Have you ever gone through a period in your Christian life where it seems like prayer just doesn’t work? It is usually through times of trial and drought, where you yearn for God to intervene and answer something. You cite passages on prayer with the hope that this will revive your weary heart.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7-8)
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Ah but casting cares for silence gets discouraging after awhile. I confess this has been my challenge lately. Coming before the Lord to pray and that ever growing bowl of unanswered prayers hits me square between the eyes. Added trouble to the list brings further despair and the question “what’s the point?”. And this encompasses all kinds of prayers – for needs, for salvation of loved ones, for situations that need correcting, for others and their needs and for personal desires. If you you’ve never been there, then God bless you. But for those of us who have you know how difficult prayer can get in the midst of extended periods of silence. It generates all kinds of questions and evaluation of what we might be doing wrong.
But then I remember another prayer. Paul tells us in Romans
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. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
Well let’s step back and put this in perspective of what Paul is addressing. In fact, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter because it’s really important. The Christian is united to Christ (vv 1-4) through the work of the Holy Spirit whose indwelling serves as the mark that they are God’s (vv 9-17).
Now some have used vv 26-27 to show we must speak in tongues. But I don’t think that is what it is saying, especially when considering the context of the entire chapter. The Holy Spirit conveys the will of the Father and since he indwells the believer, he can impress upon the heart of the believer something that the believer has not recognized.
So let’s look further in vv 17-25. Being united to Christ also means sharing in his sufferings (vs 17). That means we will experience trials and times of suffering. But this suffering is part of a greater reality of creation suffering. But God is working out his redemptive plan for his creation, which groans, yearning for the day when everything will be set right (vv. 19-21). This will produce questions, trials, deferred hope and just the yearning with creation for something better.
But the silence, darkness, trials and drought draws our attention to the present reality. This is the reality during these times, when you just don’t know what to pray for anymore, when prayer gets hard because the silence seems so deafening and your prayers seem exhaustive.
But here’s the beauty of Romans 8:26-27 against the oft cited Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose.” Don’t stop reading there but read to the end of the chapter. Paul is addressing something greater than the here and now, but God’s eternal plan where he is working everything out to the council of his will (Ephesians 1:11). PS: Romans 9-11 further highlight this eschatalogical perspective.
So when we find ourselves in times of extended silence, that is the time to pray for prayer, meaning pray that the Holy Spirit impresses on us what to pray for. Sometimes, that may mean not saying anything at all but just getting our hearts aligned with the Father, by reviving belief in the Son and being filled (controlled, under the influence) of the Holy Spirit. It may mean just absorbing ourselves with his word, leaning on community and praying for the right perspective and for wisdom during dark times (James 1:2-5).
Whatever your difficulty and apparent silence from God, the right perspective will involve the bigger perspective. Romans 8 ensures us there is something bigger going on, something grander, something that is beyond our wildest imagination that tends to get drowned out through the moans and groans of suffering in the present. We see the here and now and long for God to respond in some way. But I believe that Romans 8:26-27 will help re-align discouraged and weary hearts to a bigger perspective.
So when you pray, pray for prayer that the Holy Spirit might guide you what to pray for and align your heart accordingly. Pray for hope and a greater perspective on the fact that this is not all there is.