The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – Pentecost Sunday (Day 3)
22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.
26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will.
“We don’t know what we should pray.” With this assertion St. Paul banishes any problem we ought to have with prayer. If we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for but are completely dependent on the Spirit in prayer, we have no reason not to pray!
Let that sink in for a moment. If you’re like me, the struggle of prayer is not knowing how to do it or even being sure that it is anything more than a gesture of religious self-help (e.g., “prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me”). When we think prayer depends on us, we either look for a formula or pattern to pray by or we give up mired in the uncertainties and ambiguities of our frailties and feelings about what we are doing.
But . . . if despite our best efforts and intentions, we still don’t know how and/or what to pray, but depend totally on God the Spirit to interpret and choreograph our prayers, should anything keep us from praying? All we have to do is show up (Woody Allen once quipped that 80% of success is just showing up) and talk to God. Though we may only babble or moan or cry or whether we present our petitions with eloquence, we can be sure our prayers are improper and inarticulate to God and, at the same time, that the Spirit is rendering them both articulate and “consistent with God’s will” (v.27).
It’s much easier to pray, and want to pray, when prayer depends on the Spirit and not on us, isn’t it?
Here we circle back and pick up Paul’s emphasis on hope in the first part of our reading (vv.22-25). Faith roots us in God and God’s story with the world, love gives visible expression to commitment to and participation in that story, but it’s hope that gets our feet moving – or, in this context, gets us on our knees and praying.
Hope is the impact of the reality of God’s future unleashed by Jesus’ resurrection on our life in the present. Hope is not a casting into an abyss of darkness for something to latch on to. No, hope is the certainty that we have experienced in part will be ours in full by God’s good promise.
So when we come to pray “in our weakness” as Paul puts it, we speak, cry, groan, move, thrash about, in confidence that all that we cannot articulate or do not know how to frame according to God’s will, be made so by God’s Spirit.
How then can we not pray? This is another of Pentecost’s many gifts to us. Will we receive them?