Likewise 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.
If you’re like me then you probably struggle with thinking that your prayers are not good enough. “Oh, if only I were a better Christian”, I think. “Or, if only I knew more about prayer, or were more faithful at it!”
But such anxious thoughts about prayer now smell to me of sulfur and demons. The Prince of Darkness will stop at nothing to keep you and me from praying. I often think of the old hymn by William Cowper and how “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his knees”. No wonder that prayer is often a battle!
I am helped and encouraged to learn that others also battle the anxious thoughts about having everything “just right” before they can pray. The Benedictine Dom John Chapman is remembered for the sage counsel he gave to people who wrote him for spiritual counsel. Chapman wrote back to a woman who feared that her prayers were not good enough by encouraging her: “Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can’t. Take yourself as you find yourself and start from there”. As the Nike slogan says, “Just do it!”
In today’s text even the great Apostle Paul counts himself among those who “do not know how to pray as we ought”. The same man who said, “Pray without ceasing”, (I Thessalonians 5:17) also struggled with knowing how to pray.
But not to worry, Paul says, because “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. Note that Paul does not say that the Spirit prays instead of us. Rather the Spirit helps us as we pray. The Greek word translated as “helps” is a fascinating word. It is one long, multisyllabic, compound word: sunantilambanomai.
If we were in a classroom together I would go to the white board and break down this compound word like this: sun-anti-lambanomai.
sun = “together with” or “in union with”
anti = “facing” or “opposite”
lambanomai = “to help”
With those three parts of the word in mind, imagine a man struggling to move a heavy sofa all by himself. Then a helper comes, who together with, and facing him, picks up the other end of the sofa. Here is one man on each end of the sofa, facing each other as together they do the work of moving the heavy load That’s the word picture of sunantilambanomai.
Yes, we do struggle as we pray, and our words sometimes feel lifeless and empty. But the Holy Spirit comes, picks up the other end of our prayer, and together with God we do the powerful work of prayer. God could do it all without us, but He has dignified us by making us “co-workers together with Him” (I Corinthians 3:9). Without God, we can’t. Without us, God won’t.
The Apostle Paul says that as the Spirit and we pray together, the Spirit “intercedes…according to the will of God”. And rest assured that the Spirit’s prayers on our behalf are always answered!
So let’s keep on praying! Let’s ‘just do it’, even when the Evil One tries to tell us it’s in vain.
“In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.”
Grace and peace,
photo by mikecogh