How the Spirit Helps us Pray
Prayer – HELP!!
January 7, 2007
I need help. When it comes to figuring out things on my computer and keeping all the programs in it running, I need help. It's just too complicated for me. I don't really under-stand how it works. It's beyond my capabilities. Unless I get help, there are times when I get really frustrated. Can you relate to that?
When it comes to prayer, I also need help and I am exactly where Paul suggests I am with prayer when he says, "We do not know what we ought to pray for." That expresses part of what it means to be human and live in a fallen world. But the help we need with prayer is available just like technical help is available to computer buffs.. In the same paragraph where Paul tells us. "We do not know what we ought to pray for," he also says, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness."
Let's read what Romans 8:26-27 says about the help the Holy Spirit gives us in prayer: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for. but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.”
The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray and what to pray by planting within us the "yearnings" of God, which, when prayed. are brought back to the Father by Jesus Christ.
If that is so, then why Is Prayer So Difficult? Let me suggest three reasons.
First, Prayer is conversation with an unseen person.
It's natural and easy for most of us to talk to a person we can see. It's not even hard to talk to a person we can't see so long as we can hear an audible voice, as in a telephone conversation. But we can't see God. We can't hear his audible voice. When it comes to communication, God can seem so silent and distant and God's apparent silence and distance become obstacles to our prayer. It's hard to know some-times if our words are really getting through.
The second reason our prayer can be difficult is our secularity. It’s is an obstacle Secular means "worldly" as distinguished from church or religion. In our world, where science and technology often dominate, it's easy and natural to make our plans, go about our daily activities, and pursue our recreational interests with no thought of God. He doesn't seem to be necessary, except in a crisis when human efforts and human solutions fail us. In such a world prayer gets used mostly as an emergency measure. It's there when we need it, like 911, but it may not be something we think about much when everything is going well. There is a saying, “God is not in crisis management; He’s in Christ-management.” Although I’m not too sure if the Bible would support this saying.
And the third reason prayer is difficult is because it's hard to understand how prayer works.
Trying to understand how prayer works seems to give rise to more questions than answers. How, for instance, can God hear a couple of billion prayers at the same time and respond to them all? How does God deal with prayers of two opposing armies, or two opposing teams, both asking for his help to win? If he is both al-mighty and loving, why do so many sincere prayers seem to go unanswered? And what about the prayers of people from different religions? Is there one true God who responds to all of them? Further, why should a sovereign and all-wise God even listen to our prayers if he already knows what's best? All these questions can prevent us from praying – if we question God’s omniscient, omnipotent, omni-present character. Fir that is what we do when we question the validity of prayer, we are questioning the character of God. When you pray knowing the prayer-answering God, your faith will increase.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It comes from Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God” study, an account that illustrates what happens when a church prays and walks by faith:
“When the world’s fair was coming to Vancouver. Our association of churches was convinced that God wanted us to try to reach the 22 million people that would come to the fair. We had about 2,000 members in our association’s churches in greater Vancouver. How in the world could 2,000 people make a great impact on such a mass of tourist from all over the world?
Two years before the fair we began to set our plans in motion The total income for our whole association was $9,000. The following year our income was about $16,000. The year of the World’s fair we set a budget of $202,000. We had commitments that would probably provide 35 percent of that budget. Sixty five percent of that budget was dependent on prayer. Can you operate a budget on prayer? Yes. But when you do that you are attempting something only God can do. What do most of us do? We set the practical budget, which is the total of what we can do. Then we set a hope or faith budget. The budget we really trust and use, however, is the one we can reach by ourselves. We do not really trust God to do anything.
As an association of churches, we decided that God had definitely led us to the work that would cost $202,000. That became our operating budget. All of our people began praying for God to provide and do everything we believed He had led us to do during the World’s Fair. At the end of the year, I asked our treasurer how much money we had received. From Canada, the United States, and other parts of the world we had received $264,000. People from all over came to assist us. During the course of the fair, we became a catalyst to see almost 20 thousand people come to know Jesus Christ. You cannot explain that except in terms of God’s intervention. Only God could have done that. God did it with a people who had determined to be servants moldable and available for the Master’s use.
Do you want to be moldable and available for the Master’s use? Then know He is calling you to pray!
Yes, understanding how prayer works can be difficult, so how does prayer work?
First, the Father initiates prayer. When we pray, we pray to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. Of course, we can actually pray to any of the persons of the Trinity. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father in the Lord's Prayer when he said, "This ... is how you should pray: `Our Father in heaven ..." (Matt. 6:9). Jesus also invited us to pray to him. He said to his disciples, "You may ask me for anything in my name ..." (John 14:14). The Holy Spirit also receives our prayer when we sing a song like "Spirit of the Living God" or "Dwell in Me, 0 Blessed Spirit." Each of us will have a preference to whom we pray. But did you know God initiates our prayers.
Paul says the help that the Holy Spirit gives us in prayer is "in accordance with God's will." In other words, the Father initiates prayer just as he initiated the plan of creation and the plan of redemption. Prayer is the Father's idea. He knows what he wants to accomplish in our lives and in our world, and he provides for us the help we need to pray in accord with his will. When you were a child you may have prayed for a chocolate bar to magically appear in your hand. Now, you know that’s not God’s will. God’s will is made apparent in His Word. And where does it say, “Thou shalt eat chocolate everyday?” I don’t know but I sure hope I find it soon. I know it’s there somewhere. I’m joking of course. But I do know I will find God’s will clearly spelled out in God’s Word. To seek His will; delve into His Word, because God who initiated prayers, wants you to know His will.
The second way prayer works has to do with the Holy Spirit's intercession within us. When we give our lives to Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us. He is our helper, our mediator. He speaks to our hearts thru Scripture. He regenerates us (John 3:15) thru the second birth. He anoints us (1 John 2:20,27). He guides you (John 16:13); He sanctifies you (that is, He makes you holy). He is your helper, your teacher who, as Romans 8:26 says, helps us in our weakness, makes intercession for us before the throne of God.
The Greek word for intercession literally means "to meet with to converse." It was originally used to describe a person who met with another to urge or prompt that person to a course of action. Paul's reference to the Holy Spirit interceding for us in Romans 8:26 means that the Holy Spirit meets with us to help us know what God wants us to pray. The Spirit's normal location of operation is within believers, for the Spirit lives in us.
Understanding another word in Romans 8:26 (…..but the Spirit Himself intercedes with groans) can help us get the point of this passage. In the original language the word for "groans" can also mean "yearnings." This meaning can help us see that the Spirit's help is in transmitting to our hearts the "yearnings" of the Father so that we pray what the Father wills us to pray. In other words, we pray as enabled by the Spirit – He convicts us to pray. In the past this was called the unction of the Spirit.
Lastly, Jesus Christ speaks to the Father on our behalf.
As the Father initiates prayer and the Holy Spirit transmits the yearnings of the Father to our hearts, it is Christ who first hears our prayers, discerns what the Spirit has planted within us, and takes our prayers to the Father's throne. In Revelation 2:23 Jesus says he is the one "who searches hearts and minds." So, as Paul indicates in Romans 8:27, when we pray it is Jesus, the "heart-searcher," who hears our prayers and transmits them to the Father. We are highly favored. We have a Father who spurs us to pray, His Son who listens intently and takes our prayers to the throne, and a Spirit who will pray for us when we know not how or what to pray. How many of you have been in this situation where you feel the conviction to pray, but you don’t seem to be able to articulate the groans of your spirit? Fear not. Those prayers are just as viable as the well-articulated prayers of the saints.
Putting these ideas together, we have what may be called a cycle of prayer. Prayer starts with God the Father. The Holy Spirit takes the prayers initiated by the Father and plants them in the hearts of believers. Believers, responding to the Spirit's promptings, pray what the Spirit gives them. Then Jesus Christ, by searching the hearts of believers, discovers the prayers quickened in us by the Spirit and presents them to the Father. The Father recognizes the prayers brought to him by his Son as the very prayers that he initiated. Isn’t that gratifying to know you are in that cycle of prayer? Even more gratifying is knowing that the cycle of prayer was created by God for us as a means of communication with our Maker. Prayer is for us – the saints of God. We are highly favored!! We have a direct line to the throne room of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Are you starting to get the picture of how highly favored you are? I hope so! Your heart should swell with amazement as you ponder God’s amazing invention – the greatest prayer chain going!
Now, let’s talk a little about what God wants us to pray. Prayers take many different forms in our world. Not all of them are right. Some people, like Tibetan Buddhists, write their prayers on small pieces of paper and place them on a prayer wheel. As the wheel turns, the prayers are supposedly prayed. Some native peoples in Central America create figurines that represent the things they are praying about. Still other cultures attempt to pray by using mystical sounds put together in precise patterns to communicate their concerns to their gods.
But Biblical prayer is different. It is distinctive. It is not chanting or mystical.
Jesus taught us to pray with words, words that truly represent the thoughts and feelings of our hearts and God’s heart. With these words we express our appreciation for and gratitude to God, we convey our sorrow for sins committed, and we make requests for God's blessing on others as well as for our own personal needs. Many believers remember these basic elements of prayer with the acronym ACTS in which A stands for adoration or praise, C for confession, T for thanksgiving, and S for supplication, asking.
As the Spirit helps us to know what to pray and how to pray, he helps us with "all kinds of prayers and requests" (Eph. 6:18). The Spirit helps us praise God for who he is. The Spirit helps us thank God for what he gives for it is the Spirit who opens our eyes and enlightens us (1 Corinthians 2:12, 13). The Spirit also convicts us of sin and brings us to godly sorrow and heartfelt confession. I love what 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 says about godly sorrow. Listen to it as I read it:
”Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter”
Did you catch all the list of things produced in us if we truly sorrow over sin:
- repentance leading to salvation
- concern to clear yourself of sin
- indignation over sin
- alarm at sin’s perniciousness
- longing for God
- zeal to make everything right
All this the Spirit works in us when we grieve over sin. Also, the Spirit helps us know our personal needs, both material and spiritual, and He will give us words to ask in accord with His will (1 Corinthians 2:13). The Spirit shares with us the burdens of God for lost and hurting persons and helps us translate those burdens into prayers of intercession for the Spirit gives us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
Of course, we can also pray without words. As the Spirit moves in our hearts, Jesus Christ, the "heart-searcher," finds in our hearts our unverbalized prayers. This also is true prayer. In the words of a songwriter, "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, unuttered or expressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast." Yet even in such unspoken prayer there is no mystical mantra or magical rites. There is real communication involving real persons—believers praying to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit.
4. What's So Great About Prayer? It is a valuable gift given at salvation so we can have intimacy with God.
God gave us prayer because he wants an intimate personal relationship with us. Prayer can be defined as the conversational part of the most important love relationship in our lives, our love relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To converse with God is to deepen that love relationship. In and through that love relationship life is refocused, sin is dealt with, joy is birthed, faith is strengthened, hope is kindled, and power is released. And all the people said --------AMEN
Spending time with God in prayer is the greatest possible expression of our love for him. It literally says to God, "I love you." Not to spend time with God sends another kind of message, a message like the one sent by Adam and Eve as they hid from God in the Garden after they had sinned (Gen. 3:8-10).
Toward evening they heard the LORD God walking about in the garden, so they hid themselves among the trees. The LORD God called to Adam, "Where are you?" He replied, "I heard you, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked." Plus, when we do not spend time with God in prayer, we rob ourselves of a rich spiritual life. We choose second best.
Prayer is for enrichment.
In Matthew 7:11 Jesus reminded his disciples that the Father will give good things to those who ask him “If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
He challenged us to ask so that we will receive, to seek in order to find, and to knock so that doors would open (Matt. 7:7-8)
"Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.
Our spiritual growth and enrichment depend on our asking. Those who do not ask do not receive (James 4:2). “You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it.” Those who ask find their lives enriched by God's gifts.
When we pray, God works.
Though God is almighty, all-wise, and fully able to work without us, he chooses to work through our prayers. God calls us into a working partnership. Without Him we can't, and without us He won't. In other words, without prayer, we can’t; without prayer, He won’t! What we need most for solving the problems in our world is not more money, education, ideas, books, or strategies. Our prime need is hands lifted up in prayer. God wants an army on its knees. When we pray, God works. Through our prayers God reveals His plan and His purpose to His people.
James 1:5 says: ”If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” God’s Word means what it says. If God says it is okay to ask Him for wisdom to make decisions or plans, it would demean Scripture if we wondered and worried about whether God wanted to show us His will. We would then be an emotional mess, “driven and tossed by the wind”, as James warns the person who doubts even after God has given him a clear answer. The word makes it clear, if and when we ask, God will answer!
1 John 5:14 reiterates what James says by saying “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 2 Peter 3:9 says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” So we know we are in His will if we pray for the unsaved. Again, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us – We can confidently depend on it.
Sometimes God’s Word is so loud and clear that we’re afraid or intimidated by its directives, especially when it comes to asking, hearing, knowing, and doing His will. We get tripped up by the timing of the answer or by people around us who may negatively influence us or by a fear of looking foolish. That’s when looking at the Word for real-life illustrations of those who sought God’s specific plan – and received it _ provides encouragement to believe that the principle is the same for anyone who loves God and fears Him. What would Israel have been like without the prayers and obedience of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and Samuel asking and receiving God’s specific direction for travel, battle rations, words of knowledge, and strength? And why would we in our life’s journey of battles, travels, and physical needs be any less needy of God’s specific direction?
Granted, there is one "minor" prerequisite to prayer. The psalmist mentions it in Psalm 25:12, "Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him." And he continues, "The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them" (v. 14). I am convinced by Scripture and personal experience that "fearing" God— that is loving, revering, and obeying Him—is the pathway to asking for and obtaining God's will for one's life. From your personal relationship with God, you gain the assurance that He indeed has a specific plan for your life. Then as Matthew 21:22 says, "If you believe [in what He has shown you is the way to pray . . . in other words, His will], you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
In the large and small circumstances, in the lives of the weak and strong, for the famous and infamous, God has a plan. Psalm 139:16 points to that truth:
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
May I be so bold to say that when I have asked God for direction, I have always received my "marching orders," and because God has shown me the way, I know where I am going. I have received a call, and I'm following. Just after being saved, I asked God to keep me in the center of His will, and that’s what He’s done all these years. Oh, I have not always been a fast-learner, but in retrospect I can see He has kept me in the center of His will.
Ask for His will,
believe in what God says is yours, until you
receive all that He has for you.
In the book Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants is an excerpt from The Art of Prayer, which offers a beautiful description of discerning God’s will in your life:
During prayer, a solution to some problem that perplexes you in your spiritual life comes out of itself from an unknown source. This is good. It is the true Christian way of being taught God's truth. Here the promise is fulfilled and you shall be taught of God (John 6:45). So indeed it is. Truths are in-scribed in your heart by the finger of God and remain there firm and indelible. Do not neglect these truths which God inscribes but write them down. And upon writing down the direction you believe God is taking you and acting upon what is written down I have no doubt or reservation to say you will know God's will for your life.
The book of Proverbs is full of sage advice, not the least of which is this: "In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (3:6, NKJV). Which of us would not want the best directions to the best plan? A habit of inquiring of God in all situations will inevitably—as promised—reveal His plans – His good and perfect will.
As I said at the beginning of this message, to make certain that we will pray "all kinds of prayers," and that we will pray for the things God wants to accomplish on earth through us, God has given us his Spirit "to help us in our weakness." We can be strong, faithful, fervent "pray-ers" if we listen to the Spirit and respond to his promptings in our heart. By God's grace and through the help of God's Spirit we will be the kind of "prayers" God wants us to be—people devoted to prayer.
For prayer releases God's power
... in the life of a person.
... in the life of a church.
... in the life of a community.
... in the life of a country.
Has not prayer been the means used to escort a sinner through the gates of salvation into eternal life? Has not prayer been the vehicle that ushers in the Holy Spirit's power to bring about physical healing and to turn one man—even a convict—from the depths of sin and ungodliness (whether it be the apostle Paul or a David Wilkerson) into an itinerant evangelist? Does not prayer precede miracles of inner healing? Is not concerted prayer the groundwork for revival?
In the New International Version of the Bible, James 5:16 reads, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective," If prayer had no power or even little power, what would be its purpose? Since prayer is presented as an effective source of power for the believer, it appears unwise, even foolish, to approach life without it—at least as foolish as it would be to go into enemy territory without weapons for defense. Could it be that we neglect prayer because we don't have a need for power in our daily lives? I doubt that. I know not one life that has no struggle or disappointment, does not face some opposition or illness, has not experienced pain or tragedy to some degree, and there-fore has no need for God's power to be released.
Evelyn Christensen, author of “What Happens When Women Pray” relates this story: “One day my husband walked out of the sanctuary of our church and encountered our custodian fairly dripping with perspiration. He was a giant of a Christian but was gradually losing his ability to think and work effectively because of hardening of the arteries. As my husband saw him struggling with the vacuum cleaner, he looked down, and there lying on the floor was the plug. The dear man had vacuumed the whole auditorium and didn’t have the plug in the outlet.”
Isn’t that what happens to many of us? We work, we pull, we struggle, and we plan until we’re utterly exhausted, but we have forgotten to plug into the source of our power. And that source of power is prayer – the “effectual, fervent prayer” of a righteous person avails much.
So, to whom is the power of prayer available, and how does prayer release God's power? Forgive me if my answer seems redundant, but I am convinced the source of God's power to change, rearrange, create, move, and trans-form a believer's life is the person of the Holy Spirit. I've observed many people who are intimidated by the same powerful Holy Spirit, avoiding and essentially ignoring Him and His available power.
For whatever reason—misunderstanding, fear, or doubt—when the Holy Spirit is not invited by believers into their lives or circumstances, it appears they have pulled the plug to their power source—God Himself. As a believer, I invited God to dwell in me. God in the form of the Holy Spirit now dwells in me as my strength and my Redeemer. My power is God in me.
Not only is the book of Acts an incredible account of the works and power of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus Himself implored His disciples to wait upon and cling to His Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that His Spirit would empower them (Acts 1:8) and teach them truth and provide counsel. He would take what was His and make it known to them (John 15—16)! Paul prayed for the Ephesians: "I pray that out of his [God's] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:16-17).
I am not naive enough to assume that my few words of testimony and Scripture regarding the power released when you invite the person of the Holy Spirit into your life will dramatically convince or change your thoughts. But I am willing to challenge anyone who is open to leaving the supernatural releasing of power up to God! To do this, pray daily (at the start of each new day and after a regular time of confession) this simple prayer:
Lord, fill me up to overflowing with Your Holy Spirit this day. I commit my ways to You.
Then wait in anticipation for God's power to be re-leased within your life in (perhaps) both unusual and supernatural ways.
Jesus said, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).
I started my message today reading that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. (Romans 3:26) We are weak. And praying can be our weakness. Even when we have invited the Holy Spirit into our lives prayer may not come easily.
When the indwelling Spirit speaks to our hearts, we may not recognize His “wee small voice”. We may think that if a voice is not audible, it is not speaking. Not so. When someone shrugs their shoulders in answer to your question, they have spoken using body language. When a mother frowns at her child, that child knows perfectly well what she is saying. So how will you know God is speaking? His voice may be your next thought. He guided the thoughts of the Bible-writers. He can guide yours. His voice may come as a strong impression to stop and help someone, or give them a phone call. It may come as a warm glow in your heart as you commune with him. He may speak through the words of His people. Brian Doerkson tells how his song “Creation Calls” was heard through an apartment wall and brought a neighbor to tears of repentance. Yes, God speaks in many ways. Is He speaking to you right now? Is He prompting you to make that phone call that you’ve been putting off? Is He gently nudging you to come away with Him for a time of prayer – talking with Him. He will help us in our weakness. Consider Him ….”lest you become weary and discouraged in your soul” says the writer of Hebrews. “He will make you complete in every good work to do His will”, says Hebrews 13:21. And prayer is His will for us. Listen for the “yearnings” of God. God speaks to you, even when you’re not speaking to Him. He is drawing you to His Word. He is creating in you a desire to know Him better. And He is confirming in your heart all truth. Do you sense God’s Spirit speaking to your spirit? Good! What a wonderful affirmation that you are a child of God.
In closing, listen once again to this passage from 1 Corinthians chapter 2. I will read from verse 12 through verse 16 from the New Living Translation:
”Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.
For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.”