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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, July 26, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Romans 8:26–39

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)

“We do not know how to pray as we ought.”

Wow. The beginning of this makes it sound like we try to pray, and the Spirit sighs and turns to God and says, “This is what they mean.” I mean, we pray all the time. Jesus told us what to say, we say that, we even add a couple of words of praise. That’s good, right?

And yet, there it is: “We do not know how to pray as we ought.”

In Matthew, Jesus tells us not to go on and on with our prayers—“Do not keep babbling like pagans”—because “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Jesus gives us only a few lines to say. And we repeat them on Sundays because we know that that’s what concludes the prayers of the people. Then it’s time for the offering, another hymn, and the benediction. We’re very diligent that way. We check all the boxes.

“We do not know how to pray as we ought.”

It’s not that it’s all boilerplate, that our prayers are can be matters of rote repetition. That’s only sometimes. Most of the time when people pray it’s very much the opposite. The expressions of need, of pain, of joy and gratitude are very real. Reaching to God is a foundation of faith, and people genuinely reach out from the heart, the best way they know how.

And yet.

So how do we go astray? Where in our routine of supplication, thanksgiving, and praise do we actually miss the point of prayer?

I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that there’s more than one way that we get it wrong. Perhaps the essence of prayer exists beyond words, beyond that place of rational communication, reaching toward the spiritual. The words we use, the gestures we use, the components of our rituals, they are all just a way to prepare us, to get us to that spiritual place of communion. Maybe prayer begins rather than ends at “Amen.”

I’m not sure. But when we are faced with a statement like the one that starts this passage, we’d better at least consider what we’re doing.

Lord, teach us to pray, so that in our stillness we will know that you are God. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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