfort comes from the hope of renewal.

In the Bible God promises that the universe itself will one day be restored to its former glory. And not only that, God promises that our own bodies will be restored, renewed, recreated as they were intended to be: Sinless, perfect and eternal. In the middle of suffering, this sure hope of renewal can lift our heads and our spirits.

But, sometimes our faith wavers, and our hope dims. The shadows of our problems seem to tower above what we know to be true in Christ.

So, Paul moves on in Romans 8, to explain that we have more than hope for the future to help us through our sufferings. We also have the Holy Spirit working on our behalf, right now.

Romans 8:26-27 (ESV)

26 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. 27 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.

You ever “draw a blank”? Not know what to say? Forget someone’s name? Momentarily find yourself unable to recall the name of some very familiar place? Am I revealing to much about myself?

How often does this happen in our own prayers?

Maybe you’re like me. You move through your day coming across things to put on your prayer list. But your prayer list isn’t a piece of paper you keep in your pocket. It’s just a list in your head. So, when you settle in for the night and turn your thoughts to God and to prayer, all the sudden things that should be on your mental prayer list go missing.

Or maybe you start trying to think out a solution to those problems instead of praying them to God.

Or maybe you actually do remember the thing you wanted to pray about, but when crunch times comes you can’t find the words. You really don’t know what to ask God to do.

There are many ways that Paul’s words come true in our prayer life. When the time comes, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (verse 26).

Here’s where the Holy Spirit steps in. Paul says that the “Spirit himself intercedes for us” (verse 26).

I think Paul says these words for a number of reasons. One is to simply call us back to prayer. To remind us to really use the gift of being able to text God our concerns.

But more than that, Paul wants to show us that in the middle of our sufferings, whatever they might be, the Holy Spirit is there. He loves us deeply, and so He does something for us. He prays for us when we fail to lift up the words which will bring God’s swift answer.

Paul wants his fellow Christians to be comforted in their sufferings because we know the Holy Spirit is helping us in ways we can’t even understand.

In verse 6 Paul says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. The idea behind this word “intercede” is something like this. Imagine the Holy Spirit leaning over a figure stooped in prayer, whispering things to God the Father.

Paul says that the Holy Spirit intercedes with “groanings too deep for words” (verse 26).

Paul wants us to marvel at the ability of the Holy Spirit to communicate for us. The Holy Spirit talks to God for Christ followers on a level that we aren’t even capable of.

It’s like best friends who know each other so well that communication doesn’t even need words. All it takes is a look, or a sigh, or a subtle shift in body language – and they know. They know what their friend is saying, even though no word is spoken.

Paul wants us both to admire the ability of the Holy Spirit to communicate for us, and He also wants his fellow Christians to find comfort in this. We never suffer in silence. The deepest needs and desires of the Christian sufferer are being communicated to the Father by the Holy Spirit who lives in us by faith in Christ.

When we stumble over our words in prayer to God, maybe we need to just step back and remember the Holy Spirit. Maybe we need to just say, “I don’t know God. But the Holy Spirit does. Listen to Him. Forget my rambling and my stutter filled prayers. Just listen to the Spirit for me.”

Look at verse 27 again. There Paul says…
“27 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” (Romans 8:27 ESV)
.Sometimes the thing that hinders our prayers, is the fact that we don’t have God’s will in mind. In the book of James, James rebukes his fellow Christians by saying…
“…You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3 NIV).
When our prayers don’t match up with God’s will, He’s a good Father. He doesn’t give us what we ask. Let me say that again, when our prayers don’t match up with God’s GOOD and PERFECT will, He’s a good Father. He doesn’t give us what we ask. He holds out and gives us what is BEST for us.

Sometimes we even think we’re asking for the right thing. The thing that matches up with God’s will, but even though it seems so right to us, it’s not what God has in mind.

In Second Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote…
“…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV).
Paul had some kind of physical problem. He called it his “thorn in the flesh”. He considered it to be Satan’s doing, and therefore, he pleaded with God to take it away.

But God’s response was, you’re praying for the wrong thing. I’m not going to take this away because it’s going to keep you humble. Instead, you ought to learn to lean more on ME, and less on your SELF. That’s when you’re strongest.

I think God wants us to learn to pray about things from every angle. When suffering comes, maybe we ought to pray for that suffering to be taken away. Or, maybe we ought to pray for the strength to bear up under the pain. Maybe we should ask to bear our pain gracefully that others may see that our faith does not diminish when things don’t go exactly to plan. Maybe we ought to pray that God would make us learn from our situation. Maybe we ought to pray that God would give us compassion for others in the same situation.

The point is, in the middle of suffering, we get tunnel vision. We think – ONE SOLUTION, take it away, when there are many more angles to aim our prayers. We need to learn to pray down these other angles. In doing so we may stumble over God’s true purpose in a given situation.

Paul wants us to learn how to pray better. How to see things from a greater perspective. He wants us to grow better at seeing things from God’s perspective. But more than that, Paul wants us to be comforted by the Holy Spirit’s perfect connection with the Father’s will.

When often fail to see God’s purpose in painful situations. But the Holy Spirit ALWAYS sees what God the Father is up to. The Holy Spirit and the Father are on the same page. They are in perfect sync.

The main point of this section of Romans is this, we fail in prayer, but we have an amazing communicator on our side who prays for us asking exactly what we need.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when you suffer, find comfort in this – the Holy Spirit is praying for YOU. And what He prays is the perfect prayer for you.

I once had an art class in which we did some pottery. I made a little beer stein as a gift for my dad. It was an ugly little mug that had Snoopy on it, but it was for dad.

Well, at the end of class one day, before the mug had been fired in the kiln, I dropped it. The dry and fragile clay shattered into what seemed like a million pieces. In disgust I threw the pieces in the junk-clay bucket by the sink. I couldn’t put the pieces back together. It was a lost cause.

But the next day, the mug was sitting at my spot. My art teacher, Mr. Pronzinski, had painstakingly puzzled the pieces back together, wetting each one and rejoining them with care.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does with our prayers. Sometimes we’re missing pieces. Sometimes we don’t have the skill to arrange the words. Sometimes we wander off dejected and sad on some prayer path far from God’s will.

But God the Spirit puts those pieces back together for us, and sends them off to the Father. And so often we don’t even realize it.

Put this on your prayer list tonight. Thank the Holy Spirit for loving you that much. For being patience enough to speak up for sinners like us. For knowing the Father’s will perfectly, and patiently teaching us how to pray in step with Him. Amen.

And the Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus.

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