In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what (other texts say or how) we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Romans 8: 26-27 (NIV)
How should we pray?
For what shall we pray/
These two questions seem to be most relevant as we approach Pentecost. The Gospel texts assigned from John are loaded with often confusing statements by Jesus to his disciples that in the end we must chalk up mostly to mystery. We are told to pray in Jesus’ name and many other things that God seems to be offering us through the Holy Spirit.
All well and good, but what should we pray for? What shall we pray about?
I don’t often stray from the Gospel texts but I think the Epistle to the Romans, assigned for this coming Sunday, is most relevant and capable to answer these questions.
My first response to both questions is, “we don’t”.
With all that is going on around us how should we pray for Israel? How should we lift up the Palestinians? How do we care for the homeless in our own city? What prayer might we offer for a person who is about to be evicted; or a person who has no idea where his next meal is coming from? All these questions are important to someone, whether near and far.
To bring this closer yet to home I was recently confronted with my son being in the ICU here in town with an extremely high blood pressure that for a time went unexplained. He is home now and being closely monitored by a fleet of doctors. Adding frustration to all of this is the times we live in where I could not visit him due to pandemic restrictions.
I had no idea what to pray for. Yes of course my son, but for what? For him to come home or to just get better? What about the doctors? Even they were confounded with the rarity of the condition given his age. We await some resolution and I am still at a loss for what to pray.
We struggle through prayer when we have trouble seeing the presence of God in anything around us.
The Psalmists struggled with the very same things. Something between a third and a half of the Psalms are laments. The writers were addressing the things happening to them in their time that did not seem to square with the promises of the God of covenants. Where is God? Does he not see? Does he not hear when we cry out?
All fair questions both then and now. In previous writings in this venue I have suggested that it is alright to yell at God for our inability to see God’s presence and activity. I’m pretty sure there are some big shoulders out there that our laments can fall upon.
At the end of those lament Psalms seem to always conclude with some sort of statement that put things back in perspective by being reminded that God is the creator and we are the created.
Here then lies the relevance and beauty of Paul’s message to the Romans regarding prayer and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit knows of our suffering, our uncertainty, and our frustrations. We are told then that the Spirit intercedes for us when we do not, or cannot, know what or how to pray.
On this Pentecost Sunday when we recognize the placing of the Holy Spirit in us we celebrate this relationship with God, this gift from our creator, where we are assured that God does hear us even when we don’t know what or how to pray.
Gracious God, we give you thanks for the placing of the Holy Spirit in us and the assurance that you hear us even when we don’t even know where to begin our prayer to you. We give you thanks for our knowing that you are truly present and active in our lives. Amen.