Help from the spirit

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Good morning everyone. We continue our journey through Romans 8 so please turn with me to that in your Bible.

Romans 8 was written to bring courage to weary Christians and so it’s perfect for such as time as this. It contains some of the most profound truths of what God’s has done through Christ. It is also one of the greatest chapters on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and it contains some of the most incredible promises that bring assurance and confidence in the face of a world of evil and death. We’ve seen some of that already in our youth and children’s talk.
Today we’re looking at verses 26 and 27 – let me read those and then I’ll pray. Romans 8:26-27:

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.

[Prayer]:

Father please help us now to understand these words you have spoken to us and give us faith to trust you more. In Jesus name we pray, Amen

Romans 8 shows us that as God’s people we are on a journey. Behind us is a life of slavery to the law of sin and death. Jesus died and rose again so that we can be adopted as children of God, no longer facing condemnation, instead we are now heirs of our Father’s kingdom. But we are still on the journey – we’re already free but we’re not yet home. We struggle with sin, and groan at the sufferings of this present time longing for a time when sin and suffering are no more. And so we journey on, as we saw last week, waiting patiently (as it says in Romans 8.25) for the glory that is to be revealed.

This is just like the way God once liberated Israel from bondage to slavery in Egypt, led them through the barren wilderness, and eventually brought them to the promised land. That exodus pointed forward to our great rescue by Jesus – the greater, more decisive Exodus that Jesus accomplished for the people of God. And just as God once led His people through the wilderness, when they often found themselves not knowing where they were going, through the pillar of cloud and fire, so today the Holy Spirit helps and leads God’s children. Look again at Romans 8.26, which says:

the Spirit helps us in our weakness.

In spite of the redemption we have already received in Christ, we often find ourselves unsure of where we are going and what God’s will is. In the ‘wilderness’ we can be tempted to turn back to the slavery we have been rescued from. We forget to look ahead to the ‘inheritance’ to come. That’s why, as Romans 8.26 continues:

…we do not know what to pray for.

As we will see in Romans 8.29, what we should pray for is that we would be:

conformed to the image of his Son.

And the profound and comforting truth we are taught here is that the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us to ensure that we reach our final destination. Those who are Gods children can be sure of God’s protective guidance when weak and weary in the journey. Romans 8.26 again:

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.

Having being liberated from sin and death through the Jesus, we can take comfort that the Spirit will guide us through the wilderness until we reach the promised land–even though, like Israel of old, we are often weak.

I find it so encouraging that Paul, who wrote these words, did not write, “… the Spirit also helps you in your weakness,” but rather, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness. Paul did not set himself up as a spiritual giant. Rather, he included himself with us as one who was weak. That’s because this is the life of faith this side of heaven. This is normal on the journey through the desert. Paul felt his own weakness in the face of temptation. He felt weak when facing abuse for being a Christian. He felt weak in the storms of life. Do I feel weak? Do you?

For some of us, a reason we do not pray as frequently or as fervently as we should is that we do not recognize how weak we really are. If we knew ourselves to be weak, we would constantly be coming to the Lord and crying out for His strength like the psalmist did in Psalm 28 which we read together just now. Jesus did not say, “Without Me, you can get along with all of the everyday stuff. But when you get hit with something really big, call on Me.” Rather, He said (John 15.5):

…apart from me, you can do nothing.

For others of us, we feel weary and battered. And our weakness makes us feel too guilty or too much of a failure to pray. We often don’t know how to pray as we should. Or we have prayed and prayed but it doesn’t seem to have been answered. There are times when we simply don’t have the strength or will to pray - when something devastating happens, or perhaps laid low through illness. It’s encouraging here in Romans 8.26 that God doesn’t confront us or condemn us for being weak. He doesn’t leave us to ourselves. Rather, we have the help of God’s Spirit to help us in our weakness. Look at Romans 8.26-27:

…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he [that is the Holy Spirit] who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Some of this is a little tricky to work out. But I want you to see here that the take home message that it is NOT NOT NOT about what we do. It’s about what God’s Spirit does for us. These verses are all about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. And what is really clear is that the Holy Spirit is right there with us, helping us by praying to the Father for us. We may not know what to pray for. But he does. We don’t hear his prayers – they are groanings too deep for words - groans that we do not hear (literally, ‘without speech’). He tenderly takes our prayers and directs them according to God’s will before His throne. And because what he asks for is according to the will of God, we know it will be answered! And that is why Paul goes on with confidence to say what he says in Romans 8.28 that for those who love God all things work together for good and Romans 8.29 that we will be conformed to the image of his Son.

Those wonderful promises are often disconnected from their immediate context. But what we see is that one of the reasons we can have confidence that we will make it home is because the Holy Spirit is praying for us according to God’s will. That is what gives us confidence that all things work together for good. The result of the Spirit’s intercession in leading the weak, wandering people of God is that we will never be severed from God’s guiding hand. There is no promise here that our weakness will ever be removed completely this side of heaven. This side of the new creation, we will still find ourselves at times not knowing what to pray for or where we are going. But what is promised here is that those who have been set free by Jesus will never be lost or abandoned. He will get them safely to the promised land.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play in seeking to live for Jesus. Or doing all we can to use the tools he has given us to grow more and more like Jesus. We are to seek his help to live as obedient children and not use our freedom to sin. Romans 8.5 says this:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

But our confidence is not in our strength. We are weak, it is only he who is strong and mighty to save. As one Old Testament writer put it (2 Chronicles 16:9):

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towards him.

These are amazing promises to cherish as God’s people. The Holy Spirit stands with us and sustains us in the midst of darkness and trials. He helps us to persevere. By his help we will make it home. And it’s not just the Holy Spirit alone. This is God’s work – Father son and Holy Spirit. We are weak, but he is most certainly not!

When I’ve finished we’re going to sing a song that captures these truths so well. It’s called He will hold me fast – you may know it. It goes like this:

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold through life's fearful path;
For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He'll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast
'Till our faith is turned to sight, When He comes at last!

He will hold me fast! What wonderful comfort that is. Now, having said that these verses are not about what we do, knowing that the Holy Spirit prays for us in our weakness does encourage us to pray. Even though we do not know how to pray as we should, Paul wants to encouraged us to keep praying. We won’t fully understand the mystery of prayer in this life, but we know that the Lord commands us to pray. He has ordained prayer as the means through which we cooperate with Him in bringing about His sovereign will.

Romans 8.26 says the Spirit helps us. That doesn’t mean that because the Holy Spirit is praying for us we can sit back and stop praying. Rather, we are to keep praying and, if appropriate, keep working or obeying or whatever the Bible may tell us to do about our situation. But as we pray, we are helped by knowing that the Spirit is there next to us. He knows how we feel at the deepest levels and he knows what to pray for when you don’t. He takes up our needs at the deepest emotional level and conveys our hurts and cares to the Father’s throne, all in line with the will of God. So the Spirit helps us by praying for us in our weakness. What an encouragement to pour out our hearts before Him.

So, don’t let the fact that you don’t know how to pray as you should discourage you from praying. And don’t let the fact that prayer isn’t easy discourage you from praying. Prayer is often hard work. It isn’t easy. But keep working at it. And finally, don’t let the fact that your prayers don’t seem to be answered keep you from praying. Make sure that to the best of your understanding you are praying in accord with God’s will. But if you are praying unknowingly for something that is not His will, you can trust that the Spirit will take your prayers and line them up with God’s perfect will. This gracious truth, that the Holy Spirit tenderly prays for us in our weakness, should cause us to persevere in prayer, especially in times of trial.

Let’s pray:

Father God. Your word tells us, in Philippians 1.6 that the good work you have begun, you will also bring to completion at the day of your son and our saviour Jesus Christ. Help us to hold firmly to that truth with confidence in your power to save and not in ourselves. And thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and helps us in our weakness. Thank you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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