Note: This Sunday had a guest speaker. There is no manuscript. To hear that message, use the audio sermon file. I have included a message given in a recent worship service at The Bluffs (a senior community). – Pastor Chuck
Message Why The Spirit Groans Romans 8:22-27
Preceding tonight’s passage, Paul tells us that we who are led by the Spirit are adopted as children of God, and we can call him Abba (an affectionate title (Daddy), Abba, Father. And that his Spirit will testify to our spirits that we are God’s children. And then he talks about sharing in his sufferings so we can share in his glory. It seems like that is a verse that gets leapfrogged over a bit in order to get to the poetic words we are looking at tonight -- yet it is probably introducing the idea that leads to those poetic words. Verses that describe how prayer works to those who love God… This is what Paul says:
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved... 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accor-dance with the will of God. (Romans 8:22-27 (NIV))
A minute ago, we sang, “... sweet hour of prayer! thy wings shall my petition bear to him…” Charles Spurgeon once said, "The tail feathers of pride should be pulled out of our prayers, for they need only the wing feathers of faith.”
People may rave, "what remarkably beautiful language they used in that prayer!" Perhaps, but God looks at the heart. When we pray, do we offer our prayers to one another, to our own ears, or to God? Fine language is fine, but if it is without heart; then it is an empty sound to God.
But if at the heart of our prayers are the groanings against reality -- times our life get so “ARRGGG!” --- so that even if we could figure out what to pray for, we wouldn’t know how to put it into words. To God, who sees the heart, they may be the best prayers, for they are passionately felt.
Visit a house with a little child that cannot yet speak plainly. She cries for something, making very odd and objectionable noises, combined with signs and movements, which are mostly meaningless to us, but her parent understands her exactly, and attends to her pleadings. Parents can translate their baby's talk, comprehending incomprehensible noises. A parent knows their child's needs before the child knows what they want. They stutter and stammer, unable to get words out, but the parent sees and takes the intended meaning.
Sometimes our prayers don’t fare much better. But God knows all about us and our hearts, and he understands the cryings, sighings, and chatterings of His bewildered children. The Spirit takes the stammering of our prayerful hearts and lifts them to heaven in perfectly elocuted music to God’s ears.
Some see the groaning of reality as inappropriate to the Christian life (especially the ones who like to skip over that “sharing in his sufferings” verse :) ). They believe the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit brings only ecstasy, jubilance, and rejoicing. Therefore, keeping in step with the Spirit, these people tell us; is a life of constant celebration and almost giddy happiness.
So in those times when our hearts may ache and hurt, we feel pressured to look “Christian” to these happiness hunters. We deny our sadness and hurt and frustration and vulnerable-ness, and bury it deep, and pretend everything is good and under control.
As God's saved children, we have peace with God, and can have the peace of God; we are blessed in ways that are too numerous for us to count, which come from His gracious and loving care.
But at the same time, the Spirit hears the cries and the groanings of our heart, burdened by life’s realities, which in this text is not presented as rare exceptions of life, but the norm for Christian living.
Groaning is normal because (1) Life is complicated. So, we who love God are afraid to ask, or fear we are asking for the wrong thing – how does that phrase go? ‘Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.’ ... and being unsure, we hesitate to ask, or don't know how to ask, and our spirit moans under our confusion.
(2) We groan because it is an expression of feelings that can't be put into words. Words cannot convey the depth of it, the feelings surrounding it, whatever is this topic we are looking at that is so raw to us.
(3) And we groan because we look out at the corruption of our culture. We also look within and see our how badly damaged is the image of God for which we are designed to have and reveal.
We see so sharply the difference between what is and what could and should and will be. We see the jading of justice, the missing mercy, the lack of love, we see God’s will not being followed; and it causes us to groan.
In the book, Isaac Asimov Laughs Again: Asimov tells the story of Rabbi Feldman, who has been having trouble with his congregation. It seemed they could not agree on anything, and controversy filled the air until the Sabbath itself became an area of conflict. Unhappiness filled the synagogue.
The council leader said, "Rabbi, this cannot be allowed to continue. We must hold a conference and settle all areas of dispute.” The rabbi agreed.
The time of the special meeting arrived. The rabbi and council met around the magnificent mahogany table in their conference room. the dealt with the issues one by one. As they did, it became clear that the rabbi was a lonely voice in the wilderness.
The council leader said, "Come, Rabbi, enough of this. Let us vote and allow the majority to rule." He passed out the slips of paper, and each person made their mark. The slips were collected, and the leader said, "You may examine them, Rabbi. It is 11 to 1 against you. We have the majority."
The rabbi rose to his feet majestically, "So now you think because of the vote that you are right and I am wrong. Well, that is not so. I stand here and call upon the Holy One of Israel to give us a sign that I am right and you are wrong."
And as he said so, there came a frightful crack of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning that struck the mahogany table and cracked it in two. The room was filled with smoke and fumes and the council members were hurled to the floor. Through the carnage, the rabbi remained tall and untouched, his eyes flashing and a grim smile on his face.
Slowly, the council leader lifted himself above what was left of the table, hair singed, glasses hanging from one ear, his clothing in disarray. He said, "All right, 11 to 2. We still have the majority."
We together become so certain of what we want that God’s desire takes second place to our own determinations. We groan because we see the ever-widening gap between the painful realities on earth and the promises of heaven, and God’s Spirit encourages us to recognize the difference.
What are we to do with the difference between our eternal optimistic idealistic hope of heaven on earth; and the seemingly constant slap of the realities of our corrupt culture? We read the paper and we want to be shocked, but we aren’t even surprised anymore.
Paul says we can’t stick our head in the clouds of personal heavenly ecstasy, nor can we give in or give up to the painful consequences of what it means to live in this fallen creation. Doing either will cause us to forget that we are called to represent his redeeming, transforming, restoring work to his creation.
What are your prayers producing in you? Does it give you a hunger for heaven on earth? Does it give you a healthy discontent with what is wrong with the way things are, creating a desire to make those things better -- through prayer, through acts and words of kindness? If so, the Holy Spirit is producing in you a heart for God.