Listening for God’s Prayer: Praying Holy Spirit Prayer with Him

In the early days of the pandemic, none of us was exactly sure what was ahead in terms of COVID 19.  Those were the days when the weight and fear of the virus was pulling us apart in almost every way.  Nearly every minute of every day we were forced to think about disease and death.  The questions of how to live and how to die (likely alone) flooded our hearts and minds.  We were fearful. Relationships were fractured. We were isolated from one another.  Many of us felt the virus and people’s reaction to it stretching us to our limits, pulling us apart from one another and from much of what we knew and loved.

In those early days of the pandemic as I sat in the quiet and listened for God’s perspective, the scripture in Romans 8 about all creation groaning came to me.

In fact, when I was still I seemed to actually hear a deep groaning.  And the question arose within me:  As a part of creation was I being called to enter into the groaning, the longing?

Paul in Romans reminds us that the whole of creation is groaning as it waits for everything to be made right.  Within God and his creation, there is a longing for the day when disease will be gone, love for God and love for one another will be pervasive, reconciliation will last and wars will end.  It will be a time when wholeness, peace, joy, love, justice, beauty—God’s original intention–will be restored.

Could what seemed like the groaning and longing of all creation be a response to the virus?  Was God’s longing for all to be made whole a part of that groaning too?

J.B.Phillips translates Romans 8:20-25 this way:

“The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption…. in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet gotten….”

In this passage, the word hope caught my attention.  I sensed an invitation to enter into the groaning of God and his creation as we all suffered under the virus and yes, the groaning itself carried me into hope.

I was already convinced that the virus was not God’s doing.  I began to explore whether the groaning might be the prayer God was giving for this in-between time as we wait for the breakthrough of his kingdom in its fullness.

Romans 8:19 is sometimes translated this way:

“Creation stands on tiptoe with expectation”…as it waits for everything to be set right.

This rendition of Romans 8:19 underscored for me what I was already suspecting:

Groaning and hope are inextricably bound together.

In fact, pulling together the verses quoted earlier in Romans 8 with v. 19, we discover that creation can be groaning and standing on expectant tiptoe at the same time.  That seems a strange balance that’s hard to get our minds and hearts around.  Groaning and hope seem to hold such a sweet and awful paradox.

How then do we live in this paradoxical time as daily we face our own weakness, our doubt, our sadness, our loneliness, our questions with complicated and overwhelming circumstances all around?  Indeed how do we live?

How do we live without falling headlong into the slough of crushing grief or continually struggling to make our way up the hill of unrealized hope?

Notice with me that the word “groan” is used yet again just a few verses later in v. 27:

The Spirit of God not only maintains this hope within us but helps us in our present limitations. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

God doesn’t leave us to flounder in the incongruity of groaning and hope.

He gives us the Holy Spirit who prays for us and through us when we don’t have a clue as to how to pray.  God’s Spirit groans and that groaning-prayer is given to us as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Amazing!

But how does the Holy Spirit give us this gift?  How do we receive it?  How do we express it?

Of course many of us have prayed for vaccines and effective treatment and those prayers have been and continue to be answered.  Thanks be to God.  But I don’t believe our part is to struggle to compose exhaustive and exhausting cognitive prayers that cover all the bases of the post-pandemic world when the bases themselves are not clear at all.

So how then do we listen for God’s prayer and pray Holy Spirit, hope-filled prayer with him?

Romans 8:26,27 tell us: The Spirit of God not only maintains this hope within us but helps us in our present limitations… praying for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words….

Here are a few examples of how this gift of God’s Holy Spirit may manifest itself:

  • A few years ago a CT scan of my abdomen “incidentally” revealed a tumor in the right atrium of my heart and within less than 48 hours I was having open heart surgery; the tumor was removed and the wall of my heart repaired. Thanks be to God.  But honestly I don’t remember praying with words during that time.  I felt so completely overwhelmed as my whole life was in a few moments turned topsy-turvy that I simply allowed my sighs to be released as prayer.  Some were conscious sighs and others were involuntary soul-sighs, both released as prayer.

When we feel overwhelmed with what’s going on in our lives, in our families, in our country and the world, we may only be able to release our breath in a sigh or even a groan… that’s Holy Spirit prayer.

  • When my mother passed away suddenly and we flew to California to plan her funeral and clear out her condo, I awoke in the middle of the night and realized there were no words of prayer pouring out from me.  All I could do was weep.  And weep I did.

When we’re moved to tears and realize that God receives our tears as prayer…that’s Holy Spirit prayer.

  • From time to time, we’ve all been asked to pray for seemingly hopeless situations–someone with a terminal illness, a severely disturbed son or daughter, a broken marriage or any number of other difficult situations.

When we are desperate we may be moved to reach back into the church’s toolbox and pray “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” or “Your kingdom come” in a moment when we realize we have no words for the situation that needs prayer…that’s Holy Spirit prayer.

  • When we feel utterly weak and need the strength to keep on praying when we’ve been praying for someone or something for years or even decades, God can give us words to pray in the spirit from the deepest part of who we are, as Paul encouraged in Ephesians 6:18…that’s Holy Spirit prayer.
  • When the situation is so scary or critical or desperate and all we can do is pound the wall and cry out, “Jesus, help”…that’s Holy Spirit prayer.
  • And when we realize there are absolutely no words at all and we can only be  still—our body posture saying it all—at we sit in the stillness, look heavenward, kneel, turn our hands upward, raise our arms, lay prostrate…that’s Holy Spirit prayer.

God is longing for everything to be made right…and if we listen we can hear his desire, his prayer, his groaning.

We may even hear all of creation groaning in expectation with God.

We can then allow the Spirit to take our unspoken groans and sighs as we are carried into Holy Spirit prayer.

And we are filled with hope.

I learned a song from some of my African American friends, a song that has been sung in black churches for decades or even longer—Trouble in my Way.  Many of my friends sing this song out of their own experience.

Trouble in my way,
I have to cry sometimes
Trouble in my way,
I have to cry sometimes
I lay awake at night,
But that’s all right
‘Cause I know Jesus, he will fix it

I know Jesus, he will fix it

I know Jesus, he will fix it, after while, after while.

Trouble in my way,
I have to moan sometimes
Trouble in my way,
I have to moan sometimes
I lay awake at night,
But that’s all right
‘Cause I know Jesus, he will fix it

I know Jesus, he will fix it

I know Jesus, he will fix it, after while, after while.

Trouble in my way,
I have to pray sometimes
Trouble in my way,
I have to pray sometimes
I lay awake at night,
But that’s all right
‘Cause I know Jesus, he will fix it

I know Jesus, he will fix it

I know Jesus,, he will fix it, after while, after while.

That’s Holy Spirit prayer.

Gospel music has a way of capturing in beautifully simple terms what I’ve been writing about here.

And we, from every corner of earth and heaven, join our groans and moans, sighs and cries of prayer and are filled with hope.  Hope!  Thanks be to God.

 

 

Linda Richardson is the Chicago coordinator for the Christos Center Tending The Holy program  – a two-year training program offering a certificate in Spiritual Direction.  Learn more here.

Spiritual Directors help others experience the presence of God.Christos Executive Director Heidi Lender