Prayer is a common occurrence. Public prayers are offered before sports events and governmental meetings; liturgical prayers are offered in churches; private prayers of the “Dear God, please…” variety escape our lips in traffic jams and grocery lines.
However, Paul Tillich, in a sermon from The New Being, questions whether true prayer is even possible. After all, we are attempting to talk to the Creator of the Universe, who—presumably—already knows our needs and wants before we even enunciate them. Isn’t a kind of prayerless resignation more logical than asking for God’s help or even thanking God. Surely God is not so small as to need our thanks; and if God was going to help us anyway, why bother asking? And if God wasn’t going to help, again—why bother?
The Apostle Paul tackles the problem in Romans 8:26-27:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know
what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows
the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people
in accordance with the will of God.
Paul’s solution is not so easy to understand. To begin with, what is Spirit? In a Christian context, Spirit is simply God’s felt presence. So, despite our inability to pray except in wordless groans, God himself helps us. God himself intercedes for us. But to whom is Spirit/God interceding? Well, that’s “he who searches our hearts.” And that’s—God himself. God is praying to God for us—we could say through us. We ourselves cannot speak to God. We can only groan in the Divine Presence, the Spirit, and “…he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.”
In Quaker terms, that of God in every person wordlessly tells God what we need. That is why we may profit from a meeting in which the silence is not broken by a message. The Spirit silently does its work anyway.
~ Richard Russell
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