Praying When There are No Words-Message from Advocate Condell 5.18.2014

Praying When There are No Words

Message preached by Barbara Shafer at Advocate Condell Medical Center on May 18, 2014

Listening to Psalm 6 and today’s preaching passage Romans 8:22-27, you probably couldn’t escape the word groaning.  People are groaning, creation is groaning, the Holy Spirit is groaning—in fact there’s a whole lot of groaning going on.

Groaning is a noise that is made when there aren’t any words…and that’s what we’re talking about today:  Praying When There are No Words

no hands color thumbnail

It’s not like “Hey, Ma, look.  No hands!” when a kid is riding a bicycle as if it’s a skill we can learn of riding and balancing without using hands to steer.  Praying when there are no words is different.  And unlike riding a bicycle with no hands, most all of us experience times of frustration when praying…and frustration is not something we aspire to achieve.  No words is no good–at least that’s how it feels.

  • Have you ever been there?  Trying to pray and yet there are no words?
  • Have you known the desert of prayer in which you really don’t feel like praying or feel like God cares?
  • Have you ever felt like your words were like chewing gum—your mouth constantly busy but with nothing fit for consumption?

Today’s message is about praying when there are no words because we all experience times when we don’t know how to act, when we don’t know what to say, when we don’t know what to do, and when we don’t know how to pray.

The good news is that God has already planned for times like that.
The Holy Spirit is there.  Interceding for us.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Rome.  There were tough times going on…and a lot of suffering (which has been a part of the Christian life since the very beginnings of the Church).  Interestingly, Paul doesn’t disguise or try to cloak the idea that Christians suffer.  All people suffer, but Christians suffer differently than others.  The reason is that Christians share in the sufferings of Christ so that we’ll also share in the glory He experienced (Romans 8:17).  When Christians stand for what Jesus stood for, we will be targets of the same hatred that afflicted Jesus.  Most of us won’t endure persecution the way some Christians in the world experience it…like the school girls who were kidnapped or the persecution of the Church in some areas of the world where churches are burned with people locked inside, or Christians are beheaded, etc.  But we all suffer in different ways.

Like a woman who is getting ready to give birth, the groaning will give way to joy at the birth of a healthy baby.  Suffering in the Christian life, the painful groaning we experience, will give way to joy at restoration and health in eternity.

But what about now?  What do we do when we have no words … now? 

How do we get to that place of hopeful expectation and joy?

Let’s take a look at our preaching passage (Romans 8:22-27) because when we suffer, we can struggle with how to pray.  There are times that we don’t know how to act, and we don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to pray.  But there are three good lessons we can learn about Praying When There Are No Words.

holy spirit 1The first thing we can learn from our preaching passage is that while we’re actually in the same boat as all the rest of creation—powerless to do anything about our own situation—there is one critical distinction: we have a helper!

The Holy Spirit is there at the throne of God, bringing our pain before our God who can do something about it.   When we are weak, He is strong.

The Holy Spirit acts to help mankind in a way the Holy Spirit has not been assigned to intercede for the rest of creation.  The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Christ and Jesus intercedes for us too.

Jesus, Scripture tells us, lives to intercede for us.

Hebrews 7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Romans 8:34 “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

And it’s a good thing we have someone interceding for us because creation is groaning, bound up in our dilemma, as our passage today says.  Creation needs our having an intercessor.  Creation is powerless and we are powerless, but when the Holy Spirit helps us… directly, He is helping creation … indirectly.

Romans 8:20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Adam_and_Eve_FallYou see, it isn’t creation’s fault that they’re in the boat of climate weirdness in Chicagoland where it’s March in May or when flora and fauna share the very long winter of our despair.  It’s not creation’s fault that it’s hotter-n-blazes in July and August and…why do we live here in Chicagoland?

All creation was subjected to this by humanity…by our decision in the Garden of Eden to rebel against God by disobeying the command regarding the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So creation—through no fault of its own—has been subjected to the same mortality and bad weather that we have.

Does God hear creation groaning? 

I’d argue the answer to that is yes.  Jesus said that if people remain silent about who He is, even the rocks will cry out.  Why doesn’t God answer the groaning—the no words–of creation?  Well, creation is tied up, bound together with us (we got us into this mess and we’re the key to getting out of it).  So, when God solves the human problem, the problem for creation will be resolved too.  That’s why creation waits with eager anticipation for the moment eternal life is ushered in for all who will believe.  Then we will have that “new heaven” and “new earth” that the Bible speaks about.  Creation is looking forward to rebirth.  Creation does not have a direct helper, but we do!

The second thing we can learn about praying when we don’t have words is that our helper is also a translator.

The Holy Spirit takes spiritual words we cannot hear—and the gobbledygook of groaning—and converts them into God-talk and He is listening.

He listens to us when we don’t know how to act, and we don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to pray.  He doesn’t just listen to creation.  He listens to us!  And He helps us by translating for us.

Romans 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The Holy Spirit is like an interpreter assigned to a dignitary.  As Christians, you and I have the Holy Spirit (the firstfruits—a deposit of sorts) and He comes with us wherever we go and His job is to demonstrate that we’re Christians by taking our no-word attempts at praying or trying to follow Jesus and He turns them into words that sound beautiful to God.

You know how when a dignitary comes to a foreign country, he doesn’t always speak the native language too well.  The interpreter listens to the dignitary and then translates the words the dignitary is trying to say into words the other person can understand, complete with idioms and proverbs that speak to the culture of the listener.  A really good translator can take gibberish and make it sound like poetry…and the Holy Spirit does that for us.

When we don’t know how to act, and we don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit is there to guide, to help, and also to translate.  And that’s why we have hope and can wait eagerly, just like creation is waiting.

clock handsRomans 8:24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is an already…

…not yet…

present in the Christian life.

This Holy Spirit translation ability on our behalf is the “first fruits”.  The deposit guaranteeing our inheritance as it says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

So we know that what we have in part—the translator Holy Spirit—is a guarantee of the day when our hope will be fully realized and we will communicate with God face-to-face (no interpreter necessary!)  And He will be fully revealed to us when we reach heaven.

1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Now we see darkly as in a mirror (which is better than not at all), but soon, we’ll see Him face-to-face.  That’s the greater hope we’re waiting for.

But even now think of this grace: We have first fruits of the Holy Spirit (we’re already saved and with the guarantee of the Holy Spirit for the present time…even if we’re not yet able to communicate on our own perfectly).

So when we don’t know how to act, and we don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to pray, the Holy Spirit is there to guide, to help, and also to translate.

Better yet, there’s more:  He has words when we have none.

That’s the third lesson we can learn from today’s passage about praying when there are no words:  The Holy Spirit has words when we don’t.

Back in 2003 I had breast cancer and surgery and the whole 9 yards.  There was a point in time when I was so depressed (yes, it happens to people who believe in Jesus Christ) that I couldn’t even pray.  There were no words that I could say, no thanks, no plea, no nothing.  There was nothing there.  It was like my words were floating around in some dry spiritual desert…where I felt like God probably wasn’t listening and God didn’t seem to care…and (in spite of a husband who was with me every step of the way) I felt like I was kind of alone as a human being depending on other people for medical treatment and I was confused and sad because I gave up everything to follow Jesus.  And I cried a lot because this wild ride of bad stuff wasn’t my first rodeo.  It’s the proverbial Where is God when “bad things happen to good people?”  While I had enough Bible training to know that no one is good except God, I still wondered, Where is God when bad things happen to people who gave up everything to follow Him?  Is this how God rewards those who deeply desire to be a disciple of Jesus?  One bad thing after another?   It’s a depressing series of questions.

Did God beat me up for where I was in depression?  No.  He did not.

What did He do instead?  3 things:

  1. He summoned other people to pray for me. There was a person with whom I was in seminary who had a radio program on Haitian radio.  He prayed for me over the airwaves and asked people to pray for me too.  Furthermore, there was a woman who was living at the home of this pastor and his wife while this woman was visiting from Haiti.  One day, a few days after my surgery, she got up off her knees (praying without ceasing!) and asked him to call me.  She said that she believed she had a word from the Lord that I was home.  She wanted to hear my voice, though she didn’t speak a word of English.  She just wanted to know that it was a genuine word from the Lord.  So he called.  I had walked into my home not 5 minutes earlier.  I spoke with her on the phone in what little French I knew and what little English she understood and we were both greatly encouraged by God that day.
  2. He encouraged me with His presence through little “winks” like that–events that assured me He had not left me.  During those times of diagnosis, surgery, and recovery in which I felt quite alone, I recalled many instances of things too coincidental to be coincidence.  I was reminded of the love of others (my husband and family, friends and neighbors) and knew that they were coming alongside to encourage me.
  3. And His Holy Spirit took my wordlessness and turned it into prayer.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.   We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

I am so thankful that God showed me that when we don’t know how to act, and we don’t know what to say, and we don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to pray, God Himself steps in.

forsakenGod does it!

His Holy Spirit summons others.

He shows Himself as present.

And He takes my groaning and my tears and translates them into beautiful poetry suitable for the ears of God.

He translates them into faith flavored by suffering.

And you know what God sees when He sees faith flavored by suffering?

He sees Jesus.  And there’s glory all around.

Romans 8:27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Yes, He searches our hearts and knows our thoughts and then translates them until they’re in perfect conformity with God’s will.

So when we’re praying and there are no words, don’t worry.

The Holy Spirit is there when we don’t know how to act and we don’t know what to say, when we don’t know what to do and we don’t know how to pray.  And the lessons we can cling to are that:

  1. We have a helper who is listening and acting to bring His plan to a joyful conclusion…not just for us but for all creation.
  2. Our helper is also a translator whose job description includes taking our groaning and making it sound suitable to God.
  3. And He has words and resources when we don’t.  He will display His presence in our midst…to minister to those suffering. He will pray for us Himself.  He will summon others to pray for us when there are no words.

So, in conclusion, let me pray for you now.

Lord God, Almighty Father in Heaven, we believe Your Word.  We believe that your Holy Spirit has been sent as an Advocate, a Guide, and a Counselor to help us in our time of need.  The truth is we need You all the time, sometimes we just know it more than others.  We are acutely aware of our need when there are no words.

For each person out there, Lord, I pray that You will meet them where they are today.  If they do not know You and the hope that is found only in You, I pray—Lord Jesus that You will come to them and make Yourself known to them.  Give them assurances of Your love and power and peace and comfort.

I pray for healing for those in this hospital setting whose healing will demonstrate Your goodness.  I pray for comfort for those in this hospital whose comfort in affliction will testify to Your grace.  I pray for increasing faith for those here whose faith feels insufficient for the road ahead, but whose continual faith in You will testify to Your love and mercy.  May their faith be sufficient to sustain them as they walk the journey called Suffering.

I pray also that You will summon Your faithful ones to pray for those who are suffering and we, as Your hands and feet, will come alongside as a friend would.  To help with practical needs so that those who are depressed and lonely might see You in the help offered by friends and strangers.  That You would come and relieve the spiritual depression that tries to settle upon the best of us when the assaults are many and human strength fails us.  When we cannot pray, we thank You that your Holy Spirit steps in and does it for us.  We thank You that You know our hearts.

May what You find in our lives bring glory to You this day.  We struggle in the journey, but find our hope in You.  Amen.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on May 29, 2014

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