In the weeks following Pentecost, the epistle readings in Romans have focused on what it means to live in the Spirit. For three Sundays in a row, passages from chapter 8 reveal rich insight. Arguably there is no richer teaching about the Spirit of God, particularly as it relates to prayer.
Clearly the Apostle states the reality: “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.” The Spirit, who searches the heart, intercedes according to the will of God for those so intimately known. God the Spirit is closer to us than our very breath, according to St. Augustine, “closer than I am to myself.”
Yesterday I had the privilege of being the guest proclaimer at First Baptist Church, North Platte, Nebraska. It is a tender time in the life of the congregation, as interim pastoral leadership has served it for about 18 months. The labor-intensive work of the pastor search committee continues, and they seek to stay encouraged.
At the beginning of morning worship, the chair of this committee announced that a promising candidate had decided not to come. He spoke of the commitment of the committee and their desire to be faithful in their work on behalf of the congregation.
Then the chair of the deacons came forward, summoned the rest of the committee to come to the front, and offered prayer in their behalf. It was a holy moment. By this action, the church was affirming that they stood with their representatives; even more important, they were turning to the source of provision, One who knows what the church most needs. The Spirit helps in our weakness, even in the process of waiting for a new pastor.
Prayer is not always about stringing words together. At times it is stillness that allows us to hear the prayer already being prayed within us. It is listening for the deep sigh that transcends our fumbling theological rhetoric. As a spiritual practice, prayer draws us into the life of God. True prayer begins with God and returns to God. It is a circular movement that welcomes our participation.
We do not pray to persuade God to do the right thing. We pray so as to add our energy and love to divine purposes. As we pray, we learn of God’s dream for our broken world, and we become agents of healing ministry. The deep sigh of the Spirit is for the Body of Christ to fulfill its mission. So it is a wise congregation that seeks the divine assistance through prayer.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God,
shaping church, and serving humanity.