And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (NLT)
There are times when we are so distressed that we have difficulty forming any kind of words in prayer. There are seasons where our spirits are so sad and angry that our minds cannot focus enough for prayer. And there are events that come upon us unexpected and with such emotional impact that our souls feel pummeled and beat up to the point that all we can do is groan.
In recent days, I have found myself with just such feelings. Feeling the sheer weight of 100,000+ deaths due to COVID-19, as well as the literal weight of a Minneapolis police officer on the neck of George Floyd resulting in death have me groaning both inside and out. I am deeply concerned for my African American brothers and sisters and for the many grieving families, including my own encounters with them, who lament the loss of loved ones.
Yet, I am strangely and mystically warmed with the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence within me – because the Spirit takes my feeble sighs and silent sobs and himself groans before the Father. God feels what I feel and has both the mercy and the authority to do something about it. In my inability to voice prayer with any kind of erudition to the heavenly Father, the Spirit works with the simple grunting of my soul. Like a skillful translator of languages, the Holy Spirit effectively takes every heartfelt muttering and expresses a divine groan to the Father which perfectly expresses my raw and real intentions.
The Holy Spirit is an expert on knowing our concerns, knowing God’s will, and bringing the two in harmony with each other.
Since the Spirit helps us in our weakness, we possess the confident expectation that we will not always be in this position. Meanwhile, we learn to slow down our breathing to receive the breath of the Spirit. We sit in silence, anticipating the gentle voice and refreshing breeze of the Spirit. We become versed in moving with new rhythms of rejoicing and groaning; praising and grieving; hope and lament; faith and agonizing patience. We discover that the Spirit is our ultimate essential service in an upside-down world. Above all, we tenaciously hold onto our imperfect prayers, confident that the Spirit will groan them in the ear of our gracious heavenly Father.
The Holy Spirit is the One who stands in the gap between where we are and where we need to be and intercedes for us, bridging the chasm and bringing us deliverance from our impatience.
One of the oldest definitions of prayer is this: Lifting mind and heart to God. Too often in our efforts to pray formally (both communally and privately) we fail to actually lift our hearts and minds to God because what is really inside us is not something we generally connect with prayer at all. Our frustrations, bitterness, jealousies, lusts, curses, sloth, and quiet despair are sometimes understood to be the opposite of prayer, as if they are things to be overcome so that we can then pray.
Prayer, however, is a conversation, a dialogue, in which we lay bare our deepest thoughts and emotions to a God who graciously receives them and responds in his good time. The great comfort of prayer is that when you cannot put words to it, God hears your heart. And with the Spirit animating those prayers, they never have an expiration date. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is our personal prayer helper.
So, may you know the merciful presence of God’s Holy Spirit this moment, throughout this day, and every day. And may that presence fulfill you, sustain you, and nurture you now and forever. Amen.