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(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
Before we begin this week’s lesson I want to take the time to welcome everyone to HBS.
I also want to thank the regular visitors who frequent this site for their faithfulness.
I pray you are finding these Bible lessons edifying and helpful.
One of the most misunderstood doctrines in the church today is prayer. Because our apostle Paul brought this subject up, I’ve been trying to show the class, using Scripture, in this dispensation God never promised to give us whatever we ask for but this doesn’t mean prayer is obsolete or that we cease praying.
Unfortunately, Believers use prayer as if it were a tool designed to help them get their way; forgetting its God’s way that matters and not ours. People are in the habit of firing off a prayer or two to God and expecting a response. If they don’t get one soon enough they “fire off” another one… This reminds me of a child who keeps coming to their parents asking for the same thing, over and over again, even though they’ve been told, “No,” or “Not now.” The child knows from experience that if they keep coming eventually their parents will yield to their request. We can’t “wear God down” in this manner. He’s not going to bow to our will…our prayers must always be compatible with His sovereign plan and God’s way of doing things. I’m going to speak a little on both of these sub-items in this lesson today.
Believe me when I say we’ve only scratched the surface of this church age topic. If you’re looking for a Bible study subject for your small group or for your family, may I suggest this one? Several negative issues surround our prayer lives. For some, it’s as if a dark cloud were blanketing this topic forcing a “shut-down” in their communication with God. Here are some issues we haven’t touched on:
- We do not understand the concept of prayer to begin with
- Believers do not appreciate prayer for the wonderful gift that it is
- Prayer is often viewed as an obligation; it’s just one more task added to a busy day. For many Believers their prayer life, if it exists at all, has become rote (repetitious; mechanical). If God hears from us, its mealtime grace or He is usually the last thought at the end of a hard day. We may then manage to squeeze off a quick “thank You,” or we rapidly “dump” our cares and woes on Him before we nod off.
There’s more, but you get the idea.
Now, in connection with appreciating and understanding prayer, it helps I think to understand that prayer actually developed out of that relationship and fellowship that God had originally designed to take place between Him and man (Adam). Since this is true, prayer is directly connected with the issue of godliness. For those of us, in this present dispensation, who are being “educated” by God in godliness, prayer is an integral component of our “sanctification” and absolutely vital to this process (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Colossians 1:27).
Please turn to the book of Romans, chapter 8.
We’ve come to a tender place in the book of Romans and an area where many a Believer struggles. Paul is saying virtually the same thing.
26: In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
27: and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Psalms 139:1; 1 Corinthians 2:10).
There are more than a few opinions as to what Paul means with the words, “In the same way…” Some connect it to the theme of groaning, which we’ve been looking at for quite some time. Others contend that it links it with the Holy Spirit which is in the forefront throughout this great chapter. Still others argue that the connection is with hope. We can be encouraged in our trials because of the hope of future glory (Romans 8:18-25), in the same way, we can be encouraged in our weakness by the Spirit’s intercession for us (Romans 8:26-27). All of these are good.
I really don’t have an opinion to offer you and I’m not prepared to “pick a side.”
When I study these verses, what I understand is this: our apostle Paul wants us to know and to be encouraged by the fact that the Spirit of God is praying for us, in our weakness, and for this reason – so that we will be encouraged to pray consistently and according to the will of God – for every good deed (Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6-7).
Sometimes a small pronoun in the Bible can make a big difference. If you study the text above, you’ll note that Paul did not write, “…the Spirit also helps your weakness, but rather he wrote, “…the Spirit also helps our weakness.” Paul didn’t put himself up on a pedestal as an example of spiritual strength. He partnered with us, he said, “I too am weak”.
Please turn to 2 Corinthians 12:7. Here Paul tells us about his experience of being caught up into the third heaven (where God exists) where he heard inexpressible words, which he was not permitted to speak of (v4). Because of this great revelation, to keep Paul humble, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh.” Paul asked the Lord in prayer three times to remove this burden. But the Lord said, (“No.”) - “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
Paul’s conclusion follows: most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my (what) weaknesses (note the plurality), so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak; then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
You see, Paul didn’t know what to pray for in this trial. And that’s the sense of Romans 8:26. He’s not talking about how he should be praying or the method (the way or the order of doing something) but rather the content of his prayer.
A lot of people are “hung up” on prayer methodology. I served with one particular ministry for years that believed in prayer but every time we prayed we had to be prostrate on the floor, as if God would not hear us or accept our prayers any other way. There was no praying on your knees, sitting up, or standing unless you were handicapped or ill. Other groups light candles, burn incense, or pray before man-made objects such as statues or pictures. Once again, these folks have “lifted” doctrine from time past and incorporated it into this but now era (dispensational age).
I’m not saying any of this is entirely wrong unless you are wrongly motivated. In this administration you may pray in any position you desire. If praying on your knees or with your hands in the air brings you closer to God, please continue to do so. However, in this current dispensation God does not require us to follow any prayer rituals or traditions. You may pray sitting up, standing, lying down in bed, or in your car and the latter may be a good idea.
In Romans 8:26, Paul is saying he, like us, isn’t sure how to form the right words, or “say the right thing” to the Father - he’s having trouble communicating. Now in my book, Paul is a spiritual POWERHOUSE, so this comforts me for I too at times cannot find the “right” words. At these times, I pray Scripture back to God.
Paul had the same difficulty expressing himself in the book of Philippians.
Let’s go there now. Turn to chapter 1, please.
21: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22: But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23: But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart, and be with Christ, for that is very much better.
24: yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
If you’ve read these verses carefully, you noted that Paul could not decide whether to pray that the Lord would take him home, which was Paul’s chief desire, or to preserve his life for further ministry here on earth. Hopefully, you also see it was the prayer “content” that was giving Paul the problem and not whether he should be praying while lying on the ground, on his knees, etc. (the method).
Please flip back to Romans, 8.
Let’s look closely at verses 26. First we have this: the Spirit also helps (Sunantilambanomai in the Greek. Meaning: to take hold with another) our weakness
It’s interesting that the word “help” appears here and only one other place in Scripture.
The other place we find the word “help” is in the book of Luke, chapter 10:40. Here Jesus is in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching while Martha was distracted with all her preparations. Finally, in frustration, she burst out, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” You see, she wanted her sister to “help” bear the burden of preparing the meal and serving it.
The word “help” implies that the Holy Spirit doesn’t do everything, while we sit back and do nothing. The Spirit of God doesn’t bear the entire load. We are encouraged to keep praying and doing whatever the Bible may instruct us to do in our situation.
But as we pray, the Spirit is saying, “Permit Me to come along side to help you. I know what to say and how to say it when you can’t find the words.”
26b: but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
This is the only reference to the Holy Spirit interceding for us in regard to our prayer lives in Scripture, so there’s nothing to compare it to. Let’s keep in mind though; Paul’s overall intent is to encourage us with the fact that God has not forsaken us in our weakness. Rather, the Holy Spirit has come alongside to help us (John 16:7)
I, for one, do not believe that the Spirit of God groans because I don’t believe God groans. To me, this is an inconceivable notion! There are some Bible commentators who believe this, however, I draw my conclusion from Scripture (Isaiah 53:5-7).
I do not take Paul’s wording in this Bible passage literally. My understanding is that the Spirit’s groaning on our behalf is an anthropopathism, which means to attribute “human emotions” to God. For example: when the Bible says that God hates (Psalms 5:5-6), it is most likely an anthropopathism.
In this Bible passage it says that the LORD repents or changes His mind. Consequently, when we read this passage it appears as if God changed His mind, although His counsel is fixed from all eternity (1 Samuel 15:11, 29).
One of the best examples I can find in Scripture of an anthropopathism is this one:
The psalmist compares God to a warrior who awakens from a drunken stupor (Psalms 78:65). Obviously, God is not sleeping off a hangover when he does not answer our prayers, but this is how the psalmist portrays Him.
There are many more examples: God gives birth (Deuteronomy 32:18), God experiences joy (Isaiah 65:19), God has shoulders (Deuteronomy 33:12), World-Faith leader Kenneth Copeland says God has human dimensions, standing around six-feet-two-inches and weighing a couple hundred pounds, simply because God “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand” (Isaiah 40:12). I expect you get the idea by now.
The fact is we all groan whether we’re in pain or because we’re feeling alone and helpless. Even our stomachs are said to “groan” when they are empty… So too, our spirit groans when we do not know how to pray as we should.
So, I suggest that our apostle Paul is simply informing us, from a human perspective, how the Holy Spirit interprets our stuttering and stammering (groanings) or lack of words altogether and conveys our prayers to the Father, in line with the will of God.
Now let’s go to verse 27.
27: and He who searches the hearts (of the Believers) knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
He who searches the hearts is referencing God the Father. Paul’s message is this.
Since the Father understands all human hearts, He knows the unspoken groans of the Spirit who is interceding on our behalf. In other words, nothing that the Holy Spirit conveys to the Father leaves God bewildered or confused.
Let’s not skip over the word heart in this verse because this is where our prayers should come from. I’ve heard some eloquent prayers in my time, and they were LONG too. But, I sincerely doubt God was pleased. These prayers were meant to impress people and not necessarily convey a message to God (Luke 18:10-15). God doesn’t want to hear our spiritual-sounding prayers. I’m thinking God wants you to pour out your heart and always be honest with Him (1 Samuel 16:7; Psalms 62:8).
Before I close this lesson the last item on the list is the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Part of our weakness in praying is we’re not able to know God’s sovereign will, for the most part, until after it happens. Thanks to the Bible, we can know His moral will. We should know that we are not to pray for anything that is contrary to Scripture. For instance, you don’t need to ask God if it’s o.k. to marry two women, have sex outside of marriage, steal a new car, or rob a bank to pay your bills. Scripture says all these things are wrong and God will not retract His previous statements; trust me on this.
However, there is a definite mystery here that we cannot fully understand, which is why we need the Holy Spirit interceding in our prayer lives to keep us in line with God’s will. Permit me to explain.
Samson’s parents rightly urged him not to marry a Philistine woman. But they did not know that God wanted to use Samson’s wrong desire to bring judgment on these same Philistines (Judges 14:1-4). So, you see, it was God’s will for Samson to disobey his parents.
Jeremiah was right to pray that God would spare His people from the Babylonians for His name’s sake. Nothing wrong with this intercessory prayer, but God’s sovereign will in this particular situation was to judge the Jews for their sins (Jeremiah 14:19, 15:2).
Then we have Satan, Himself, who demanded permission to “sift” Peter like wheat by tempting him to deny Jesus. But Jesus, knowing the will of the Father perfectly, did not pray that Peter would not sin, but rather that his faith may not fail and after this event that he would be restored and strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:31-32).
So, I understand from this that we too pray for things that God knows we should not have or that conflict with His sovereign plan. When this happens, the Spirit “corrects” these prayers and aligns them with God’s sovereign will.
(To be continued)
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