Back to Index

When You Run Out of Words
July 25, 1993

ROMANS 8:26-39

Have you ever been at a loss for words, when the words just were not there? Perhaps when you proposed marriage? Or, asked her for the first date? Hemmed and hawed, afraid that if you finally stammered, "You wouldn't like to go to a movie, would you?"; afraid she would answer, "You're right, I wouldn't like to go to a movie."

Many of us have found ourselves in situations when we run out of words. Many of us find ourselves at a loss for words in our relationship with God, but Paul says its okay. In fact, Paul probably found himself running out of words. Romans 8:26, from the Scripture Lesson which was read this morning, is like a window into Paul's prayer life. Even Paul found himself without words when he approached God in prayer. It seems he could find no words to express his need adequately. But, Paul was surprised and thrilled to discover that when he ran out of words, the Holy Spirit took over and prayed his prayer. New Revised Standard Version, Romans 8:26:

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.

The New Jerusalem Bible is even clearer,

The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words.

This is my fourth sermon to you. Those of you who have not missed a Sunday might have discovered a method in my madness. I am attempting to lay the foundation for our ministry together. I began with the gospel, God's redeeming love. Because God loves us, God took the initiative to bridge the gap. We are reconciled with God, not through anything we have done, but because God reaches out to us. Then, God calls us into the church. Last week I discussed what is a dynamic, strong, vital church. A church is a church when it is engaged in ministry doing God's work of redemptive love.

Today, very early in my ministry with you, I issue the call: a dynamic, strong, vital church is a praying church. Prayer must undergird all that we do together in the name of Jesus Christ, or all that we do will come to naught. Jesus told us to pray.

Luke 18:1 Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

Paul told us to pray.

1 Thessalonians 5:17, Pray without ceasing.

Colossians 4:2, Devote yourself to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. Philippians 4:6, Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Sisters and brothers, let us pray. Let us undergird our lives with prayer. Let us undergird our church with prayer. Let us undergird our ministries with prayer. I ask each of you to enter into covenant with me to pray for our church daily. Will you daily pray for our church, pray for one another, and pray for me?

The Scripture lesson for today, as suggested by the lectionary, is about prayer, deep prayer. Deep prayer goes beyond words. Deep prayer begins when we run out of words, when we run out of chatter, and the Holy Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. A beginner's prayer is words. Superficial prayer is chatter. Deep prayer is when our needs and our desire to enter into closer intimacy with God push us beyond words. It is like a marriage where love for one another deepens through the years. During the romance period and the engagement period, the couple talk and talk, getting acquainted with one another. Then, as the years go by, the love deepens, the intimacy deepens, and there is less talk. They can sit for hours, enjoying one another's company, without words. Next month, Ellie and I will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. After 35 years, we enjoy long moments of silence and often know when the other speaks what he/she is going to say. Often we are on the same wave length, thinking the same thought. Similarly, as we grow closer to God, so chatter, talk, and words in prayer are unnecessary.

The lesson for today, Romans 8:26, is located within the context of hope. In the preceding verses, Paul stresses the hope we as Christians have. Romans 8:18, I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. The glory of redemption, the glory of God's will being realized, the glory God has in store for each of us, the glory God has waiting for our church, is what keeps us praying. We pray, we longingly, yearningly pray because we know what the future has in store, because we can hardly wait! The hope we have is sure because we already have a foretaste of its fulfillment. We have experienced the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and in our church. We have experienced a glimpse, a foretaste of God's love. We have had a look at glory, therefore we pray. We pray hopefully. We pray longingly. We pray without words, because they are inadequate. We pray with sighs too deep for words.

Far below the content level of your conscious mind;

far below the words, beyond human language, in the depths of your being where you agonize;

deep within you where you hurt and cry;

deep within you where the only language is sighing and longing;

deep within you where lay the unspoken desires of your heart, where you are truly yourself, where you are alone and vulnerable;

there is where the Holy Spirit intercedes for you and does your praying.

People who live their lives on a superficial level have no clue about what I am saying today. Some of you may be too young, but even you have had heartache. Some of you are trying to live your life on the surface, denying the depths. But, many of you know about praying when you have run out of words.

You who have desperately prayed for healing understand about sighs too deep for words.

You who have sat beside a dying loved one understand about sighs too deep for words.

You who have anguished over a child in trouble; you who have lost a child, and deep within you, welling up within you, and pushing its way through your being and out your mouth, was the question "Why?"-- the desperate cry of anguish, "Why, Lord?"--you understand about sighs too deep for words.

You who are disturbed about the world and its suffering, the flood victims, the victims of the holocaust of Bosnia, the hunger of children, people mistreated because of their color, you who care deeply about injustice and inequity, understand about sighs too deep for words.

You who are deeply concerned about our church, about what it is going through, and where it is going, take it to the Lord in prayer with sighs too deep for words.

And, we all pray confidently because of hope. We know there is glory, we believe in triumph over evil, and as Paul wrote in 8:24, For in hope we were saved.

A sign of our times is the hungering and thirsting of so many people for deeper intimacy with God. It is God calling us, wooing us, awakening our desire to find God, to foster intimacy with God. Deep calls unto deep. And God is calling each of us to a deeper level of relationship, to a deeper sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Deep prayer takes us to a radically naked place where our words are inadequate, where we run out of words, where even our thoughts and ideas fall away, and only the longing of our soul is left, a longing only God can fill. I invite you to let go. Let go of your words. Take your concern to God in prayer without words, and let the Holy Spirit intercede and lead you to a deeper relationship with God. When you pray for others, when you pray for our church or the world, words again are unnecessary. Hold the person or the concern in the light of God--picture them surrounded by the light of God--without words. Let the Holy Spirit do the praying. God knows their need.

One word of caution, however. Prayer requires courage. Deep prayer is not for sissies. There is a great risk in serious prayer. Because, what if when you have let down your barriers discover that God is not the god you have conveniently created for yourself? What if you have made a god in your own image, a god of convenience, a god who asks nothing of you, a god of anything goes rather than a God of judgment. What if deep prayer changes your beliefs, changes your values. What if we all prayed for our church, and God led us into ventures we have not dreamed of, or planned for? What if God wants us to remake His church, redirect our ministry? What if God wants you to remake your life? Beware! Caution! Prayer is not for sissies. Prayer requires courage. Deep prayer is for people who do not have all the answers, for people who know they are weak, for people who want to grow, who want a deeper relationship with the One who loves them so much he gave his only Son so that they may not perish, but have eternal life.

Romans 8:26, 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. Let us pray. Let us pray for ourselves. Let us pray for our church.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris