The Great Eight (Part 19)

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. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). Our focus again today is on three verses in the Great Eight. At the end of our reading It says that in our weakness, the Spirit of God helps us because we don’t know how to pray as we ought, and so the Spirit intercedes for us with “groaning too deep for words.” And it says that God the Father – the one who searches our hearts – knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit prays for us according to God’s will. So God the Father always answers the Spirit’s prayers. We have been looking at several questions concerning the principles of this passage. Today I want to look at “what” the Spirit prays for us? What the Spirit prays for us is that God would bring about the decisions and circumstances that would most magnify Christ in our lives when we are at a loss as to what the specific will of God is because of our weakness. We saw in previous devotionals that this “weakness” is the same as the sufferings and decay Paul speaks of earlier. In other words, the sicknesses and calamities and challenges of life put us in situations where we are simply at a loss as to whether we should escape danger or stand, be healed or endure sickness, take a risk or stay safe. We just don’t know. What we do know is that we want Christ to be exalted in our bodies whether by life or by death (cf. Philippians 1:20). This is what it means to be a “saint.” So this is what the Holy Spirit asks the Father for, but he knows the will of the Father and he asks that the particular decisions and circumstances come to pass which will in fact magnify Christ best and work together for our good. I have said that this is relevant to all of us as we wrestle with various kinds of sickness and suffering. So, we can easily see how helpful it would be to hear from the Lord or to have the grace of complete wisdom. And it is certainly right to pray for that. But it may be that this situation will be one of those moments when we “do not know how we must pray” and instead groan over our weakness. Is it not wonderful that God is not condemning or ever criticizing us here for not having the faith (as some might put it) to discern his will. The Apostle Paul’s point is to encourage us and help us. Even when we don’t know what we would like to know, and can’t pray with more specificity and assurance of God’s will, we must not lose heart, but trust that God has his purposes in this and has provided for us in our weakness. The Spirit prays for...

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The Great Eight (Part 18)

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. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). Let me begin to close our look at these verses before we move on to the remainder of the Great Eight by suggesting at least five ways you can be encouraged by this text if you trust Christ and groan in your heart for his name to be exalted in your life. First, be encouraged that you are not expected to know the will of God in every respect. Yes his revealed will for you is always faith and hope and love and purity. But whether to trust him to deliver from sickness or hardship or prison, or whether to trust him to help you die, you do not always know. And this text says it’s OK not to know. There is one who knows. And he is praying the way one ought to pray who knows. Don’t add to your burdens the worry that you don’t know all the will of God. Second, be encouraged that in your perplexity and groaning you are not being watched, you are being understood. God is searching your heart, and he is finding a meaning deeper than words. Third, be encouraged that God’s work for you is not limited to what you can understand and express with words. Be glad that God is able to do exceedingly above all that you ask or think (cf. Ephesians 3:20). Your thinking, especially in times of stress and groaning, is not the limit of God’s acting. God is not limited by your limited mind. Fourth, be encouraged that in your weakness and sickness and loss and hardship and danger the Spirit of God is praying for you and not against you. In verse 31 we will hear Paul exult: “If God is for us, who is against us?” And here we see part of that great “for us” in verse 26. The Spirit intercedes FOR us, not against us. Be encouraged that as you cling to Christ and groan for his exaltation in your uncertainty and pain, the Spirit is for you and not against you. Fifth, be encouraged that God the Father hears the prayer of the Spirit. This prayer is for you. And it is always heard! Always answered! God does not reject this prayer in any means. Regardless of the magnitude of the decision you are facing, the challenge before you, or the hardship you are experiencing God, Himself, is even making intercession on your behalf for you good. Be wise; but be...

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The Great Eight (Part 17)

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. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). Isn’t taking risk the antithesis of being wise? Yet, God calls us to take risks (cf. Luke 21:16). The real question is which risks do we take? John Bunyan, the pastor who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress over 300 years ago stayed in prison for 12 years for conscience sake. He could have gotten out if he had agreed not to preach the gospel. He had a wife and four small children, one of whom was blind. This could not have been an easy decision. He could stay in prison for conscience sake, or get out and take care of his family. I must confess I’m not sure what I would have done in the same circumstance. Yet, we will all face similar decisions, though not all as dangerous. Bunyan wrote a book called Advice to Sufferers. In it he captured the perplexity and uncertainty that we face in danger or in front of a risk for Christ’s sake. He asks, “May we try to escape” from the danger? And he answers: Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Exodus 2:15); Moses stood (Hebrews 11:27); David fled (1 Samuel 19:12); David stood (1 Samuel 24:8); Jeremiah fled (Jeremiah 37:11-12); Jeremiah stood (Jeremiah 38:17); Christ withdrew himself (Luke 19:10); Christ stood (John 18:1-8); Paul fled (2 Corinthians 11:33); and, Paul stood (Acts 20:22-13). There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word (Matthew 10:23). Paul’s point is that when you groan with desires that are rooted in bringing glory to God but uncertainty how Christ might best be glorified, the Spirit prays for you and brings it to pass. So, here’s the kernel of truth for you to rest in today. Paul says: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He helps us. Like the little sparrow who is leaping off the ledge in the picture above, we were made to leap into the air. Be wise when you leap, but remember you are born again to do just that. God’s desire and plan for all of us is to bring Him glory. Leave the worry to Him. Take a step off the...

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The Great Eight (Part 16)

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. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). Look again at the beginning of our reading today. Paul says, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” The uncertainty about what we are to pray is because of our “weakness.” Now the word “weakness” in the New Testament can be weakness owing to our limited human nature (cf. Romans 6:19), or weakness owing to sickness (cf. Luke 5:15) or weakness owing to adversity (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). However, here it is the weakness of death working in our flesh. It’s the problem of our bodies that are not yet redeemed. We are groaning because we are yet experiencing the curse of the fall (v. 20). So here we find help and hope in our struggle. The Spirit prays just the right prayer in this weakness we cannot overcome in our own strength. It is of great interest that this “weakness” the sickness and futility and frustration and decay and misery of life on the way to heaven. Isn’t that the greatest part of our daily frustration? At one time or another we all ask “why?” when circumstance seems impossible for us to deal with. We don’t know whether we should pray for healing or for strength to endure. Of course, both are right and it’s not wrong to pray for either. But we long to pray with great faith, and we groan that we are not sure what God’s way will be with this sickness or this loss or this imprisonment. We just don’t know. We can see some examples of this in Paul’s life. Consider his “thorn in the flesh” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12). He asked three times that it be removed. And finally Jesus revealed to him that his will was not to take it away. Surely, that experience would leave Paul wondering with every sickness and pain and hardship and imprisonment what God’s will was. And when he was in prison in Rome he seemed to be unsure what to pray for, life and ministry, or death with courage (cf. Philippians 1:22-24). Now this is painfully relevant to all of us today. Not only are there many who are sick, but there are some now and there will be many over the next years who are in danger somewhere in the world, and wonder, “How should we pray?” Should we pray for a safe escape? Or should we resolve to stay and pray for protection? Or should we stay and pray for courage to suffer and even die? We look at more detail in the coming days; however, today can I merely encourage you to pray. The Holy Spirit will sort it all out perfectly for you. You cannot pray...

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The Great Eight (Part 15)

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. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). We return to yesterday’s reading to explore with more depth the work of the Holy Spirit as He “helps us in our weakness.” The word “likewise” at the beginning of the reading means that Paul has been giving help to us in what he has been saying and now he wants to give us some more help by explaining that the Spirit himself helps us. The way he has been helping us is by telling us why our sufferings are worth enduring for Christ. All of verses we have seen give reasons for why we should hold fast to our hope in the midst of futility and decay and groaning and death. Now the apostle says, “likewise” – in the same way – the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. So in the next few days of our journey we will look at three questions that I think this text answers. The first question is “What does the Holy Spirit pray for us?” Don’t miss the fact that the way that the Spirit helps us in our weakness is by praying for us. That’s the instrument of our help. I’m often confounded about what I should pray for. That’s never the first order of our prayers. Remember how we talked about “groaning”? That’s the first order of our prayers. We utter an unintelligible cry from the depth of our pain. Then the Holy Spirit makes it intelligible. He puts our groans into words and pleas. The apostle says there are three things in specific that the Holy Spirit says. First, the Spirit asks for things that we don’t know we should ask for; second, He asks for things that we don’t know to ask for because of our weakness; and, third, He asks for things that are in accord with the will of God. Now think about what those three facts imply. When it says the Spirit prays for things we don’t know to pray for, that rules out a lot of things. We certainly know we are to pray for holiness and faith and hope and joy and all the fruits of the Spirit and every other unqualified commandment in the Bible. There is absolutely no doubt that we are to pray for whatever God commands us to do. The revealed will of God is not in question. If God has plainly told us in the Bible to pursue something – like love or faith or righteousness or holiness or courage – then we know we are to pray for it. But this text says that the Spirit is helping us by praying for us when we don’t know what to pray for. Now when is that? What sorts of things don’t we know what to pray for? What are we not sure about? Here’s where the word “weakness” in verse 26 becomes important, and the context of what has gone before. We’ll look more at this tomorrow. This weakness is so important to understand. Know this today: Just pray. Groan. Weep. He makes it work to our...

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The Great Eight (Part 14)

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. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). Christianity is the only religion in the world that affirms that there is one, and only one, true God, and that there are three divine persons in the one God: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. This is called the doctrine of the Trinity. The church did not come to embrace the doctrine of the Trinity because there is a sentence in the Bible that says: “there is one God existing as three persons equal in divine essence, but distinct in personhood.” There is no sentence like that in the Bible. Rather the reason the church has embraced this doctrine is because the Bible unwaveringly speaks of one true God, not three Gods, and yet reveals the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as God, and as distinct persons. If this perplexes you, keep in mind that we are in no position as creatures to dictate to our Creator what he may or should be like. God is absolute reality. He was there before anything else was, and he did not come into being, but always was. Therefore nobody made him the way he is, and there is no reason he is the way he is. He simply is. That is his name: “I Am Who I Am” (cf. Exodus 3:14). Our role is not to say what can and can’t be in God, but to learn who he is and who we are, and to shape our lives according to his reality which is his will. We submit to the way he is. He doesn’t submit to the way we are or the way we think he should be. And that bring us to the next great truth in our journey. One of the places where the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is revealed most fully is in this chapter. Today we begin to focus on verses 26-27, but it would be good for us to see what has been revealed so far about the work of the person of the Holy Spirit. What emerges in this chapter is that the Spirit is not just some force or power of God the Father, but a person who works along with the Father and in relation to the Father. In summary we can say that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets you free from the law of sin and death (v. 2); the Spirit helps you fulfill the just requirement of the law (v. 4); the Spirit gives life and peace (v. 6); God will raise you from the dead by the Spirit who dwells in you (v. 11); the Spirit helps you put to death the deeds of the body(v 13); we are led by the Spirit (v. 14); the Spirit bears witness in us that we are the children of God and so gives us assurance of our salvation (v. 15); and, the Holy Spirit is the foretaste and guarantee of our final redemption (v. 23). Therefore, you should love the Spirit as a person. Not as a force or power, but as a person who thinks about you and has emotions for you and works and prays...

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