“Never be surprised if you hear ministers of the gospel dwelling much on the importance of prayer. This is the point they want to bring to you. They want to know that you pray. Your views of doctrine may be correct. You may love your church and religion. But still this may be nothing more than head knowledge and nostalgia. They want to know whether you are actually acquainted with the throne of grace, and whether you can speak to God as well as speak about God. We live in days of abounding religious profession. There are more places of public worship than there ever has been before. There are more people attending them than there ever was before. And yet in spite of all this public religion, I believe there is a vast neglect of private prayer. I believe that hundreds of thousands never utter a word of prayer at all. They eat. They drink. They sleep. They rise. They go forth to their work. They return to their homes. They breathe God’s air. They travel on God’s earth. They enjoy God’s mercies. They have dying bodies. They have judgment and eternity before them. But they never speak to God. They live like animals. Like creatures without souls. How dreadful this seems; but if the secrets of people, were daily known, how common. ” JC Ryle
If that was true in Ryle’s day, how much more cautious ought we to be of prayerlessness in ours. So I want to ask you: Do you pray? Or are you alive like an animal? Do you pray? The ministry of the Holy Spirit, immediately following the Lord’s ascension, was to urge believers to pray. Now, our text illumines that ministry and shows us the reasons the Spirit moves us to pray. Let’s consider a few of those together.
Motives for Prayer
- We Pray because We Are in a Fight for our Lives (8:12-17).
Some Jews believed the Law of God restrained sin, freed us from it, and gives, therefore, an abundant life. Paul is arguing here that that is not how the Law works. I give dessert laws to my children regularly, and they find ways to skirt those dessert laws all the time in creative and brilliantly innovative ways. I once told my children that they couldn’t have dessert (in this instance, cake) because they’d had too much earlier that day. I left the room, assuming they would obey my dictate. When I returned to the room, I discovered they had chipmunked m&ms in their cheeks and pockets. After I asked them, “What are you doing?” They said, “What? You just said that we couldn’t have cake?” Now, did the law help them by showing them what to do, or did it illustrate there’s a rebellion going on within their hearts? Paul argued that the law arouses and defines our wickedness, and therefore, justifies God’s death sentence to all of humanity (3:23). Then Paul says (and this is the bombshell) that when you’re in Jesus, you are no longer under the power or indictment of the Law (Gal 5:18), but rather “led”/made alive by the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:1 / Gal 5:18 / Rom 8:14). Just as an aside, being “led by the Spirit” has very little to do with morally neutral life decisions: whether we eat at Hardees or McDonalds, or go to Auburn or Alabama, or get married in June or July. That’ not what Paul means. If you are led by the Spirit, Paul simply means that you are living righteously (8:13). People fighting to kill sin are suffering & agonizing (8:17), because this new life in Christ makes living in this age uneasy and uncomfortable. We are now at war with the body of sin, the Devil, and his works!
Now, look at 8:15. That’s where the prayer comes in. Paul says that the kind of prayer that comes from God’s people striving in a kill or be killed by war. It is a desperate, pleading, crying: “Father, Help! Daddy, help me!”
Help me, because “I am in the fight for my life. Rescue me from the Devil here or I will be ruined.” Take heed, believer. If you’re here and you don’t really believe that you’re in this kind of war, listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. God’s people are carried off by their sin, and remember the 23000-the Snakes-the Angel of God in Israel’s camp. The point Paul is making is that could be you, church member, if you do not have victory over Sin.
The ministry of the Spirit is like the International Adoption situation my friend described a while back. They spent 4-6 weeks with the their soon-to-be child, but had to fly back to America for one more trip, before they could finalize their adoption. The child, who so much more enjoyed being with their adopting family than back in the orphanage, realized what was happening. And as he was being taken back by the orphanage worker, he stretched out his arms and cried out in his native language, “Mommy, Daddy, don’t leave me. Don’t let me go back.” The child didn’t want to go back to the terrible circumstances of the third-world orphanage, especially when they knew how good it was to be with his adopting parents. That’s the ministry of the Spirit of God within us during the fight for sin. When we are carried off or when we are tempted to be carried away by sin, the Spirit of God cries out, like a son: “Abba, Father….Help me. Don’t let me go back to sin.”
We don’t want slavery to sin…again (8:15). You say, “Well, I’m not in slavery to sin, am I?” If you don’t know that you weren’t, friend, you’re still in it! I am tempted to fall back into slavery all the time and at strange times. Let me explain: A Christian man knows God is God, so when things don’t go his way, he remains peaceable because he knows his Father is in control. But I get angry and stop trusting God– tempted back to slavery to sin–all the time, at odd times: at tooth brushing time. The bathroom is a mess. Our girls spew mouthwash all over the sink and floor. And cleaning it inconveniences me when I’m tired. So I get angry. So you see, right there over princess Colgate and pink toothbrushes, is a war for my soul. Will I trust God, that he’s a good Father, and he wouldn’t have given me these children if he thought they’d be bad for me. Will I rest in his Fatherhood? Or will I rage at this inconvenience to my evening? My soul is at stake. Help me, my life is at stake. A Christian woman is a grateful woman who knows God directs her paths. But that gets tested at the end of her husband’s 6th straight day of shift work. He doesn’t want to talk, take care of children, eat spaghetti at 630, and he is gruff and wants to go to sleep. And she, offended and hurt, starts to fantasize of life without him, Looks up her old buddy from Facebook who is recently divorced and available. traveling, and loving his kids. “Never treat me this way.” She is tempted in those moments, to cut and run. She is in the fight of her life, over a 6:30 spaghetti dinner. And the spirit of God cries out in her: Help me, my Father. I will be either killed by this or you will help me put this body of sin to death.
The sons of God cry out by the Spirit of God to their Father because they are in a fight for their lives. Do you pray? Are you desperate to kill sin like all children of God? Or are you OK to be killed by it? True sons and daughters have the Spirit of Christ at war with the Spirit of the Age.
- We pray because we want to endure this Passing Trial Well (8:18-27)
Verses 18-25 describes the longing Christians have for the “final redemption” – not looking forward to an apocalypse, looking forward to the world’s coming glory (8:22). We are in a “corrupted, suffering, decaying age.” Everybody knows something is wrong. Social justice warriors (show me the candidate that says, “you know. Things are pretty good. I’m not going to change that much at all.” I don’t know anybody, not even the retirees who live on the beach in perfect health, with perfect children, perfect golf swings…we all know something is not right here. That’s why they still live in gated condominiums. It’s a corrupted age, and we, vs 18-25, we, by the Spirit, are eagerly waiting (groaning) for a rescue (V23, that’s the type of prayer). It’s a prayer of endurance. Specifically, I think the type of prayer (not Abba Father) that the Spirit helps the Christian to pray is a prayer of trust to the Lord that it will be worth it. V.26: Helping us to pray that because we are weak. Seems like a simple prayer. Why does Paul think that we need help. We are weak. OK, then, well, what is our weakness? 2 parts (2nd part next week).
- We don’t like to wait. And the Lord knows that. Because of our weakness in trial, he gives us a taste of glory to help keep us on the path (Spirit – down payment, a promise, ongoing presence of the Almighty. (49ers if you got a glimpse of the gold, you’re more likely to keep looking for the treasure). I imagine Summer at 1pm in the desert of the Palestine was miserable for Moses. And I wonder sometime if he and Joshua sat down in the shade in July, in 33rd year their wandering, looked around and thought: you know, “I hate this.” And I bet they were really tempted, like the other Israelites, to think: “You remember the Nile River parties back in Egypt sure were nice in the summer time. Maybe we could get a couple of camels and ditch.” But year after year they keep enduring the cross of the pilgrim journey because they see the cloud, the fire, and they think: “If that’s with us now. It must be pretty awesome where we’re going.” If he has been faithful in the past, I will suffer, groaning, enduring, yearning to see his faithfulness for the future.
The Lord knows we face the same weakness. Year after year, dealing with sin, dealing with governments, families, diseases, and we look around and think, “You know: Life would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to ‘take up a cross daily.” The Lord knows we need a fire and a cloud – the presence of the Holy Spirit. Inward groaning/praying/crying out within us “just a little bit more,” pleading out within us, “Help me, Abba!” – to trust and obey, and to believe that the road to glory, though dangerous and sometimes agonizing, sometimes brutal, the road to glory actually really does lead to glory!
Why Jesus Is So Good?
He does not ask us to do anything He hasn’t already done.
And bent over on his knees sweating blood and drops of grief, he envisions the torture and death just moments away on Calvary and thinks, “Maybe there’s another way.” Maybe my Father can call an audible. “Let this cup pass.”
Maybe, when we’re lonely after a spouse’s death or divorce, confused by the fact that the other 16-17 year olds’ parents let them drink on the weekends, envious of the reality that the other 30 year old neighbor is twice as dumb as you are but three times richer. Maybe you start to think: “Maybe there’s another way. Maybe I don’t need to trust the Lord in loneliness, maybe I don’t have to miss out on the booze, maybe I should stop trying to spend time worshipping the Lord on Sunday and pick up a few extra shifts….Just like Jesus. And just like Jesus, we feel like he felt on the cross: “I feel alone, right now.”…But just like Jesus…the Spirit of the Living God reminds us that He’s a good Father, and this world is soon to be over. And all these crosses to bear will soon be considered a drop in the ocean of time He will spend showering us in the immeasurable riches of his grace…And he will bear us to pray: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
Dr. Ben Stubblefield is the Pastor of of FBC Jackson in Jackson, AL, and graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Auburn University.