“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Romans 8:26 ff
Last week we began a discussion about life in the Spirit, the theme of Romans chapter 8. I also spoke you about fear, and how so many people live in fear, especially in this infernal pandemic.
The fear that was generated by the CoronaVirus is unlike any I have seen in my lifetime. What was the reaction of many who gave into the fear? They hoarded things. Who would have thought that people would hoard toilet paper? Then it was bottled water. I’m not sure what the current item is, but it has been enlightening about how so many people live in fear.
Fear is experienced chiefly by those who have no hope in anything but what they can see.
They live in the flesh, as St. Paul has told us. They live as if this physical world is the only thing that exists.
They might think that God exists somewhere in a memory, but since they cannot see him, then that belief quickly fades away during a crisis.
Whatever sort of belief system they have does not stand the test of a real crisis. Perhaps no one taught them about the faith of our Lord when they were young, or they didn’t listen and it didn’t take.
The parable of the sower we heard two weeks ago applies to this. When the seed, or the Word of God, is sown on rocky ground, it is received with joy, but it has no root. It endures only for while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
Or perhaps the word was sewed among thorns, which are the cares of the world and the lure of wealth, which chokes the word and it yields nothing.
This is a prophecy that we have seen in these last few chaotic years.
The loss of hope follows the loss of belief in a Savior. I cannot imaging going back to the life I had before the Spirit of Christ that dwells within me gave me hope again.
Most of you know my story. Some maybe not the whole thing. Suffice it to say here that I turned my back on God for nearly ten years. The only thing that kept me grounded was my marriage to a good woman who ministered to me in some of my darkest hours.
It was the fear of losing her that got me back on my knees before the Lord. That was 18 years ago. And now, nearly 13 years we have been ministering here among you at St. John the Divine.
I am sad for the many people out there who have lost hope, lost their religion, and have given over to fear. I pray that the Spirit of God will touch those who have the ears to hear and are ready to receive the Word of God.
Speaking of prayer, I reminded you all last week that we are people of prayer.
We pray, that is we make our needs known to a heavenly Father, who knows them before we ask.
Today’s passage of the letter to the Romans, from chapter 8, gives us some wisdom about prayer:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Let’s unpack that passage a bit, shall we? First, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. When we try to pray, we sometimes find that we are weak. What do I say? How should I say it? If we get caught up in the details, we just might find it’s just too hard to pray effectively.
We do not know how to pray as we ought, wrote St. Paul. That is so true. Most of us rely on prayers written by the Saints, as recorded in our books. The Book of Common Prayer allows us to pray in common, together, as the Catholic Church. Somewhere in the world, at every hour, someone is praying the daily office of Morning or Evening Prayer. Somewhere at every hour, a priest is saying the Holy Mass for the believers.
At these times, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. These prayers are beyond communication with mere words, but are on a level that we earthlings cannot fathom. Words cannot adequately express these prayers. Imagine the feelings that parents have when they first gaze into the eyes of their newborn child.
And God searches the heart, which is the center of our being, our intellect, and feelings, and it is where the Spirit of God resides within us. God knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because of course they are one, and the Spirit intercedes, or prays for the saints, who are those whose hearts are filled with the Spirit, all according to the will of God.
This passage is a kernel of the Life in the Spirit. I think for me, the first line resonates with my life, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” I bet some of you can relate as well.
The lesson is that prayer is not something you have to work at. The prayer of the Spirit is not like our liturgical prayers where I pray on your behalf, and you respond Amen.
The prayer of the Spirit begins with silence before the Lord. He will fill in the blanks for you. There is no need to worry about if you are doing it right. Simply begin in silence while contemplating the Lord in Scripture, or icon, or the cross itself. The Spirit will take the lead and bring you into communion with the Lord. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.