Unlocking the Throne Room
James C. Denison
I hate flying. I am “altitudinally challenged.” I don’t just dislike the experience mildly. As a child, I was made to fly with my family on a friend’s private plane. I threw up, and a pattern was established. I could be the John Madden of theology–if someone would give me a Greyhound bus to travel the country, I would never set foot in another plane. How I would travel overseas, I haven’t figured out yet.
The reason is simple: I want to know why something is true before I trust it with my life. And I have no idea how a mega-ton metal monstrosity can get up to 30,000 feet and stay there.
As a small boy, I wanted to fly more than anything else in the world. I used to lay in the grass and stare into the blue sky, jealous of the birds and clouds and Superman. I once carved a set of wings out of cardboard, taped them on my arms, climbed to the roof of our house and jumped. Fortunately, it was a one-story house. I still remember how that episode ended, and fear the same result every time I step onto an airplane.
It would help greatly if I understood the principles of flight. If I knew why and how an airplane lifts off the ground and stays in the air, I would probably be able to look out the window of my aisle and stop digging my fingernails into the armrest. The more vital the subject, the more knowing why comes before knowing how for many of us.
Today Romans 8 brings us to the topic of prayer. We’re going to learn the good news that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we pray, and that his prayers are always answered. This fact provides us the opportunity to ask hard questions about one of the most significant aspects of Christian spirituality, and learn to be more than conquerors in prayer today.
Why do you need to learn to pray more effectively this morning?
Answers to prayer
Before we get to our questions about prayer, let’s begin with the clear fact before us.
Our text begins, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” The apostle has just described our hope in heaven–now he shows us our hope on earth. “Weakness” can be connected to the problems of life, but in this context it relates more to our weakness, our problems with prayer. We’ll return to these in a moment.
Whatever your questions or issues with prayer, the Spirit is living in your life and is ready to “help” you. The Greek word means “to lend a hand” or “come to the aid.” It conveys the idea of helping someone carry a burden.
Why do we need his help? Because “we do not know what we ought to pray for.”
“We” includes us all, even the greatest Apostle in Christian history.
Paul knows that we will all pray, but that we do not know how to pray effectively. We are like children who do not know what is best for us or what to ask from our Father. We don’t know the future, or much about the present. We don’t know whether this new job is best for us, or whether we should marry this person, or whether it is best that we be healed of this disease or helped out of this financial struggle. None of us knows.
So when we pray, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” The same Spirit who created the universe (Genesis 1:2), who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11) and empowered the apostles to change the world, prays for us.
He “intercedes”–the word means to plead on behalf of another. It describes someone who rescues a person in need by advocating his cause before the authorities. He does this for “us,” for all of us, without exception.
His prayers are greater than our comprehension, “groans that words cannot express.” He is not limited to our finite minds and understanding when he prays for us.
And his prayers are always effective, because he “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” God can only answer prayer in accordance with his will. The holy, righteous God of love cannot and will not give us better than the best. He will not give us what we ask for if it violates his will for his glory and our good.
The Bible promises that “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14). But we must pray according to his will. We don’t often know how to do this, but the Spirit doesn’t have that problem. As we pray, he prays for us. And his prayers always reflect the will of God, so they are always answered by God.
This is incredible good news.
Jesus “always lives to intercede” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). He is praying for you at this very moment.
Now we learn that the Spirit helps us when we pray by praying for us as well. If you could have the holiest, most godly person you’ve ever known pray for you at all times and intercede whenever you pray, what person would you choose? The Father has provided even more for us, tasking his Son and Spirit with praying for you and me.
And when we pray and the Spirit prays for us, his prayers are always heard and answered.
Questions about prayer
This is wonderful good news, but it is also perplexing news. If the Spirit always prays for us when we pray, and his prayers are always heard, why is it that our prayers seem sometimes not to be heard or answered?
And why should I pray at all? Matthew 6:8 says that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” I’m not informing the omniscient Lord of the universe when I pray to him. Why pray, then?