“We do not know how to pray as we should….” (Romans 8:26)
My wife and I used to have this running discussion over the philosophy that says, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing….(what?)” She would say “It’s worth doing well,” and I said, “Poorly.” (I would remind her of our friend Annie who says, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!” lol)
Case in point: Prayer.
Prayer is worth doing, regardless how poorly we do it.
And we do it poorly, make no mistake about that. “We do not know how to pray as we should.’
The Apostle Paul said that.
My friend, if Paul didn’t know how to pray as he should, it’s a lead-pipe cinch you and I don’t.
But that’s all right. God knows this and has no problem with it. In fact, He did something about it: He gave us a Divine Intercessor.
“…the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words….” (8:26)
I like to think of our prayers as baby talk. Now, speaking as a father and grandfather, I love baby talk. The little one is trying hard to express something in his/her limited way, and instead of laughing at the poor results, we treasure the sound and applaud the effort. There is nothing sweeter.
“Father,” perhaps the Spirit says, “Here is what your daughter Miriam is actually saying.” “This is what Your son Tommy is trying to express.”
What a wonderful Lord we have.
Reflecting on your (and my) inadequate attempts at prayer, here are seven statements I believe to be true.
Your poor praying…
1) is a fact.
In this life, we “see through a glass darkly,” says I Corinthians 13:12. Our knowledge is limited and our efforts fall far short of God’s righteous standard. And yet, the Father welcomes the attempts of His children to draw near and to obey Him. The fact that our worship is limited–and brother, is it ever!–should not stop us from gathering with the saints every Lord’s Day and singing hymns of praise, bringing our offerings, and opening God’s Word.
The singing will not be perfect, the sermon will always fall short of perfection, and our gifts will almost always leave something to be desired. And yet, God accepts our worship.
Perfectionism has no place in the life of a believer in this world. And yet, because they cannot do the Christian life perfectly, it appears that some have dropped out. That was so unnecessary. Their poor efforts were precious to the Father.
Someone has said, “Good music is music that is written better than it can be played.” In the same sense, the Christian life is beyond our ability to live perfectly. But that’s all right. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14) That’s why we have an altar, a place where we may seek forgiveness each day, in order that we might live in the constant assurance of His loving presence.
2) is the standard.
When the disciples said, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus told them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could do miracles.” (My paraphrase of Luke 17:5-6).
Even our weak faith and poorly expressed prayers are acceptable to Him. He knows this is what we are capable of in this life, as residents of this fallen world, and He welcomes our attempts to believe and pray.
3) is all of faith.
When I know my faith is weak and my prayers are poorly expressed, something inside me wants to jump ship. “I can’t get this right!” “How disgusted the Lord must be with me.”
But that’s exactly wrong.
He knows who we are. He knows He got no bargain when He saved us. Yet, He loves us still. “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Here is the point: When we persevere in praying to Him, night and day, with the full knowledge that our attempts at prayer are weak and poor, that is faith. Faith is confidence in the Lord Jesus, which is what we demonstrate when we stay on our knees in spite of the negatives. (Faith means going forward in obedience in spite of the negatives. There are always negatives in this life. “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
4) is powerful and effective.
The Lord does not grade our prayers, as far as we see in Scripture, into those that are holy, more mature, more righteous, better worded, more of faith, and thus more acceptable to Him. Someone has said, “Nothing never happens when we pray.” Every prayer prayed from a sincere heart is heard by Him and dealt with however He pleases.
The prayer of a little child is precious to Him. I’m a little child; my prayer is treasured by my Father.
Some years back, a denominational leader stirred a ruckus by announcing in a political forum that “Almighty God does not hear the prayers” of a certain religious group. The furor took a year or more to die down, and provided fodder for ten thousand sermons and a million discussions.
Personally, I find nothing in Scripture to say any sincere prayer is unheard by God. Prayers from insincerity and hypocrisy are another matter, of course.
5) is no excuse for not praying, for not growing, for not obeying.
The fact that my prayers sometimes are repetitious, sometimes by rote, and often a list (the same list I’ve been praying for the last year or more!) provides no excuse for my not working at learning to pray better and more effectively.
The question arises, “What is ‘better praying’?” What do we mean by “praying more effectively?” Personally, I want to speak God’s language, to ask for His will, and to find more meaningful ways of doing it. Meaningful to whom? I suppose “meaningful to me.”
I enjoy using the Book of Common Prayer just to read the prayers. Godly men and women of ages past expressed their prayers in ways I do not, and I can learn from them. Furthermore, I learn from studying the prayers of Scripture. When the disciples asked Jesus to “teach us to pray,” He gave them what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1ff). We learn a thousand things from that short prayer, and do well to study it often.
6) is temporary.
One day in the future, “we shall know as we are known,” said Paul in I Corinthians 13:12. “We shall be like Him and we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2). Then–and only then!–will we be able to communicate as fully and as perfectly with our wonderful Lord and Heavenly Father as we would like.
7) is God’s opportunity.
God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our limitations provide no problem for Him. In fact, they provide a perfect canvas on which to display His glory and His perfection.
If God can hear and answer my prayer, then anyone’s prayer will be heard by Him!
We keep stumbling across enigmatic statements in Scripture about how the Lord picks up the slack in our pitiful prayers and makes something of them. That 8th chapter of Romans, which provided the jumping off place for our thoughts today in verse 26, tells us “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
But—and here is where it gets interesting–we read just a little further on…
“Christ Jesus…is at the right hand of God, interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
How do we figure that? How is this happening, that both the Holy Spirit and the Savior Himself are interceding for us?
I have no clue, and doubt if anyone else does.
Suffice it to say, God takes our poor prayers and weaves them into pure gold when they arrive in Heaven.
“Thank you, Father! How great Thou art! And how grateful we are.”
Now, let us pray, and pray, and pray some more. Let us never stop praying. “Men ought always to pray and not to lose heart and quit” (Luke 18:1).