Romans 8: 19-23
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8: 26-28
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. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
We know that the Bible is the book of God’s Word, and it is also a book of words. 774,746 words, to be exact, make up the Scriptures from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation.
In addition, the Bible includes thirteen letters written by Paul. Of those letters, Romans is the longest, with 7,114 words. The letter to the Romans covers everything – God, Jesus, creation, humanity, sin, death, redemption, life, and eternity. It is Paul’s most complete letter, and considered by many to be among the most complete books in all of Scripture.
We live in a world where words flow freely in the public domain and among people. A Google search indicates that the average human speaks between fifteen and twenty thousand words a day (presumably that includes text and email!). We have learned that words matter, and therefore the words we use should be carefully chosen.
In spite of all the words we use, many of us are challenged when it comes to praying. Paul notes in Romans Chapter 8 that we are weak in our praying. “We do not know how to pray as we ought” he writes.
Jesus talked about prayer often, and He gave us instructions on how to pray. These instructions tell us that we should pray secretly, earnestly, and unceasingly. We are also instructed to pray not only for ourselves, but for others, what we call ‘prayers of intercession.’ And yet, we find that Paul is correct in his assessment. We do not know how to pray as we ought to. We get distracted, or we focus only on ourselves. We are sporadic, or we cannot find the words to express ourselves accurately.
However, there is good news. Paul tells us that there are prayers without words, offered by us and on our behalf. These non-verbal prayers are most assuredly heard by God.
One of them is this: The creation groans, as Paul tells us in Romans 8. All of creation – the environment, the people, you and I - we groan under the weight of sin. Creation groans, and we groan inwardly, as in labor pains. We feel that physical expression of pain and fatigue that is felt by all of God’s creation. However, God’s redemption and reconciliation has and is now occurring for that same creation. The labor pains are resulting in and will result in new birth and a new creation.
Also, there is this good news: when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Paul writes that the Spirit intercedes “with sighs too deep for words.” According to Merriam-Webster, the word sigh means “an audible breath expressing weariness or relief.” We believe that the Spirit sighs to God where there are no words, and words are not necessary. God hears and understands.
So we persevere, seeking to pray as we have been instructed. We also trust in the firm knowledge that when we can’t pray – when there are too many words, or we can’t find the right word, or there are no words, we are still heard and loved by God. In the midst of our groaning, our suffering, our fatigue, our weakness, and our inability to focus, the Spirit intercedes for us, when we cannot do so ourselves. The Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
A hymn that speaks to this is “Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire.” Two of the verses read this way:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
God calls us to trust in the Spirit who intercedes for us, now and always. Thanks be to God. Amen.