Over the past few weeks we’ve been learning about prayer, haven’t we? Both in our Sunday sermons and our midweek house groups we’ve been thinking about the different dimensions of prayer – the different types of prayers we can pray. So we’ve thought about petitionary prayer, praising God in prayer and confessing our sins to God in prayer. And last week our 8.30am congregation heard a great sermon by Chris Cozier on the value of thanking God in prayer – do listen to it on our website if you get the chance!
So as we draw towards the end of this sermon series, I hope you have come to realise the value of prayer. What a privilege and joy it is to be able to speak to our Heavenly Father in prayer, what a comfort it is for Christians to be able to share our personal anxieties with Creator of the cosmos.
But we wouldn’t be being honest if we said prayer was always easy. So often prayer can be hard, can’t it?
- For example, in our busy lives prayer can feel like one thing too many to squeeze into our schedule. On such days, praying to God can feel like a chore to avoid, rather than a relationship to enjoy. Something to skip and save time.
- At other times the trials and temptations of this world conspire to keep us from prayer. Things like stress, illness or some other hardship can give our faith a knock and discourage us from praying. I guess we’ve all had times when we’ve felt too sick, too depressed, too overwhelmed to expend effort on prayer (I know I certainly have).
- And thirdly, we can have times when we simply don’t know what to pray. Times when we feel so emotionally exhausted, so spiritually drained, that we can’t string a coherent sentence together. Times when words fails us as we try to talk to God. Times when we keep getting an ‘Amber’ traffic light response to our prayers – when we feel God keeps saying ‘wait’ (or even ‘no’) to our prayer requests and we don’t know what more we can say.
In these times when prayer is tough, we need hope and we need help. In hard times we need encouragement to keep our faith alive, and assistance to keep persevering in prayer.
God knows all this, of course, so in the Bible – in his written Word – he offers us the hope and help we need. Specifically, in chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans – in one of the most magnificent chapters in all of Scripture – God offers us hope and help to keep on praying. of Romans we are given great hope. To be precise, we find our hope in verses 18 to 25, and our help in 25 to 27.
Let’s look at them together this morning – but first let me pray: Heavenly Father, help us to pray. As we look at your Word today, give us the hope and help we need to persevere in faith and in prayer. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
- Hope…to hold on to! (v.18-25)
You may have seen on the news this week that TV presenter Ben Fogle has successfully climbed Mount Everest. The 44-year-old adventuer climbed 29,000 feet to reach the summit on Wednesday. Needless to say I’ve never climbed Everest myself, but surely one thing you need to reach the summit must be hope. As well as physical fitness, you must need enormous emotional, psychological stamina to keep putting one foot in front of another until you reach the mountain top.
You must have a picture in your mind’s eye of yourself standing on the summit, arms aloft, celebrating a great accomplishment. Without that hope, that future vision to aim for, you would surely give up the ascent as soon as it became a struggle. Without hope of success you wouldn’t get much beyond Base Camp before you abandoned the attempt.
Its the same for us in the Christian life. We need hope to keep going in faith. We need hope to keep on praying when times are tough. And times are tough sometimes, aren’t they? There is no doubting we live in an imperfect, fallen world. Not just people’s behaviour, but the whole of creation, displays the ugly consequences of sin.
In verse 20 of our passage Paul explains that Creation is “frustrated”, and in “bondage to decay”. In other words, our present world isn’t perfect. It has many attractive features, but also includes futility, imperfection and disorder. Because its not just human beings who have been tarnished by the Fall.
From Genesis chapter 3 onwards, the Bible teaches that sin against God has had adverse consequences for the physical world as well as for the human heart. You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a world of death, disease and decay – a natural world that is undeniably beautiful but also damaged by sin.
Given the condition it’s in, it is no surprise that Romans 8 says Creation needs repair and restoration. It needs to be liberated “from its bondage to decay” and free to be the glorious world God wants it to be (v.21).
In fact, in verse 19 Paul personifies the natural world, and says it “waits in eager expectation” of its future liberation and transformation (v.19). Like an excited child on Christmas morning – or like Prince Harry waiting to see Meghan Markle walk down the aisle – the Creation just can’t wait for what is to come. It can’t wait for the day when God’s people will be glorified and it will be liberated from all its imperfections.
The Creation’s confidence and excitement is well-placed, because God has promised to put things right. As far back as Old Testament times, God had made promises to one day rejuvenate and renew this world he has made. This world of death, disease and decay will be transformed into one of uninhibited beauty, order and harmony. A world where flowers will never wilt, and where the lion will lay down with the lamb.
But the best feature of this new creation – the characteristic that should make us most excited – is that this world to come will include glory for God’s people. As Paul explains in verse 19 today, in the world to come Christians will be visibly revealed to be God’s sons and daughters.
You see, in our current world Christians are camouflaged. We look just the same as everyone else. But in the world to come we Christians will be glorious to behold. Our bodies will have redeemed and transformed. They will be impervious to decay and destined to live forever.
So if we are Christians here today, this is our certain hope – eternal life ruling over a renewed world as God’s beloved sons and daughters. In verse 18 Paul says it is a future so great and glorious that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing” to it. It is a hope to hold on to when times are hard, something to look forward to when our faith is weak, when prayer is difficult. As Paul puts it in verse 25, “we hope for what we do not yet have, and we wait for it patiently.” It’s a hope to share with others who don’t yet know it.
But how can we know that our Christian hope is true? Why should any Christian believe that not only our bodies but the whole natural world will one day be glorified by God? Well, the reason we can have such confidence is the resurrection of Jesus. As the apostle Paul stresses repeatedly in Romans, the resurrection of Christ was the first fruit and foretaste of what God will one day do on a global scale.
As Paul writes in verse 11 of Romans 8 (just before our passage today): “the Spirit of God who….raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”. Jesus’ glorious, resurrected, body is no longer subject to death or decay, and one day neither will ours be.
Over the past few weeks we’ve had a few warm sunny days as a foretaste of the Summer to come (we hope!). But on the very first Easter Sunday Jesus’ disciples were given a first glimpse of the glory that one-day will be enjoyed by every Christian believer. Its a hope to hold on to in hard times. A hope to keep our faith alive and to sustain our life of prayer.
- Help…to persevere in prayer! (v.26-27)
Today is Pentecost Sunday, of course, and so I could not conclude our sermon series on prayer without talking briefly about the help the Holy Spirit gives us when we pray. Not only does the Holy Spirit stimulate every Christian to pray, he is also our advocate, spokesman and intermediary whenever we try to talk to God.
You see, the truth is we never truly pray on our own – the Spirit is always at work within us, helping us to pray, especially in tough times. The same Spirit who will one day give every Christian a glorious new body is already at work in us today – helping us to pray. The Holy Spirit is the constant companion of every Christian, the indwelling comforter for every follower of Jesus.
As Paul writes in verse 26 today, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.
In tough times our prayers may be incoherent, repetitive and rambling. They may even be silent, as we are lost for words. But todays passage reminds us that the Holy Spirit knows what is on our hearts, and conveys our deepest needs to God the Father for us. The Holy Spirit communicates for us when our own words of prayer are insufficient or incomplete.
Like a translator, interpreter or legal advocate, the Spirit says to God what we would want to say if only we could find the right words. The Holy Spirit helps us when we pray like a solicitor or barrister speaks in court on behalf of their client. The Holy Spirit speaks more eloquently and articulately to God than we ourselves ever could, especially in times of stress.
And we can be sure that God the Father completely understands the prayers that the Spirit utters on our behalf. We need not worry that the Spirit’s words to God on our behalf fall on deaf ears. As Paul writes in verse 27: “He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
So next time you feel you lack the energy or enthusiasm to pray, ask God’s Holy Spirit to give it to you. Next time you’re unsure what to pray for, pray first for the Spirit to guide your prayers. And next time you find yourself completely lost for words when you pray, be confident that God still knows what you need, because his Spirit is interceding for you.
As I finish this morning, I hope Romans 8 has reminded us of the hope and the help we have as Christians. A hope and a help to keep us praying when times are hard, when the immediate future looks bleak, when our own words fail us. On this Pentecost Sunday, we thank God for the gift of his Spirit, the one person who truly can help us to persevere in prayer.
Let’s pray now: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, a gift given to every Christian. We long and hope for the day when your Spirit will breathe new life into our mortal bodies and renew the whole of Creation. And in the meantime, we ask that he will help us all to pray – interceding for us when our own words fail, inspiring us when we don’t feel moved to pray. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.