The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Praying
9th Sunday after Pentecost
August 6, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time: Praying
Dear friends in Christ,
Your baby is crying. What is a parent to do? You can ask your infant what is wrong but unless the mere sound of your voice soothes the child, you won't get an intelligible answer. Is the child hungry, thirsty, scared, overtired, wet, cold, hot, lonely, mad, or bored? All a cry tells us is that something is wrong. It is up to parents to figure out the problem and then come up with a solution. If your child is hungry, feed her. If he is wet, change him. If that child wants to play, then you have to make a decision. During the day, you play and entertain. In the middle of the night a parent might react differently. Training a child to cry for entertainment in the middle of the night is not good for parent or child. That baby might just get to cry himself back to sleep and learn that nighttime is not time to play. It is time to sleep.
Sometimes parents diagnose the problem correctly and sometimes they are way off. Sometimes parents offer the proper help and sometimes not. We do the best we can, but a crying child is not easy to understand.
However, the Holy Spirit has no problems diagnosing and helping God's children when we cry out to the Lord. Even when our prayers are fragmented, mixed up, confusing prayers, the Holy Spirit knows what we need. Our God interprets our cries and helps in the best way possible. Our word for today is Praying. It is part of the Christian life. We first look at prayer in the life of a Christian in general and then at how the Holy Spirit helps us when we pray.
Hear the Word of God from:
Romans 8:26–27 (NIV84)
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. 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.
Sometimes prayer is described as a conversation with God. In one way, this is a good way to look at prayer. The sin that separated us from God has been removed by Christ's sacrifice. In faith, we can approach the throne of God with confidence and pray to him. Our Father in heaven wants to hear from his forgiven children on earth. Through Jesus, we have a wonderful invitation to present our requests to God just as a dear child asks their dear father. Thinking of prayer as q great privilege of talking to our Savior God is a wonderful way to view prayer and should urge us to pray more and more.
However, if we call prayer a conversation with God, then we would also be expecting God to answer us in prayer. A normal conversation is you talking with the other person listening and then the other person talks while you listen. If one thinks of prayer as a two way conversation like this, one would be expecting God to talk to them in their prayers. It is true that the Bible records instances of God speaking directly to some people. God spoke to Moses. He appeared to Abraham. He gave Daniel, Ezekiel, Peter and John visions. God could answer your prayer directly with a dream, a vision or a voice in your head.
The problem with expecting a two way conversation with God is that he has not promised to speak with us directly like this. Instead, he has given us his Word. If we want to know God's answer and what God thinks, then we read the Bible. If you get into an argument with a family member and say some things you later regret, you will pray to God, asking for his forgiveness. Now, if you wait for him to give you a vision of forgiveness, you may be waiting a long time. Instead, remember what he says in his Word. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God speaks clearly on matters of sin and forgiveness. We know his answer to a repentant request for forgiveness is always yes in Christ.
But what about prayers for things God is not so clear about in the Bible. Where should I live? What should I eat? Where should I send my kids to school? Should I change jobs? What medical treatment should I get? You can look all you want in the Bible and you will not find the answer to whether God wants you to be a plumber or a heart surgeon. God certainly guides us with his law to be honest and compassionate whether we are cleaning out someone's sewer pipes or roto-rootering their arteries. God is not going to whisper in our ears with the answers to these prayer requests and yet we still pray about our jobs, kids and health. We pray, trusting that God will guide our lives in what is best for our eternal lives.
Prayer is one sided. We talk to God. The Bible is one sided. God talks to us. Together prayer and the Word make a conversation. Christian life is that continual conversation with God. He talks and we listen. We talk and he has promised to listen.
What about when we don't know what to pray? Certainly the Lord's Prayer is a good model prayer for us. It covers most everything in Christian life. But what about when the suffering of this life gets so intense that we simply don't know what to pray? This is the situation in Romans 8. Last week, Paul told us about the suffering, the groaning that we and all of creation goes through until the Last Day. Think of Paul's suffering. He was hated by many of his own people, the Jews. He was beaten, whipped and stoned nearly to death. He was shipwrecked and jailed. He was chased out of many cities and would eventually be executed for his faith in Christ. Paul knows suffering when he writes in our verses for today:
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.
Maybe a close friend or relative has turned against you like Paul's fellow Jews turned against him. Do you pray for reconciliation, justice, protection, peace or simply say, “Lord, help!” Maybe you are watching a loved one whose body is afflicted with sickness and disease. You start to pray and begin to cry. We think of the terrible tragedies of this world. A father in Illinois is mourning the deaths of his pregnant wife and three young children who were hit on the way to VBS. Four lives ended and a father all that remains of the family. Maybe you see the news of a young girl attacked on a city trail or a gas explosion at a school in Minnesota or the many believers throughout the world who are persecuted much like Paul. We are too weak in faith and knowledge to know exactly what to pray in these situations. “Lord, help” may be the best prayer we can utter.
And the Spirit helps us when we are weak. He takes our thoughts and words, few as they may be, inadequate as they may be, and the Spirit helps our prayer to be the perfect prayer. It is the perfect prayer because the Spirit himself intercedes for us. If I had to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, I would not even know where to begin. I've seen movies and television shows with courtroom scenes, but I would fail before the Supreme Court. We may feel the same in bringing our prayers to the God of all the universe. But the Spirit, God himself, brings our prayers to our Father in heaven. Whether God listens to our prayer does not depend on a perfectly crafted prayer. It depends on the fact that we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and the Spirit intercedes for us.
Finally, we wait for God's answer and it will be a good answer because the Spirit is praying according to God's will. Paul tells us:
The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
We are weak in our knowledge of God's will. We can know some from the Bible. The Lord wants all to repent and believe in Christ Jesus. He wants people to honor him above all things. His will is for people to respect authority, protect life, honor marriage, share possessions, defend the reputation of others and to be content in this life. We know his law and his gospel. We just don't know exactly how God will work things out in each and every situation in this life. Therefore we pray “God's will be done,” when we pray about relationships, money, health, government, weather and so on
Martin Luther had an interesting way to look at our prayers and the results of these prayers:
“It is not an evil sign, but indeed the very best, if upon our petitions the very opposite happens to us. Conversely, it is not a good sign if everything is granted to us for which we may pray.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Zondervan, p. 126-127)
It would create a big mess if everyone got what they asked for in prayer. Five young men pray that a certain young lady falls in love with them. Broken hearts all around. Luther is pointing out that receiving everything you ask the Lord for is actually bad for you. Then, you are determining what is good and what is bad for you. You are deciding what will be the best for you not just for today and tomorrow and next year, but for your eternal life. The things we ask for in prayer for ourselves, our friends and our families may not be what is best for keeping us and them in the one, true faith. Luther says it is often bad when someone has everything. Why would someone with perfect health, a dream job, lots of money, status in the community, and wonderful family want anything from God?
But when opposite of your prayer happens, Luther says to take that as a good sign. God knows better than we do. Paul knew this very well. He prayed three times for the thorn in his flesh, some unknown problem that caused him to suffer, to be removed. The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we continue to suffer in this life even after we have prayed and prayed and prayed, trust the Spirit who intercedes for you. Trust the Son who gave his life for you. Trust the Father who is doing what is best for you.
Human parents do the best they can to interpret the cries of their infant child and to help. Our Father in heaven is the perfect parent. The Spirit clarifies and purifies our cries to God and our Triune God always does what is good for his children.
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