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Prayer: Three Key Lessons From Romans 8:26
One Warm Winter Day
After ample reading in patristic theology, with its reverence for the lifestyle of monks, I had made a decision to incorporate more prayer, meditation, and memorization into my life. Needing to lose weight and with a dog needing exercise, I decided that working a prayer walk into the day may satiate all these ambitions. I put the dog’s vest and leash on, donned my more comfortable footwear, and picked up a flashcard of Romans 8:26-28 that has been covering my speedometer for some time. As I slowly walked the dog, I “pulverized” the Romans passage and prayed it back to God. (Pulverizing is a technique that was taught to me some time ago by a man that had taken the arduous task of my discipleship under his care. Essentially, you take one word in a verse at a time and emphasize it, hoping to extrapolate every ounce of meaning from the passage. It also serves as a great mnemonic tool as you end up repeating the verse over and over as you focus on the individual words.) What follows are the seeds that were planted on that walk after they grew over several days and dropped it’s fruit onto this document.
1. We Have Help
Romans 8:26 states “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought”.
As I walked and meditated on this verse, I could not help but be amazed at one word; helps. How good is God that he wouldn’t be domineering or authoritative in his work, but would rather include us in His tasks. The Greek word used here is synonymous with the word assist. When we exchange help for assist we begin to paint a fuller picture of what Paul is attempting to communicate. Understanding that the Spirit stands ready to assist us in our weaknesses, begs some questions that need answering. What is the presupposed task that we are to be doing? What and how are our weaknesses hindering us from doing it?
2. We Have Weaknesses
The second place my heart settled while pulverizing this verse is the word weaknesses. I found myself confounded and wondering what weaknesses truly meant. Digging for answers, I unearthed that this could also be translated diseases or infirmity (which is how the King James Version translates). Here we find a profound statement. We are called to an essential task, but due to our sin nature, are unable to accomplish it without God’s help. We must not glance over this; our understanding of sin must be that we are fallen, helpless beings unable to do any good without help from our God. How amazing is Christ that he would send us just the help we need in the task that he has given us.
3. We Have A Task
Now, we arrive at the third and most incredible part of this verse; the divine calling to pray. We see it throughout Scripture, calls to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), calls to pray in all situations (James 5:13-16), and calls to pray both alone and together (Matthew 6:5-15) just to name a few. The task that God has given us is simply to engage Him in prayer. No matter what our vocation, no matter what our marital status, no matter what our finances look like, we are all called into the ministry of communing with our Father, at all times, without end, with other people and alone. He has sent the Spirit to help us in the task even while our sin nature wars against that endeavor. Distracted minds, interrupting thoughts, unwilling attitudes can all be banished in prayer, by prayer.
I concluded my monkish endeavor with a nurtured soul begging even more questions than I had embarked with. In the end, when contemplating an infinitely complex God this is an unavoidable quandary that one would be remiss to bypass. I would encourage you, the reader, to take a lunch break, morning, or evening after work to open your front door and step out onto the road with a verse in hand and see what God has in store when its just the two of you.
For Further Reading on Prayer
Richard Foster expounds on prayer and many other spiritual disciplines in this classic work. As a Quaker and a seminary professor, Foster brings the depth of the classroom in the simplicity of the layman. Any Christian seeking to deepen their walk with Christ needs to read this book.
Chris Hall crescendos a three part work in this masterpiece as he examines the thoughts of many church fathers such as John Chryostom, Augustine, and Origens thoughts on prayer, baptism, worship, and much more.
D.A. Carson renders a wonderful exegete of many passages of Scripture as he shows how Paul demonstrated prayer to his readers. He also deals with tough philosophical questions, one of which is the problem of evil.