If you remember, last week, we looked at creation briefly, then about what Paul says about coping with suffering. That is, noting the transitory nature of suffering, and looking towards something better.
We looked at the “better” Paul encourages us with…
v21—Freedom from bondage.
v23—Adoption as sons.
v23—Redemption of our bodies.
And finally we considered the differences between worldly & biblical hope …
Time ran away with me, and I left off and said we’d come back to it this week. So, following on from last week, in a place of anticipation and hope, we come to another way we cope with suffering.
This is probably one of the most comforting points … and it reads from Rom. 8:26-30: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”.
This week is one of the main helps we can have when we are going through suffering, the first thing to note is the help of the spirit in our weakness, and the second thing I note is the efficacy of prayer.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness (v26)
The knowledge that we have someone who is with us and helps us whatever life throws at us is, for me, a very comforting thing. Everything might go pear-shaped, everyone in your life might let you down, or even desert you, but you will NEVER find yourself alone and without help. The trick is not to forget it at the times we most need to remember it.
This is also important because we have a tendency to look around at other people and measure ourselves against them. If you’ve ever thought, “I am not as good as them at that”, you are looking to yourself and not to God. A key to effective discipleship is to understand that even in weakness, God is with us and we have the help of the Holy Spirit.
v26 really echoes Jesus’ own words when He said that he would send the Spirit. In that passage in John 14 where He describes a “helper” God will send, and identifies him as the Holy Spirit.
- Jn. 14:16—“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever”
- Jn. 14:26—“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Aside: Interestingly, this description of the Holy Spirit is the same description the Bible uses in Genesis when God says “it is not good for man to be alone, I will make a helper for him”_ (Gen. 2:18). I know the language is different (Greek v Hebrew), but it is not a mistake that the words both translate to “helper” in English! My point is: if we see Gen. 2:18 as a mandate for male superiority over women, in order to be consistent, we must also believe man is superior to the Holy Spirit! This is also evidence that if we are going to ask what the Bible teaches about something, it is unwise to jump to a single verse to prove our point._
Anyway, back to the Holy Spirit as a “helper” who draws alongside to help us in our weakness. A tendency many people have is to try to either hide or minimise their weakness. No one likes feeling weak or being seen as weak. This is increasingly true nowadays.
We MUST come to terms with weakness, for a number of reasons:
Weakness is part of the strength of our witness. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it is in weakness that we appropriate God’s strength. Gideon, for example, felt weak, and wanted a huge army to perform the task God called him to, yet God whittles his army down from over 30,000 to just 300. Why? God says, “because you will say my own strength accomplished this” …
The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ (Jdg. 7:2).
When we are weak, God is with us. This echoes 1 Cor. 1v27 where Paul says, “God chose the weak to shame the strong”, he describes his own weaknesses in various places, so, for example, in 1 Cor. 2:3-5, he says. “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”.
Paul says God’s power is made perfect in weakness, in 2 Cor. 12:9,10 he says, “But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.
We then read in Heb. 4:15, which says of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”, so
It is important we are weak, that we recognise that,
- Heb. 4:15—When we are weak, Jesus understands and sympathises with us, and,
- 2 Cor. 12,9,10—In our weakness, God’s strength is revealed, and,
- Rom. 8:26—In our weakness, we can rely on the help of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness”, but Paul’s description here of the kind of weakness we suffer is not physical. Even though he has talked of suffering, the weakness Paul seems to have in mind is mental/spiritual, he says “we don’t know what to pray for”, and talks of God as “he who searches our hearts”. In Revelation, in the prophecy John is called to give to the church in Thyatira, God says, “all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds” (Rev. 2:23). Strength and weakness are not merely measures of physical attributes. So, how might we feel weak in ways which are not physical?
- Character—Ever heard someone say, for example, “he’s a really weak man”. Most frequently, that determination speaks to a lack of inner strength, to the characteristics of someone who you know doesn’t have the inner strength to overcome something. In fact, talk to many athletes, whose entire career is determined by perfecting some physical talent or ability, and you will find they all too frequently say the difference between winning and losing at the top flight is not in practice or ability, it is internal, in the mind, in the will and in the emotions.
- Emotional—In its extreme, it shows itself in clinical depression (this is not cured by “you should just get out more”). We are not weak, we simply “feel” weak. Emotional and mental health is a very common and popular subject today. We are bombarded with tv programmes, books, studies and all sorts of other experts about how we can keep our mental health good. I want to note that one of the best ways to combat emotional weakness is to surrender to Jesus. He says “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29).
- Tendencies, habits and temptations — in their extreme form, these become addictions. But we all have weaknesses, We have a tendency to something we’re ashamed of (porn, smoking, tendency to lose our temper, negativity, alcohol, chocolate [chocolate addiction is not something to be proud of or to laugh about!], shopping, the list is almost endless). This is Rom. 6:14 stuff “I do what I don’t want to do”.
- F￼ear—All too often, fear is something which drives our actions and our decisions. There is a reason one of the most commons things you can read THROUGHOUT the Bible is God saying “do not be afraid” (Isa. 41:10, Jer. 1:8, Acts 18:9,10 amongst other verses).
- ￼inferiority/comparison—We play the comparison game so well don’t we – even Peter did it with a risen saviour, “master what about him (Jn. 21:21,22)?”. Jesus’ response was “what’s that to you? YOU follow me”. How many times have you felt “don’t ask me to do that—ask him, he’s so much better than I am”.
- Ignorance—Sometimes our weakness is born in ignorance, we just don’t know. We don’t have the knowledge, or the skills we need in a situation and this makes us feel vulnerable and weak.
In this passage in Romans, Paul seems to be focusing in on this last one, “we do not know what to pray”.
In our hope we then come to a place where we can intercede, and yet we don’t know what to say, so God steps in and helps! “We do not know what to pray for as we ought”
Paul calls this weakness and says that the Spirit helps us, “with groaning too deep for words”
(Compare the groaning of creation and our groaning which is borne of suffering and essentially looking forward to our own benefit, with the groaning of the Spirit which is a groaning on our behalf before the throne of God).
- Intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26), and,
- Intercedes for the saints (Rom 8:27).
Note “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (v27), he then says “according to His purpose”. Thinking of 1 Jn. 5:14 which says, “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”, or “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn. 14:14). See the connection?
Note – if we are to pray according to God’s will, we ought really to be able to discern what that is! The key to spiritual success is understanding the will of God and praying for it, and following it. This fits right in with “why do you call me Lord, Lord and don’t do what I say? (Lk. 6:46).
How do we discern the will of God?
Far too big a subject to speak about in depth here and now, but here are just a few ideas …
- Scripture—God won’t tell you to do anything which is contrary to Scripture. I love what Justin Peters says “if you want to know what God is saying to you, read your Bible. If you want to hear it with your ears, read it out loud”.
- Fellowship—The Bible says “there is wisdom in the counsel of friends”. Other Christians Including and especially leadership can often see things we can’t. This could create another rabbit hole to run down – choosing friends!
- Directly—God can lead people by directly speaking to them. For example, we read in the book of acts about Peter who had a dream about a sheet with unclean food on it, and Paul was directly confronted by God on the Damascus road experience. Just caveat that we can be viewed as being completely unhinged if present this wrong!
- Through Circumstances—e.g. Dan. 1v1,2 the key here is “the Lord delivered Jehoiachim” God allowed circumstances to develop. In fact, here it says he created them, they were under his control. Note that the Lord did this to an individual (Daniel), but His purpose was to teach the nation. Sometimes we might have stuff we go through because God has a greater purpose, one BEYOND us for it. Sucks right?
- Laying of a fleece—In Gen. 24v42-46 Abraham asked the Lord for a sign (“if I am right, let a maiden come to draw water, and when I ask her for some, she will offer water for the camels as well”). Laying a fleece is not necessarily wrong. Gideon was wrong not because he laid a fleece, but because it showed how little faith he had. He showed his little faith by not recognising and accepting God’s guidance the first time. There is a difference between saying, “I believe you want me to do this, please confirm it” and “do something miraculous to prove it’s you”. And lastly,
- Inner Witness—Everyone has a conscience, yet so often we ignore it when making decisions. Our consciences were put there by God, and revitalised when we became Christians (I don’t do things now that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before I became a Christian). This is sometimes called “peace”. We can often know when we are out of God’s will because we just can’t seem to find any peace, we can’t rest, or sleep. But note, we should be wary of using this as our sole source of guidance, because sin can sear our consciences and we can have “peace” about something that is sinful.
So, as we look to the future, individually and corporately as a church, we want to be sure that our plans such as they are, are not actually ours, but the Lord’s. A key to this is to allow the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness, and intercedes for us according to God’s will.
If we want God’s will in our lives, let’s pray in the Spirit as He guides us.
We then come on to the promises Paul gives us …
- God works all things together for good (v28).
- God predestines us to be conformed to the image of Jesus (v29). Note so that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers. In other words, we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
- God calls us, He justifies us and He glorifies us (v30).