When You Don’t Know What to Pray

July 25, 2018 at 9:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The most profound thought I’ve had from my own sermons of late came from preaching through Romans 8 last year.  A thought that has influenced and encouraged my thinking for over a year now.  After hearing a similar thought in Sunday School this week, and after reading Romans 8 in my devotions the past two days, I was reminded again of these things and wanted to write them down.

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.  (Romans 8:26-27  ESV)

First, let me briefly mention what this passage doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t say some people have a prayer language by which they can communicate with God called praying in tongues.  By definition, praying in tongues would be a “language,” but this says the Spirit prays without words.  Second, this doesn’t say we groan in such a “language,” but that the Holy Spirit does, and it never says or implies that he uses our voices.

However, what it does mean is amazing.  The text says the Spirit prays for us “when we do not know what to pray for as we ought.”  I always imagined this to mean those times when the pain is too great or the emotions are so overwhelming, we have no words.  And that certainly applies here.  In those times we are at a loss for words, we don’t know what to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us, so that words, or lack of them, don’t matter.  The Spirit is before the Father saying, “They don’t have words, but this is what they really need from us, for this is your perfect will.”

But there are many other times this applies.  It applies when life is confusing, when God’s will is just not very clear.  If I approach prayer with a sincere heart of seeking God, then the Spirit stands before the throne of the Father and says, “Father, he is confused about your will, but we know your will, and this is what he needs, so grant him that request.”

This applies to those situations when young Christians or those new to certain church traditions don’t know the “right words,” or the “normal” way to pray in that tradition.  That can be uncomfortable, or even horribly embarrassing.  But if you brave praying in that situation and say the “wrong words,” the Sprit is before the throne saying, “Father, she may have said what sounds to them like the wrong words for the situation, but we know where her heart is, and we know what she really needs.  Grant her that request.”  On a side note, I find when people who don’t know the accepted tradition are willing to pray, it is refreshingly new and encouraging, because it isn’t canned or thoughtless words.  I have to believe that God finds it refreshing too.

Finally, this applies even when we pray for the wrong things!  Certainly that is a time “we don’t know what to pray for as we ought.”  If our heart is right, then we want God’s best and not what we think is best, so we may be asking for Plan A or Plan B, but the Spirit stands before the throne of the Father and says, “Father, he is asking for Plan A or B, but we know your will is Plan C, so answer and give him Plan C.”  In other words, if your desire is to seek God, you cannot pray the wrong things!  Like Jesus, however, our attitude must be “not my will but yours be done.”  Maybe you’ve had times when you asked God for one thing, but he gave you something different that ultimately proved to be much better.  We only pray the wrong things when we ask according to our own lustful passions. (See James 4:3)

I have often heard people pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” but I believe that is a wrong kind of prayer.  The Spirit already is present with those who trust in Jesus, so he can’t come any more than he already has.  I understand that the heart of that prayer is often that we want to see the movement of God in our midst, but it is the wrong prayer.  (Even in that mistaken prayer, the Holy Spirit goes before the throne to ask the true will of God!)  Instead, we should be praying, “Go, Holy Spirit!  Go before the Father and present our requests according to his will.”

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