April 28, 2024


Passage: Romans 8:26-28

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. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:26-28, ESV

I learned how to study film in high school.  I’m not talking about silly Hollywood movies, but serious stuff, football.  My old coach would bring me into his office with a reel to reel projector set up on a table.  He would wind it and rewind it to point out my weaknesses in order to help me improve before the next game.  He would also point out weaknesses in the defense, and helped me translate them from the film room to field.  I learned everyone has weaknesses, if you look carefully enough.

God does not need to watch film to find our weaknesses.  He knows them all.  And in this text from the pen of the Apostle Paul, He identifies what could well be our greatest weakness.  Let’s take a look at the tape, in God’s film room, so that we can understand our weakness and learn to know, love, and serve Him with greater strength.

Our Greatest Weakness

After a “likewise” reminds us of our hope of Heaven, God gets right to the point of our weakness on earth.  Our greatest weakness is prayer.  “We do not know what to pray as we ought” (vs. 26).

Most confessing Christians misunderstand prayer.  Furthermore, we don’t pray enough.  When we do, we too often pray for the wrong things.  Learning how to pray will help us to glorify God on earth while we wait for the glory to be shared with us in Heaven.

Prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue, with God.  It is a conversation between two spiritual beings.  God is the supreme spiritual being (ref. John 4:24), Christians have the Holy Spirit living inside of them (ref. Romans 8:9), and the conversation is made possible by the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (ref. 1 Timothy 2:5).  Therefore, prayer is a trinitarian experience through which a child of God can speak, and listen, to God.  Most Christians can talk a blue streak to the Lord, but our weakness is in listening to Him.  Listening to God takes time, effort, and the exercise of various spiritual disciplines.

Prayer is more than a momentary bowing of the head and closing of the eye, as holy and sacred as this can be.  Prayer is constant communication (ref. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), most often with your head up and eyes wide open.  Prayer is thinking about God, loving Him with your mind, sharing your thoughts with Him and receiving His throughout the day.  Prayer is studying the Bible, the place where God speaks most clearly, and reading books by people who can help you better understand and interpret the word of God.  Prayer and public worship are vitally synonymous, where we gather in a house of prayer, where word and Spirit unite God and Christian, speaking and listening to each other.

Prayer should pursue one goal, and here is where we are at our weakest.  Too often, our prayers pursue only our goals, thanks to the poison of the prosperity gospel and the spirit of Jimmy amongst us: “God, this is Jimmy, gimme, gimme, gimme!”  The proper goal is the peculiar theme of Romans 8, which is glory, glorifying God on earth before we enjoy glory with God in Heaven.  Therefore, a stronger prayer would be: O Lord, what can I do, what can I say, how can I live, in such a way as to give you … glory!

Nothing glorifies God like doing the will of God.  This is the treasure Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount (ref. Matthew 6:19-21), a treasure to be discovered through prayer, strong prayer, which we can accomplish with the help of God.

Our Greatest Strength

Prefacing and pursuing the problem (“we do not know what to pray for as we ought”), is the solution.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.”  “The Spirit himself intercedes for us … the saints … according to the will of God.”  The Holy Spirit is our greatest strength in our prayer life and every other aspect of the Christian life.

Our English translations do not call the Holy Spirit “the Helper” (ref. John 14-16) for nothing, for without Him we could do nothing or be nothing pleasing to God.  He convicts us of our sins so we will know we need God (ref. John 16:8).  He regenerates our hearts, grants us faith and repentance, so we can know God (ref. Titus 3:5).  He is our strong partner in every practice of the Christian life, especially prayer, where He “intercedes for us with groanings (wordless words) too deep for words.”

Here is an illustration of how this is supposed to work.  Andrea and I go to Chick-fil-A a lot.  It seems like the Christian thing to do, go to church on Sunday, Chick-fil-A the other six days a week.  They know us there, very well.  I order, “I’ll have the chicken sandwich, six chicken nuggets, waffle fries, and a vanilla milkshake.”  They do nothing, but look at Andrea, who is shaking her head.  She intercedes, “He’ll have the market salad with grilled chicken, and water, and I’ll have the same.”  I eat the salad, having discovered this is the will of God for my life?!

Now, let me show you how this really works.

Our Greatest Example

Go with me to the Garden of Gethsemane, and bear with me for a moment.  I am going to upset you with what I am about to say, but give me a chance to explain.  For this is the greatest example of strong, spiritual, pleasing-to-God prayer you will ever witness.

Jesus had weak moments in His life.  Before you believe I am criticizing the Lord, please know that weakness is not a sin.  Jesus’ body got weak at times, like all of ours, which is why He needed to eat, sleep, and sometimes take a vacation from His vocation.  People could get on His nerves and wear Him down, too.  Jesus, though sinless, was not afraid to admit His weakness.  That’s when the Son would take them to the Father, in prayer interceded by the Spirit.

In the Garden, the tri-unity of God was singularly present and accounted for.  The Son spoke, and listened.  The Father listened, and spoke.  The Holy Spirit interceded and made sense of it all.

The Son spoke honestly, for honesty is the only language He spoke.  I don’t want to go through with it, He said.  “Let this cup pass from me.”  Then, after “groanings too deep for words,” His prayer is interpreted, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but yours be done” (ref. Matthew 26:39).

Jesus, in prayer, got to the will of God, went from Gethsemane to Golgotha, and honored and obeyed the Lord.  In it, God was glorified.  By it, we are saved.  Now, we too must commune with God in every way and means of prayer, to get to His will and glorify Him with our lives.

Our Greatest Promise

Let your prayers to God be honest, and constant.  Bow the head and close the eyes, often.  Open up your Bibles, read and listen, every day.  Bring yourself to the house of prayer, Christ’s church, every Lord’s Day, both to speak and listen to the Lord.  Do this with an open heart, an open mind, and a surrendered soul.

Then remember the promise of Romans 8:28.  It caps this text and gives us great confidence.  It means God is going to get good and glory out of everything.  And everything you do, child of God, wrought from prayer and pursuing the will of God, is going to glorify God and be of ultimate good to you.

Let’s break it down in the film room, all three of these verses.  We are weak, especially in prayer.  The Spirit, however, makes us strong, communicating our love and desire for God, reflecting God’s love and desire for us.  We discern as best we can God’s will, then get out of the film room, go out on the field, run the play.

Will it work?  Yes, but not in the way you might think.  It might be a gain, or it might be a loss.  It might be a touchdown, or an interception or fumble.  God really does not look at the score, He looks at how you play the game.

What matters to God is that you love Him, because He loves you.  What matters to God is that you call upon His name, because He is calling you by name.  What matters is that you pray, you fight to find His will, and do it.  Then comes the promise, “All things work together for good.”

Will you make honest mistakes in praying and pursuing God’s will?  Yes, and God will work them together for good, for God is greater than our mistakes.  Will you get into troubles when praying and pursuing God’s will?  Of course, and God will work it together for good, usually to bring some other soul to Christ.  Will you often find yourself after prayer enjoying a tremendous sensation God’s glory?  Absolutely.  So study the film, get out on the field, and pray!

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