by Rev. Dr. Robert Anderson, Covenant-First
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
D (the name I’ll use now) comes to the church building 2 or 3 times a month – sometimes I buy him breakfast or help with the other concerns of looking for a job. He’s not homeless. He’s “hope-less” – meaning, he has little or no hope of his life being better. Every day is a day to “give in and give up”. He’s connected with all the right resources in the county and city. If that counts as “hope,” this all he has. Last week there was a shift. In me.
I walked through the church on Sunday and D was sitting in Fellowship Hall nursing a cup of black coffee. He looked emaciated. He was, in my mind and heart, despairingly hope–less. Not even money would fix this. He needs a constant friend, mentor, safe lodging, at least one square meal a day. And a change of heart, the kind that comes with Jesus’ healing presence.
As I greeted D’s downfallen countenance, I had an Ezekiel 9 moment: (Ez. 9.4) And the LORD said to Ezekiel “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”
The backstory tells us that God showed Ezekiel all the abominations of God’s people and priests. Abominations of idol worship, misconduct in the priest’s temple worship, and more. The city was awash with immorality and oppression. God instructed Prophet Ezekiel to pass through the city and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it. D’s lanky frame was bowed over the table, hands clutching the coffee cup like a life preserver in a turbulent ocean. I sighed and groaned. Ezekiel’s presence seemed to touch my forehead.
In Ezekiel’s day, “sigh and groan” was the holy response to the unholy, wayward, and God-less activities of God’s covenant people. D’s “hope-less” presence threw my heart into a “sigh and groan” mode. His needs and problems are far beyond my ken. Of course, I can pray. And I do pray for him and the several others like him whom I meet during the course of a month. Here’s the rub. Because I pray with D and for D through the week, it was certain to happen – my heart broke for him … with sighing and groaning at the abominations that plagued him, blocked him, robbed him of his worth.
The sighs and groans have not passed and seem to be lodged permanently in the pit of my gut.
So what? Two things come to my heart. The first is prayer. A “lame” response you might counter. But prayer is “not nothing” nor is it lame. Prayer is powerful. The sighing and groaning are powerful because, even as I write this, God is showing me that the sigh and groan is the Holy Spirit praying in me for D and others like him. See Romans 8:26-27: the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
There you have it – when we turn our eyes on the poor and oppressed with the eyes of Jesus, prayer is the most powerful response we have.
If prayer is a powerful tool, then it follows that corporate prayer will extend this embracing circle of prayer’s power. I am asking you to pray with me for those who are held in the shackles of society’s abominations, traps of their own making, and the weak help of our limited (and often broken) support systems.
Beloved Community, I invite you to pray with me for D. Let the sighs and groans of the Spirit be God’s mark on your forehead as you see the abominations of the world that surround us daily.
Oh, there is a third response. Listen for the answers to the Spirit’s sighs and groans. What is the Spirit’s intercession? That’s will be the key that unlocks God’s creative answers. It will be our very powerful prayer.