There used to be an add on TV promoting a certain car servicing company. A mechanic was listening to a customer trying to explain what we wrong with his car. The person couldn’t explain it with words because he didn’t know what the problem was. He couldn’t diagnose the fault himself and say ‘the shims between the hydraulic lifters and the cam lobes are worn causing the variable cam timing to be out which in turn has decreased the power out put of the engine by 7 and ¾ percent…can you fix it!
No, he couldn’t say what was wrong, because he didn’t know. He stood there unable to speak. Then from within him, sounds began to come out, he began mimicking to the mechanic the noises the engine was making. ‘It goes like this he said ‘weer, weer, weer’. The mechanic replies ‘you mean ‘whoom, whom, whoom’. No, says the man, more like ‘weeer, weeer, weeer’. O, you mean Wheerr, wheerr, wheerr’. Yea! That’s it responded the owner excitedly. That’s it! Immediately, the owner and the mechanic were speaking the same language, they could understand each other. Through the man making the noises the mechanic was able to correctly diagnose and fix the problem with the car.
How many times are our prayers just like that? We know we want to pray, we feel the need to pray, in fact we know Jesus has commanded us to pray, as Matthew records ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak’. Yet when we do, we don’t know what to pray for. We don’t know how to pray and don’t know why we should be praying…as Jesus says ‘the spirit is willing but the body is weak’. We are like the man in front of a mechanic…we stumble over what we ort to pray about; what words we need to use to describe what we need; we wonder what God’s will might be for us.
If this is you, you are not alone. Praying for what we need from God and knowing his will for us in our life is not a natural thing. St Paul acknowledges this when he says ‘We do not know what we ought to pray for.’ Easy conversation with God ended with the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. That was the day we lost our right to speak with God and our ability to know his will for us. Sin blinds us to the truth about ourselves, our needs and condition, and blinds us to the will of God. Sin even blinds us to the fact that without Christ we are dying in our sins and, without him as our mediator between God and us, will be condemned to hell.
Just knowing this fact ought to prompt us to pray, to pray that God would protect us from death without him; to pray for faith and mercy, for forgiveness of sins, yet because we are blinded to our condition and what the future has install for us, and because we don’t know the hour of our death, prayer is the last thing we think of at the beginning of each day.
Take a look at the next few video clips. What do you think these people would have done first thing in the morning if they knew what was going to happen. (play clips). Yes, they would definitely be praying for God’s protection! But what about us? What about you? Your life? Do you know what to pray for? Do you know God’s will for you and for those you pray for? No, of course not. We cannot perfectly know God’s will for us. Our sinful nature now excludes us from true knowledge of God and true knowledge of ourselves and even true knowledge of what we need. Therefore prayer can be daunting, seemingly pointless, and a struggle, like talking to a mechanic when we don’t know how to say what is wrong with our car. Prayer becomes mysterious.
Paul, in this text, helps us to unlock the mystery of prayer; helps us to understand how prayer works. Listen to what he has to say ‘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.’ Pray is so unnatural, so difficult to do because of our sinful condition that God’s own spirit speaks on our behalf. God’s Spirit works together with us in our prayer, to speak the words we cannot express; to speak the same language as God and to speak according to how God sees our life.
The way Paul sees prayer, us speaking with God, is like the man speaking with the mechanic…no words could express his need, but his groans and noises spoke to the ear of the mechanic; noises that conveyed the right message; conveyed the need and enabled the mechanic to diagnose and fix the car’s problem. In the same way, God’s own Spirit speaks another language to God through our words, as we pray. The Spirit helps us in our weakness; the Spirit intercedes for us with ‘unspoken words’, words that words cannot express. The Spirit has the language of prayer that works in our hearts.
God has given each of us his Spirit in baptism. The Spirit reconnects us with God, enables us to once again converse with God. This is the miracle of baptism; we are born again into God’s family as Paul reminds us ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour’.
Because we are children of God, because we are born anew, and we have his Spirit, prayer for us, is conversation with God on two levels. We speak and call on him for our every need on one level, and on the other, when we groan because we don’t know what to pray for, God’s Spirit groans in us and speaks to God who searches our hearts and knows what we need for our good and well being.
This is the mystery of prayer and this is the joy of prayer. It is not our hard work that causes God to hear; it is not our fervent pray that he listens to, or our discernment of his will …it is his Spirit. The Spirit intercedes on our behalf. All we need to do is pray, as Jesus calls us to do; pray for what we feel we need or for what others need. Pray for the sick, pray for the poor, pray the Lord’s own prayer, but pray knowing the Spirit of God is speaking at the same time.
This is why we pray that God’s will may be done in each and every prayer, for this then leaves room for the Spirit to speak. If we pray that our will be done, or what we think God’s will is, we shut of the conversation between the Spirit and God; this is why Jesus always prayed ‘your will be done’, and teaches us to do the same in the Lord’s Prayer. Let us be encouraged in the knowledge that the Spirit prays with us, and on our behalf. Let prayer be a joyful part of your day, an easy part, a time you look forward to, like talking to a friend knowing that they understand you’re every need. For you know not what the future is, or what the true will of God is in your life, but you do know that the spirit in your heart has the language of prayer; the language God responds to.