Monday, January 23, 2012

How the Holy Spirit helps us in Prayer

22nd  January  2012
TEXT : Romans 8: 26,27

As we prepare  our church  for yet another  prayer  week  , I   have thought  that it may be profitable  for us  to  consider the  role  of the person  of the Holy Spirit in  prayer . 
The  “locus classicus“, the classical  text which  may be  quoted  for this purpose,  is  found in  Romans 8:26-27(ESV):
“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.”
Let me help you to understand the background against which the apostle  Paul  makes this statement, after which I will make  a  perhaps surprising  observation .

1.      Context
The letter  to the Romans  is  Paul’s profoundest exposition on the  doctrine of salvation. He helps us to see  that  all of mankind is in need  of redemption, “for all have sinned  and have fallen short of the glory of God “ (Rom 3:23) .  Somebody put  it like this :  “In Adam’s fall we sinned all “ , referring to  Rom 5: 12-21 .  All  of mankind is for this reason  under the just  wrath of  a holy God  ( Rom 1:18ff) , unless God  does something  to change that problem.  And He does!  In His great love  and mercy  God  chooses  to freely, unconditionally  and sovereignly   impute   righteousness  to  many  people. He does it   by   pouring His righteous wrath upon His own  sinless  Son , the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only dies the cruelest of deaths on the cross  but He experiences  being forsaken  by  His Father with whom He had otherwise always  had been in eternal , happy , loving fellowship.   By this act  Jesus  had borne the sins of many,  making  atonement for them  (Rom 5:15) . By this act  He  justifies   the many , making them positionally righteous  before God the Father. That is why Romans 8:1-2  is such a great  truth for the Christian to  embrace : “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Once you are justified   by God through Christ  by  the working of the Holy Spirit who opens your eyes to  the truth  of God’s way of saving people  and reconciling  them  to Himself, you will never be the same !

Now here is the problem with which converted men and women frequently  struggle  :  If I am  justified   by God through Christ does this mean that  I  am now  perfect – free from sin and all that?
Well , yes and no!
Yes, through your  conversion   you are perfect because  Christ  has made you perfect before God, and should you die right now,  you   will be ushered into God’s presence , righteous  and holy  on account of Christ’s merits which have been imputed to you.
No, -  although you have been justified and  even though  your spirit is renewed , you continue to live in a fallen body , and in  a fallen world in which Satan  still  exercises his destructive   and deceptive rule until Christ  comes  and defeats him. For this reason  you  as a Christian  still struggle  with sin  in every way conceivable  and that is the point of Romans 7  where Paul confesses   his struggle with sin   in Rom 7:  15-20 .

Now  why am I telling you all this ?  Because this is the context  in which our  text is found . I am going to relate this context  to  the  problem  that we all have with prayer. Let me begin by giving you three propositions and work them out from this text and context  before applying this to  a renewed call to pray  more in 2012 , individually and corporately  with the help of the Holy Spirit.  
My three propositions are these :
(i)                 You must pray
(ii)               You    can’t or won’t   pray
(iii)             The  Holy Spirit helps  you to pray
2.      A surprising Observation !

Were you surprised  that I said , that you  can’t or  won’t  pray?  Where do  I get that  from?   I get that from two  observations :
(i)  from experience
(ii) from Scripture

From experience I know that  my prayer life  is  horribly  stinted. I suspect that this is also true for you , unless you have received unusual grace from God in this regard  (and some people do!)  The fact is that  the average Christian, if honest, will confess that  he  or she  is  lazy  to pray ;  they will confess  that they  are   easily discouraged ,  and  that they easily give up in prayer. Most of us   know  and confess that we do not  pray as  we  ought  to  pray .  

We see  this  also  confirmed in  the Scriptures  that we have read. Read Rom 8:26  again: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought….” . 

The apostle Paul confesses and identifies with you and me that he is  weak  and unable to pray as he ought to ! That encourages me somewhat , but not too much, because I know that must pray and that prayerlessness has  spiritual consequences.   But I can’t seem to pray as I ought to.  I can’t get going.
What now?
This means that we  are going to have to look for the  ability to pray elsewhere , but before we get there allow me just to make these things clear :
  • The weakness of our  prayer  life does not lie in the fact that  our salvation  from God is lacking !
  • The weakness of our  prayer  does not lie in our justification . Remember? In  or through Jesus Christ we are  justified  ; we are  made right with God . We lack nothing there .
  • The weakness  of our prayer  also does not lie in our sanctification .  Many people  think that it does , because they  erroneously think that sanctification is  what we contribute to our salvation. I used to believe that , until I was corrected  by the Scriptures .  I now know  that sanctification is  as much the work of God  in us as is our justification.  Sanctification is the  progressive and ongoing  work of the  Holy Spirit  after  we have been justified  when we first believed.  There is nothing lacking here.
So where   can  the weakness  of your and my prayer life  be found?  It is  found in us! We have weak bodies  and weak  minds. So when  we try to pray  in our  natural strength  then  we shall  find that we do not have it in us  to pray as we ought to pray.  We find that we are  either  too phlegmatic  or  too tired  or too distracted  (the devil  helps in this!!!). 
We see this in Jesus’ disciples .  The  disciples  could not keep awake in the  hour of Christ’s great trial in the garden of Gethsemane.  He asked them to watch and pray with Him . Three times He came back and found them asleep. He warned them that they should stay awake  at this hour , otherwise they would fall into temptation  ( Matt 26:41) …. AND THEY DID ! ( Matt 26:56) . The bottom-line is that  in ourselves  we  lack perseverance. When it   comes to prayer  then we all know that  we are  weak. We  find that  many days go by without  any meaningful prayer work being done. And when we do it , we find it dull  and   we watch the clock and we cannot wait for this time to finish, so that we can scratch  the quiet time off our duty list!  Does this sound familiar ?

The same is true when it comes  to planning  for our   corporate  prayer  time  at the end of the month.  We need to pray corporately!  We cannot afford not to pray, because the work of God here at Eastside Baptist Church  is so big and so profound  that  all  of our combined   human genius  will not  cope  with the demands  before us. We need God’s power not our power. We need God’s power to survive in this world  and to win spiritual battles .
It is therefore important  that we  should pray together corporately – as one body !  You have seen the power of corporate prayer  from the Scriptures ( e.g.  Acts  4:  23-31 ;  Acts 12 ; Acts 10; Acts 13: 1-3 etc)  and you may even have been part of a corporate prayer meeting  in our,  or in another church  after which God had moved in  amazing swiftness and power  to answer that prayer . 
The problem is that  you  will not and cannot find it in your heart to pray!  You are willing to put in an appearance  for conscience sake, but  I tell you that even now  you  are beginning to formulate  objections in your mind as to why  you cannot  pray or be   there for 5 hours  during prayer week.  Many  of these objections that you are formulating in your mind   may  have  an air  of  respectability about  them …. Your children need to be in bed at  that time ; you may  have a lot of work  to do … you may need to be away  etc . …

The point is that  we must pray. It does not help us if we do not pray. We will  remain powerless as long as we  fail to  to  plead with  God to help us in this work . 
What then  must we do  against  our  lack of desire to pray ?  

3. The  Role of the Holy Spirit in Prayer :

We must rely on the  power of the Holy Spirit, and thankfully  He is  given by God the Father and the Son  for this purpose  to help us in our weakness!  Knowing  then  that it is not in you to pray  as you ought ,  and thinking  about  those   five daily hours  at the end of  the month,   you say to yourself : “ I can’t do it….” . 
The Scripture  now suggests  that you need to seek  help  from the Holy Spirit for this task  : 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.”

Paul knows that the life and health  of the church depends upon the power of God. The power of God   must be solicited  by  prayer , and if the problem is that you can’t seem to pray or simply won’t pray – then what must you do ?
You must  cast yourself in your weakness upon the Holy Spirit !
And what  will He do , once you confess your weakness and your helplessness  in this matter?
(i)                 He helps us
(ii)               He Himself intercedes for us with groanings  to  deep for words
(iii)              He intercedes for the saints  ( you!)  according to the will of God !

This puts a  fresh perspective on prayer  and I trust  that you will be bold enough to  test God in this matter .  If prayer is God’s will  (Phil 4:6 ; Col 4:2 ; 1 Tim 2:8)   and if you find yourself frustrated in this  , then  ask  the Holy Spirit for help  !

Please note again :
  • You must pray
  •  You will not pray 
  •  You must ask the Holy Spirit to help you. He is the promised  Helper  who is sent by Jesus ( Jn 14:16)   to help us .    Take this seriously  as you approach prayer  week  and as you by faith now make plans to   consistently  pray  with us through the week for  the many areas  of our life and ministry together , and for spiritual breakthroughs  in  lives  in and surrounding our community .

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