Praying when times are difficult

God’s Spirit & Our Prayers
(Romans 8:26-27)

Lk 11:1 says that once when Jesus had been praying, His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And Jesus then taught them what we today know as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

A. An interesting request, b/c the disciples were all devout Jews, so
we can safely assume they were men of prayer before they ever met Jesus.

B. But seeing Him praying – or perhaps hearing Him also – made them realize there was something lacking about their own prayers. So they asked for some instructions: “How do we pray better? How do we pray more in line with God’s will? What do we pray for & how do we go about it? Teach us to pray as you pray!”

C. I don’t think there is such a thing as a serious disciple of Jesus who doesn’t feel some inadequacy about prayer, some sense that there is more to it than we realize, that there is a better way to pray, & that we need to pray more.

D. But especially when we’re suffering, or someone we love is suffering, or when there are needs of the Kingdom confronting us, especially at those times we feel that we don’t know how to pray as we ought.

1. But in Rom 8:26-27, Paul acknowledges our neediness when it comes to prayer – but he says there is Good News: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” That, too, is part of “Life in the Spirit.”

A. Notice his first word in v. 26 – “Likewise.” He’s still talking about the problem of suffering, & he’s still talking about the Spirit’s help in our times of need. We are weak, & God knows it, & the Spirit is there to help us.

B. Specifically, the Spirit helps us when we pray, b/c “we do not know what to pray for as we ought.”

C. Let me point out something that this verse isn’t about.
(1) It isn’t about what James 4:2-3 is about.
(2) “You do not have b/c you do not ask. You ask & do not receive, b/c you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
(3) James is talking about the spiritual unrest we experience when our desires – & even our prayers – are self-centered, & our motives are selfish: “to spend it on your passions.”

D. Paul isn’t talking about motives; he’s talking about our weakness due to our inability to know what is best & right to ask for. “We don’t know what to pray for as we ought.” In fact, we can’t always know.
(1) And we don’t, do we!?
(2) Someone we love is seriously ill & suffering. What do we pray for? For God to prolong their life? To heal them? To let them go on & be released from their suffering & be with Him, but no longer with us? And what if that person isn’t a Christian & doesn’t have the hope of eternal life that we have? How do we pray then?
(3) How do we pray for the church? That we & our loved ones might be spared all persecution & suffering, even though God’s Word teaches that persecution & suffering are just part of the life of a follower of Christ? Even though Scripture says that suffering strengthens us, & maybe we need strengthening, & may not be open to receiving it any other way but suffering? What do we pray for?
(4) How do we pray for the lost? Will God override their wills b/c we ask Him to, or if not, how do we pray for them, & what do we pray for?
(5) When the church is facing ministry needs & opportunities, & there are so many of them, how do we know which ones are God’s will for us & which are not? How do we pray in order to find out?
(6) Or what about when you’re hurting so deeply that you just can’t find any words at all? You know you need God’s help, but how do you know what specifically to ask for? And so you pray, but your prayers are at times wordless.

E. Here’s where the Holy Spirit w/in us comes to our rescue: “the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
(1) At those times when you don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, don’t worry about it. Just do what Paul says in Phil 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer & supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” If it concerns us, we should pray to God about it.
(2) Our problem is, we often pray timidly, b/c we’re afraid we’re going to ask the wrong thing. I have news for you: At times you will!
(3) But as long as it’s God’s will you’re seeking & not your own, the Spirit will intercede for you. He’ll tell the Father what it is that you can’t quite articulate properly, what you wanted to say but didn’t quite know how, or even the request you should have made, but you weren’t sure what God’s will is.

2. And how does that help?
A. V. 27 – “And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, b/c the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

B. Notice first of all what Paul calls God the Father: “The Searcher of Hearts.” He examines every corner of our hearts to know what’s really there.

C. Could sound like a scary thing, but that means that when you pray, God knows your heart. And He also knows the mind of the Spirit, b/c they are inseparably one. So He knows & understands what it is you’re trying to say. And He knows & understands what it is we really need – not just what we think we need – so that He can answer our prayers in the very best way possible.

D. Notice: The Spirit intercedes for the saints “according to the will of God.”
(1) B/c that’s what our praying is all about anyway – or should be – seeking not our own wills, but God’s will.
(2) That’s why we always pray as Jesus prayed: “Not my will but thine be done.”
(3) We aren’t trying to get God to bend His will to ours; rather, we should be seeking His will.
(4) And, when we miss the target with our requests, the Spirit intercedes & God knows what is the mind of the Spirit. And He knows how to give us what is best, even when we don’t know what “best” is.

3. So what does this promise mean as far as our individual & collective prayers?

A. First, it’s an encouragement to pray.
(1) Just b/c you don’t know exactly what you ought to ask, don’t let that hinder you from praying. God has taken care of that. The Spirit w/in you will see to it that God knows your heart, & God will honor your prayers in the very best possible way – which is “according to His will.”
(2) Too much of our teaching on prayer has been on getting it
just right so God will hear it, as if He won’t if it isn’t perfectly on target.
(3) You can forget about that, & do what Paul says, “Make your requests known to God” about everything that concerns you. The Father & His Spirit will work out the details.

B. Second, it’s an encouragement to pray boldly.
(1) Listen: Paul wouldn’t have written what he did in Rom 8:26-27 if God didn’t want to hear from you.
(2) He wants to know what concerns you, & He wants you to confirm your trust in Him by your willingness to ask Him about it.
(3) He wants you to do just as those earliest disciples did, approach Him & ask Him to teach YOU to pray, & to continue teaching you throughout your life on this earth.
(4) B/c prayer is one of the greatest privileges we could ever have. And God’s Spirit is w/in us to make sure we are able to pray, even when we don’t know what to pray for.
(5) So pray much, & pray boldly! Your life in the Spirit will only be enriched the more you pray.

Concl. – “Lord, teach us to pray.” “We don’t know what to pray for as we ought.” “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Be thankful for that!

Tommy South