“Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:24-27 HCSB)
As I’ve mentioned before, I have a peach tree in my backyard that was a gift from an old friend and former church member. Each year I eagerly watch as the promise of spring begins to warm the air and the soil which causes my tree to begin budding and blooming. If everything goes well and it doesn’t get hit by a hard freeze, we will see a good crop of peaches. As I write these words, I lean over and glance out the kitchen window to see if there are any signs of buds on the tree. None yet, and that’s a good thing because it is still a little too early. Even though I want to see buds on my peach tree and I anticipate picking and eating some of the delicious peaches, I know that the harshness of winter and the lingering bite of a late spring freeze can strip the tree of its fruit and leave me longing for home grown peaches when mid June finally arrives.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve mentioned the anticipation and expectation of the firstfruits from the harvest of our spiritual growth and development. In the verses we’ve studied, Paul has described the importance of walking in the Spirit and the subsequent results (life) in stark contrast to walking in the flesh and its results (death). He has described the challenges we face as we struggle against and put to death (weed out) the desires of the flesh and as we give life to (cultivate and feed) the desires of the Spirit. However, Paul points out that the fulfillment of our hopes and God’s promises are still “future tense” as we hope for their completion. As he says, you don’t continue to hope for what you see or are already experiencing but we wait for its arrival with eager anticipation and patience. We wait with eager anticipation and patience for the fulfillment of God’s promise – the present reality of the Kingdom of God – that results in the redemption of our physical bodies, the eradication of our sinful desires and the joy of life in God’s continual presence.
But what do we do in the meantime? Do we just live with a hope of some time and some day out in the future for the fulfillment of these promises and life as it was meant to be? No, thank goodness. Paul says, “in the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness…” In the same way? This refers back to the way all of creation groans and we groan in anticipation of our adoption and redemption (see 8:22-23). So, in the same way that creation groans and we groan with dissatisfaction and longing for a change in our lives the Spirit also longs for a change in us and joins to help us in our weakened state of spiritual desire and physical disobedience (see Rom. 7:14-18).
So, the first thing I want to point out is that this a joint effort – the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness. In other words, this can NEVER be a one-sided effort from either perspective. We can’t become the men and women God desires on our own without the Spirit’s power and presence and the Spirit can’t change us if we have no desire to change or we simply refuse to develop, mature and grow in Christ. Spiritual growth and maturity is a natural part of the development of any Christian in the same way that physical, mental and emotional growth is a natural part of the development of any healthy person. If a child isn’t growing, learning, developing and maturing in a normal and healthy manner then we assume something is wrong and we begin to look for and eliminate the cause. If a child’s physical growth is hindered then we look for nutritional or health related causes. If they aren’t learning and developing mentally with their speech or cognitive abilities then we begin to search for reasons and develop plans to remove the causes and remediate the deficiencies.
Do we do the same when it comes to spiritual development? Are we able and willing to recognize our own spiritual deficiencies and immaturity? One of the problems in Christian spiritual development is that we have a tendency to use the wrong assessment tools and measurements. We tend to look at each other and make our assessments based on our observations. “Well, I’m doing just as well as he is and I’m certainly more mature than her.” Sound familiar? The problem with that model is that we’ve used the wrong measurement. Our goal is not to be like or equal to each other but our goal is to be like HIM!
“But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16 HCSB)
So, the purpose and goal of God’s Spirit at work in you is not to make you incrementally better or a slightly more moral individual. The purpose of God’s Spirit is not even to make you a more decent human being and productive member of society. Here’s a shocking revelation – God’s purpose for you and the work of His Spirit in you is not even to make you be better looking, be wealthier, have more fun or be successful in your business. In fact, Paul points this out very, very clearly…
“…the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do NOT know what to pray for as we should…” (emphasis added)
Wow, help us in our weakness. Our weakness is not only our inability to live without sin and walk completely and consistently on God’s path following the Spirit’s guidance, but we don’t even know what to pray for like we should. Yes, you read that right. We consistently and persistently pray in a manner that is in direct opposition to God’s will, purpose and plan. Fortunately, the Spirit is also busy praying for us in accordance with God’s will, purpose and plan. But before you get a little too smug in those words I want to remind you of what I previously said – this is a joint effort. God IS at work to bring you into submission and obedience to His will, purpose and plan but you MUST participate in this effort. You must recognize your failure. You must admit and confess your sin. You have to stop assessing and measuring your spiritual growth and development by the failings and immaturity of other believers and begin to see yourself in comparison to Christ and not in comparison to your neighbor or coworker.
Can we know or learn what we OUGHT to pray for? Yes, of course. We’ve even been given lots of examples. If you take time to read Matthew 5-7 (The Sermon on the Mount) you will find lots of great examples of things we should be seeking and praying for. We should be seeking and praying for a sense of mourning over the human condition and our spiritual brokenness. We should seek to be gentle and to deeply desire and seek after personal righteousness. We should strive to be loving and merciful, have a pure heart and seek peace with others. Also, we should feel blessed and honored when we are insulted or persecuted because of our beliefs and faith in Christ. Let me give you one final example of what I mean, before I move on…
I have actually been told on several occasions, by well meaning Christians, that they would NEVER pray for patience. Why? Because James promises us that true patience comes as the result of the “testing of your faith” or as the result of various trials. He even says that we should “count it joy” when this happens because this Godly patience is the natural result of these trials and leads us into spiritual maturity (see James 1:2-4). So, James says we should be filled with joy when these trials come along because they are the very thing that God uses to produce the spiritual fruit of endurance. Wait, didn’t those Christians say that they would be unwilling to pray for patience because James promises that it only comes through trials? But isn’t that one of the very things that God desires in us? But we are unwilling to seek and pray for it? Yeah, let that one sink in a bit. That’s my point and Paul’s point… “we do not know what to pray for as we SHOULD, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.”
That is precisely why I said that I believe we often pray in direct opposition to God’s will, purpose and plan. Instead of praying, “God, please remove this trial from my life” we should be praying “God, please reveal to me your purpose and what I need to be learning from this trial. Give me strength to endure and grace to grow to be more like Christ.”
So, let me end with this week by emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s goal as He joins forces with us to help in our weakness. “He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” We are busy praying for God to remove the trial and the Spirit is praying, “Do it to him, again, Father.” The Spirit is praying for us in accordance with – that is, in complete and utter agreement with – the will of God. The Spirit knows what God wants and desires for us and in us and that is the focus of His deep and “wordless” groaning.
I mentioned, last week, that I have been trained and served as a CASA volunteer. My job as a CASA was to “intercede” with the court on behalf of the children in the case(s) I was assigned. I was to assess the situation and their needs and make recommendations to the court based on what was in the children’s best interest. Sometimes the children and I wanted the same things but, more often than not, what I knew was best for them was not what they wanted.
This often happens in our relationship with God, too. The things we want and believe we really need are not the things that are best for us and in accordance with God’s will for our lives. That’s where the Spirit steps in and intercedes on our behalf according to the will of God. We’re praying for one thing and the Spirit is interceding with God for another. We’re busy praying for God to remove some perceived struggle or trial and the Spirit is asking God to keep the pressure on us because we’re beginning to change and act more Christlike.
A simple question. Do you want God’s will for your life or your will for your life? Would you rather have and live a life of ease and entertainment and find yourself living in opposition to God’s purpose? Or, would you rather have a life that includes some pain, personal struggle and even persecution but it leads you directly into God’s perfect will? You see, when it comes down to it, God knows better than you what is needed in your life to make you into the person He desires. Who’s will do you really want, His or yours? Your answer makes an eternity of difference.