The Voiceless Prayer of God's People
Read Romans 8:26-27 and Psalm 123:2
We teach our children to pray as soon as they are able to do so. Later in life we are also able to pray silently, but we still put our prayers into words even though we do not speak them aloud. Yet, the Bible teaches that there is also another non-spoken form of prayer which we seldom consider. Although we do not consider this a form of prayer, we frequently engage in it. Often we are not able to put into words the deepest feelings of the heart. These feelings come as a prayer before God even though we have not put them into words.
The beautiful and well-known words of Romans 8:26-27 speak of this form of prayer. The writer says that we do not always know how to pray as we ought. We, at times, do not know what is the proper content of our prayers; nor do we know if our prayers will be well-pleasing to our God. What must a believer do under such conditions? Must he refrain from prayer? No, this would be contrary to his new nature as a Christian. There are deep feelings of the heart which he must express to his God. Paul had experienced something like this. He prayed, as was observed earlier, for the removal of the thorn in his flesh. However, he did not know if this was well-pleasing to his God. Nevertheless, he prayed for its removal. But, there are other times when we just don't know how to put our needs into words. May our hearts then remain silent toward our God?
The Holy Spirit's Help
We must realize that the situation described by the Apostle in these verses points up our infirmity. It is not an indication of wisdom or strength that we are not able to put into words the deepest needs of our souls. But, we must also realize that we can only pray according to the revelation which our God has given us of Himself. This revelation is not deficient, but it deals, not with our individual needs and desires, but only with the broad lines of God's relation to us. Although there is much more teaching in these verses than we will deal with in this lesson, we must recognize that the Spirit of God is associated with the prayer-life of the believer. This fact concerns the most intimate spiritual life of every believer. The Spirit applies the work of Jesus Christ in connection with the prayer life of every believer.
Paul plainly indicates this. Even though we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us! This is a voiceless prayer. He prays for them with groanings which cannot be uttered! His prayer for the believer is a "groaning." Paul has earlier spoken of the groanings of the entire inanimate and animate creation. We also groan within ourselves, says the Apostle, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. When something very important is seen ahead, he cannot express himself better than to say that it is a groaning. The deepest thoughts are thereby revealed. When the Spirit prays for us He does so with groanings which cannot be uttered. Of course they cannot be uttered! How would we ever be able to put into words the things which the Spirit of God does within us? These verses refer to the mysterious workings of the Spirit of God.
A Continuing Intercession
It must also be remembered that He continues this work of prayer within us. We are admonished to pray without ceasing. While we often refrain from praying, the Spirit continues His work within us. Our own prayer-life would wither if the Spirit were not constantly at work within us even in regard to such a practical activity as prayer. He helps His people. Thus the work of Jesus Christ is completed within the hearts of the people who have been chosen as His own.
From all of this it again becomes evident how great the blessing of Pentecost was for the church of Jesus Christ. When our Lord was about to ascend to heaven, His disciples were appalled at having to do without His physical presence. However, He told them that it would be profitable for them if He would go away, because then the Spirit would come to abide with them forever. This Spirit now dwells within them. He intercedes for them. The place of Immanuel, "God with us," is now supplied by the Holy Spirit, as God in us! The Lord knew our needs far better than we ourselves do.
He who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit. Of course! The mind of the Spirit is the mind of God. The intercessions of the Spirit need not be articulated because God knows the mind of the Spirit. He knows it immediately. This is precisely what His people need. Prayers must be sent up to the throne of grace for them which are in tune with the will of God and are acceptable to Him.
According to God's Will
He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Again we would say, of course! How could the Spirit pray for the saints in a way that would not be according to the Will of God? It had been said of Jesus Christ ages before His coming that He came to do the Will of God (Psalm 40:8). The same may also be said of the Spirit of God. He knows that Will of God to perfection because it is also His own will! The saints may therefore rest assured that the groanings of the Spirit are acceptable to God. They are completely in tune with His will. It will never be said of the Spirit's groanings as Jesus said to the sons of Zebedee "Ye know not what ye ask" (Matthew 20:22). The Spirit knows what He is asking and what He asks is well-pleasing to God.
How rich are the people of God! Their riches cannot be put into words, nor can they be compared to any other. Notice: Christ is at the right hand of God (as the Apostle says in this same chapter vs. 34), where He makes intercession for us. Here he tells us that the Spirit of God also dwells within the hearts of God's people to make intercession for them. We have One Advocate above, Jesus Christ the righteous, and we have another Advocate within us, the Spirit of God. Neither One has ever lost a case! God's people are perfectly safe. Both the second and the third persons of the Trinity are praying for them.
The prayers which God's people utter are of great importance. Therefore are they commanded to come before the throne of grace constantly with all their needs. But, there is more to it than this. Not only our own prayers but the prayers of the Spirit of God are instrumental in ensuring the spiritual prosperity of His people.
We may never overlook the tremendous importance of the Spirit's voiceless prayers for the believer, but the question naturally arises: does the believer himself also engage in voiceless prayers at times? Are we still able to call it prayer if it is not expressed in words? The answer is: yes.
An Old Testament Example
We are given a very good example of the voiceless prayers of God's people in Psalm 123:2. The Psalmist describes some of the difficulties at times encountered by the people of God and, particularly, some of the difficulties he has experienced. Some people are not in agreement with him at all in his service of God. He usually describes these as his enemies. They scoff at him. He, together with other believers, are held in contempt. Is this the way in which His people ought to be treated? Yet, what must the Psalmist do about it? Must he ask God for their destruction? He did this at times. He does not know why the Lord allows this to happen and he has to leave the problem in God's hand.
However, to leave things in God's hands does not mean that he is not deeply involved in the outcome and that he is not concerned about this state of affairs. He comes to his God in a different way. He recognizes the huge distance between himself and his God. He lifts his eyes to the One who sits in the heavens (vs. 1). That is all he does! He does not articulate a prayer — he only looks to his God. He says that this looking to God is like the oriental servant watching the hand of his master. He doesn't ask for anything, he just watches for signs! Or his expectation may also be likened to the maid who watches the hand of her mistress. She is ready to do the bidding of her mistress. She is also totally dependent on her mistress.
The examples which the Psalmist uses make it clear that there would be no place for articulation of requests in this situation. How would a servant or a maid dare to ask for anything? The servant and the maid look for signs whether or not they will find favor in the sight of those before whom they stand. What will be the attitude of the one who has the power? There is so much at stake.
So, says the Psalmist, our eyes look unto Jehovah our God, until He has mercy upon us. Although the believer does not come to his God as a servant comes to an oriental despot, yet so our eyes look unto Jehovah! We may not lose sight of this element of patient expectancy in our prayer-life. We are standing before our God much as Nehemiah stood before his sovereign when he had received the bad news of his people who had returned to their homeland (Nehemiah 2). The believer, however, comes to a God Who is much more powerful than any oriental ruler and is yet merciful. When the Psalmist says that he will so look to his God until he have mercy upon us, he is telling us that God will have mercy! There is no doubt about it. It is only a matter of time. He does not know why God is allowing his "enemies" to scoff and hold him in contempt, but He will have mercy at His time.
The things which have been sketched briefly in this lesson form an important part of our prayers. God's people are often brought to the stage where they are not able to utter a prayer. They can only look to their God! At such times they must also have the assurance that the Spirit of God is praying for them with groanings which cannot be uttered! Much more goes on in the hearts and in the spiritual life of believers than they themselves realize.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why don't we know what to pray for or how to pray as we ought?
- Do we do justice to the work of the Spirit? What happens when a church does not do justice to the work of the Spirit?
- Do we celebrate Pentecost properly? What is its meaning?
- When do God's people come to the stage at which they cannot articulate their prayers? Does this happen too at the time of great physical weakness?
- Does the "looking" to the hand of our God benefit us? Do you think we are often too "bold" in our prayers? What does it mean to "come with boldness to the throne of grace?" Does this have anything to do with our common idea of boldness?
- Do the intercession of the Spirit and the intercession of Christ have any connection with our assurance of faith? Explain.