Grease for the Wheels of Prayer, pt. 5
I have discovered the answer to an age old question that many have wrestled with in vain. The question is this: if you had three wishes from a genie in a bottle what would you wish for? Many have tried the approach of “I would ask for infinite wishes”, but as we learned in Aladdin, that contingency has been covered by Genie protocol. So what do you do? (Brace for profundity) You wish for infinite genies. BOOM!!
Now that we have solved that vexing question, we come to the sad reality that many people actually think prayer is akin to making wishes to a genie in a bottle. This is about as misguided as it can possibly be, but even so the same question still arises; what do you ask for in prayer?
God has not left us in the dark in this regard. There are many things we are taught to ask for in prayer. Just looking at the Lord’s Prayer (better named The Disciple’s Prayer) in Matthew chapter 6, we find that we should ask for God’s Glory, God’s kingdom to come, God’s will to be done, daily provisions, forgiveness, and protection from sin and temptation. From other prayers found in Scripture, and from the matters to which the Bible gives eternal significance, we learn what to ask for as well. These places in Scripture are a treasure trove for understanding prayer.
Unfortunately, your typical Tuesday morning regularly hands you issues that stamp a question mark in your mind regarding what to ask for. To be sure, there is a place for praying for the highest and best in every situation. We should be praying for revival, saving new birth, and whole-hearted repentance over most of life. But God is often working in gradual, step-by-step kind of ways instead of world-changing revival ways. So after you have prayed that your whole office would fall on their faces before a holy God as he pours out his Spirit and draws them into confession and forgiveness and a sweeping desire to weep and sing and share the gospel; after you have prayed for that, what do you pray concerning more practical matters? Should you pray about confronting a specific instance of gossip, or what about starting that bible study, or maybe wisdom for the carpool discussions about the problem of evil? If you are saying, “yes, pray for all of that” you are touching on the need to “pray without ceasing” because there is always a lot to pray for. But even in this, there are a thousand other things you could imagine asking for which would be good as far as you can see. So how do you know what to give prayer time to?
This bring us to the verse I wanted to highlight. Scripture tells us what the issue is, and it is that none of us know what to pray for.
Romans 8:26 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;
Look closely at that middle phrase, “for we do not know how to pray as we should.” This is the reality we live in. What causes this? The phrase before says it is due to “weakness.” What kind of weakness? We are not told, but I think there are two major kinds at least. These two weakness are moral weakness and intellectual weakness.
Moral weakness means we want the wrong things. Our value system still has a worldly bent and so we pray for things that are worthless in spiritual terms, or at least not a biblical priority. This moral weakness has us praying for health when we should pray for repentance, peace when we should pray for boldness, comfort instead of endurance, getting instead of giving, and numerous other issues like these. Why is this so, and where does this come from? It comes from weak eyes that don’t see the glory of Christ, dull senses that don’t feel the worth of Christ, and hard hearts caused by a sin blockage.
There is also an intellectual weakness, which is not sinful, but is true for us nonetheless. We simply don’t see the whole picture. We see how things are easier with a healthy body, but we can’t see a particular need to be humbled or have our dependency exposed. Therefore, we don’t know that praying for health, while good, is not the best at this moment. We easily see the good of having plenty of money to pay for bills. But we often cannot see how a lack of funds can make us trust in God, or how God will lead other to give to you in order for them to learn a lesson about being more blessed in giving rather than receiving. Therefore, we don’t know that praying for resources, while good, is not the best at this moment. Just as you should not arrogantly assume you have another day to live, you should not arrogantly assume to know the best in any given situation. Coming in boldness is not the same as coming in arrogance.
There are a thousand ways our moral and intellectual weakness comes into play, happening in a thousand different situations every day. So what is the point of praying with such prevailing weaknesses? That is much like asking what is the point of talking to a toddler. Toddlers will ask their parents for all kinds of things, all the time, and ignorance and foolishness are always a part of it. Parents understand this, but they still want their children to talk with them. And many times parents will give them what they ask for simply because they ask for it. Not all of the time, obviously, but this is the nature of a real relationship. The great difference in our relationship with God is that he knows our hearts perfectly, and the Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will for needs that really matter and which are perfectly coordinated with the million details that surround us. This is what Romans 8:27 is saying.
So we pray with confidence. Not because we know exactly what to ask for, but because God is a good father who will do what is right. He wants to give us good and right things when we ask for them, and will most certainly give us good things when the Spirit asks for them. As we are conformed to the image of Christ we will increasingly learn what to ask for. But all through that process, we have an intercessor who will never fail.