The Difficulty of the Praying Office-Bearer
Embarrassment in Prayer
In previous chapters we have indicated already that in particular situations office-bearers can experience challenges and difficulties with prayer. Sometimes this may be because they do not know how they should be praying. This will often be the case when a very drastic event has taken place in a family: the death of a child as a result of an accident; the passing away of one or more of the children as a result of a house fire; the death of a son or daughter who lives on their own in another town, through suicide.
In many cases the office-bearers are quickly informed about such events. Often they will be swift to visit the affected family. They often meet the family in consternation: a family that struggles with many questions about the thing that happened. Questions about God’s intentions; about God’s direction in life; about God’s love.
Such questions are also present with the visiting office-bearer. They are people too. In such situations they are often not right away capable of leading people in prayer. There is discomfiture to pray. This means that when there is prayer it will often be rather short. God’s help is asked for with a few words.
In other words: prayer, also prayer by an office-bearer, is indeed the solution that God has given, but sometimes the members of the church and the office-bearers do not know how to proceed. They do not know what to ask for. That is because of human weakness, which can also affect the life of prayer. In hard days we sometimes have difficulty with the solution that we have to hold on to in such times, i.e., the solution of prayer. By weakness of prayer we end up being uncomfortable in praying. This can relate to praying itself, where it implies that we cannot pray. The timidity about prayer can also relate to the way we pray, which means that we do not know how we should be praying. Discomfiture can also relate to the content of our prayer. It means that we do not know what we should be praying for.
The Lord knows this. The Lord understands that with office-bearers and others there can be a situation of embarrassment in praying. He knows that people are often incapable to fathom his ways. That is indeed their own fault—on account of our choice for Satan in paradise — but the Lord keeps in mind the situation of people on earth. It is not without reason that he has pointed by means of Paul to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who will help us in moments of discomfiture. In Romans 8:26 we read, “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.”
When discomfiture of prayer has arisen with God’s children, the Holy Spirit comes to us and he makes our embarrassment into his opportunity to pray.
We said earlier that embarrassment in prayer is a consequence of human weakness. Does this mean that this is a matter of sin? It is better to say that with embarrassment of prayer the consequences of sin become evident. Discomfiture does not mean that it comes about as a result of doubt. Rather it is the consequence of God’s incomprehensible ways in the lives of men. God dwells in heaven and his deeds in our lives can be fathomed only through a “heavenly” understanding. Office-bearers who perceive that they cannot pray in certain situations, or who at most can only mumble “Lord, help us”, may not despair as if they are so sinful that they can no longer serve as office-bearers.
Opportunity for Prayer
The Holy Spirit comes to the rescue of believers who cannot pray. The Spirit of grace and prayer has been given to turn our discomfiture into his opportunity to pray. The Spirit ensures that the office-bearers do not continue to fall into the depths of emptiness in their prayers. The Spirit takes hold of their weakness in prayer and he will come to their aid every time again.
No one knows how the Holy Spirit achieves this. The operation of the Holy Spirit is also unfathomable. Who can understand his prayer language?
In Romans 8:26 we read that the Holy Spirit intercedes for the believers with groanings too deep for words. This word “interceding” points to his advocacy. He is our advocate in our weakness of prayer. He puts into words what we cannot express. When we can only stammer, there the Spirit will be present to bring our prayer — even the prayer that we cannot put into words — to the Father.
The manner in which he does this does not differ much from ours. The Spirit is “groaning”. This is also said about the creation, that it is groaning: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22). Also believers groan often, in their language or in their own ways. That is how the Holy Spirit is sighing: in his language and in his own way he makes the needs of God’s children known to their Father. We cannot copy his prayer. The words of his prayer are divine words. They are so tender and profound that our ability to express such words falls short.
God understands the language of the Holy Spirit, for when the Spirit is praying there God is praying to himself: God prays to God. And God hears and responds.
Soli Deo Gloria
An office-bearer may often find himself embarrassed about prayer. But this should not discourage him. It will definitely encourage personal prayer. Office-bearers will pray before they pray. This means: at home they will kneel down when they are about to visit a family that was sorely afflicted. But even then there can be a certain emptiness and discomfiture in prayer.
What is the encouraging part? It is this: that fortunately it does not depend on the prayer of the office-bearer or of his effort whether the Lord will give comfort and strength to those who are afflicted in this difficult situation. Specifically in human weakness, also on the part of office-bearers, God reveals his power (see 2 Cor. 12:9). Office-bearers will stand amazed each time again that people find tremendous comfort in spite of the fact that they spoke and prayed in such a clumsy and inadequate manner. This makes the office-bearers confess: “Lord, how good and great you are! For you have not made the comfort of the afflicted and the power of the one who was oppressed dependent on our abilities to pray, but instead you have provided it purely out of grace.”