I Don’t Know How to Pray

26In the same way the Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness because we don’t know how to pray as we should. The Spirit intercedes for us with unutterable groans. — Romans 8:26

(This is Henry writing for Jody this morning.)

Being treated as an expert on any topic can be very dangerous, both to the “expert” and to those who regard him as such. There’s the obvious danger of pride on the one hand and of surrendering one’s own judgment to someone who is supposed to know on the other.

Someone once showed me the author’s introduction to a commentary on Revelation. The author expressed great confidence that he had solved the interpretive problems of Revelation. He had the key! “Here! This is really clear and it answers all the questions about Revelation!” my questioner told me.

Unfortunately for that simple answer, I have a whole row of books on Revelation, many of which express great confidence that the writer has solved all the problems and that the answer is quite simple, and yet no two of them agree. Confidence doesn’t equal knowledge. It’s quite possible to be confidently wrong.

As dangerous as it can be to regard oneself as an expert in an intellectual field, or to be regarded as such by others, I would suggest that there is a much greater danger in regarding oneself as an expert on prayer. I teach on prayer. I advocate prayer, individually, corporately, and in many forms. I have studied prayer for a very long time. I can be tempted to think I’m an expert. Other people can be tempted to think I’m an expert.

But on prayer I am no expert. I don’t know how to pray!

Well, says someone, hadn’t you better learn quickly? I am learning. But there is always a long way to go.

Let me illustrate. I got married late in life. I had to learn to share my living space, my life, my thoughts, and my dreams with another person. I had to learn to communicate quickly! I think I did fairly well. I can look back at some particularly obvious failures in communication. But today I will probably learn something more.

And that’s just in learning to communicate with my wife, who is also a finite human. In prayer, I am learning to communicate with God, who is infinite. How soon do you think I will be able to declare myself an expert? How soon can I declare myself “competent” at praying? I suspect it’s not going to happen very soon.

Paul had a very good point here. We think we know what we want and need. We think we know how to communicate with God. We even take it upon ourselves to judge the success of our prayer lives. “Well, God didn’t help me on that one!” we say, as though God should be faulted for failing to get on our program.

I don’t mean we should record our prayers and prayer experiences, as some do in a prayer journal. But record your experiences and read them as a record of a growing relationship, not a tally of prayer tokens inserted in the machine and answers that come out.

Prayer works if you communicate with God. That’s it’s primary purpose. You can’t be an expert at that. But you can know that God’s Spirit is there to help you in your weakness.

I don’t know how to pray. You don’t either.

But I hope we practice a lot today and every day. Let’s feel our weakness and know that the Holy Spirit is right there with us, helping us weak folks out.

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