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Friday, October 21, 2005

8. Closet Ethics

Ro 8:26-27 "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; 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.”[1]

I've spent the last few days meditating on what this verse says about prayer and I am discovering the more I think about it, the more I appreciate what it says. Understanding this verse follows the fact that Jesus understands what life is like, therefore the Holy Spirit understands and because He understands what life is like, the Spirit knows exactly how to pray. Knowing the Holy Spirit is sent alongside to help (John 14:16) gives great comfort knowing that He is not operating out of omniscient divinity alone, but as one who was fully man-He knows how to help our infirmities! This makes the Lord's Prayer of John 17 much more meaningful-He was doing for the disciples the very thing Ro 8:26 says! Whether we are in suffering, or in hope, He intercedes.

“We would be at an eternal loss if the Holy Spirit did not intercede for us. He understands our sinful frailties and knows that, by our own wisdom, we don’t know how to pray properly for ourselves or how to consistently maintain our walk with the Lord.” [2]

Have you ever been around someone who talks much without saying much? Or perhaps he simply proves over the course of time that he does not know what he is talking about at all? When I read the following verses I am made to realize that perhaps even in prayer, the Holy Spirit keeps us from making fools of ourselves (Mercy!) when we pray about things we really don't understand. “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” (John 20:20-23) [3]

Think of it. Going to Jesus and saying something to which he responds, “you do not know what you are asking.” [insert “wince” here]. I would hate to think of the times I've prayed in arrogance and the Holy Spirit stepped alongside to help me out in ways I could never imagine (grace!). Paul has been inspired to write what, in effect, we now hear twice from Jesus: we don’t know how to pray. We don’t know how to ask for the things we don’t know what to ask for. The Holy Spirit makes talking to God possible. The implication is that we don’t know what prayer is—we don’t fully understand how to use it. It is the Holy Spirit HIMSELF who urges us to pray, who guides our prayer, makes prayer possible, regulates and purifies our requests, “as the interpreter of the mind of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the arbiter, director, and interpreter of all our wishes.”[4]

Consider too: “Although the intercessory work of Christ, the great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, is well known to most (Heb 7:17, 25), we sometimes forget that the Holy Spirit also pleads our case. In our perplexity about what we ought to pray for, the Spirit joins us in prayer and intercedes on our behalf with a level of fervor that far surpasses our own. We are strengthened in our suffering by realizing that not only does the Spirit pray for us but that God understands his prayers completely and can answer them because they are always in accordance with his will (Rom 8:27). Our second source of help is the realization that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (8:28).”[5]

But what does He say? What words does He use? There has been a progression of this “groaning” idea through this chapter in Romans, from a general or collective groan based on a shared experience (“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” [6]) down to a more individualized sigh or murmur (“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” [7]) to this very specific sigh or groaning on behalf of someone else (“the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”).

“Those “groanings” refer to divine communications between the Father and the Spirit that transcend any human language. They are more like sighs that can’t be put into words. That means we can’t know precisely what the Holy Spirit says when he intercedes on our behalf, but we can be certain that He is praying for us. The Spirit’s lofty ministry of intercession reminds us again of how utterly dependent we are on Him to support us and help us with our daily discipleship. “ [8]

Whatever He says, it does not make us break out in speech of any known or unknown kind, but there is a definite communication clearly understood only by God. The things He says are Christ-interceded and in-His-Will-accorded to the praise of His glory.

I think we get a glimpse of what this looks like when reading over Dr. Wilbur Chapman's shoulder in a letter he wrote to a friend: “I received a note saying that an American missionary was going to pray for God’s blessing down on our work. He was known as Praying Hyde. Almost instantly the tide turned. The hall became packed, and at my first invitation fifty men accepted Christ as their Saviour [sic]. As we were leaving I said, “Mr. Hyde, I want you to pray for me.” He came to my room, turned the key in the door, and dropped on his knees, and waited five minutes without a single syllable coming from his lips. I could hear my own heart thumping, and his beating. I felt hot tears running down my face. I knew I was with God. Then, with upturned face, down while the tears were streaming, he said, “O God.” Then for five minutes at least he was still again; and then, when he knew that he was talking with God there came from the depths of his heart such petitions for me as I had never heard before. I rose from my knees to know what real prayer was. We believe that prayer is mighty and we believe it as we never did before.” [9]

Of all things, I am sure that those words groaned are closely tied to His Word. The Bible is what keeps us on the same page-conforming our minds and hearts and lives to His mind, heart and puts us in the position to be lived through. We are on the same terms with Him when we read and wrap our lives around His Word.

By His deep intercession the Holy Spirit fills lacking faith, strengthens weakness, rebuilds trust, redirects desire, stokes fervency, restores opportunity, builds character, changes conduct, convicts disobedience, supports vigilance, interprets and applies God’s Word and edifies the whole house of God.

The Holy Spirit gives us the person of prayer (the Father), place of prayer (heaven), the purpose of prayer (hallowing His name in heaven as on earth), the power of prayer (the Kingdom in the already/not yet on the earth as in heaven), the meaning of prayer (His Will be done on earth as in heaven), the prohibitions of prayer (satisfaction with Him as the source, and what we need to interact with one another), the prescription of prayer (guidance and protection).

Prayer is the conversation of godliness, the measurement of emptiness, the standard of holiness, the attitude of worship, the discipline of discipleship, the unity of fellowship, the bond of brotherhood; the direction of the feet, the extension of the hands, the beat of the heart, the thought of the mind.

Prayer is the sign of repentance, the fuel for the journey, the breath of the soul, the incense at the altar.

Prayer is the question of the Christian, the practice of Great-heart, the consultation of Watchful, the armor of Charity, the request of Valiant, the song of Mercy, the Demolition of Doubting Castle, the killer of Giant Despair; the watchdog against sin, the fireman against lust, the finder of the lost; the bowl of the hungry, the cloth of the poor, light in the darkness.

Prayer asks, never tells; waits, never presumes; seeks, always finds.

Prayer is the right of the faithful, order against tyranny, freedom against anarchy, the ethic of the closet.

1 New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 . The Lockman Foundation: LaHabra, CA
2 MacArthur, J. 1998, c1997. Strength for Today. Includes indexes. (electronic ed.) . Crossway Books: Wheaton, IL
3 NASB, ibid.
4 Elwell, W. A., & Elwell, W. A. 1997, c1996. Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed.). Baker reference library; Logos Library System. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids
5 Mounce, R. H. 2001, c1995. Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary . Broadman & Holman Publishers: Nashville
6 Ro 8:22, NASB, ibid.
7 Ro 8:23, NASB, ibid.
8 MacArthur, ibid.
9 Tan, P. L. 1996, c1979. Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Bible Communications: Garland TX

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