A Supernatural Partnership Part I: The Problems of Prayer

If someone offered to give you $100 for every day you prayed, would your times of prayer be more consistent? Would you set other things aside to get that time? The implication is obvious—would you do for money what you won’t do for God when you know that He both commands and invites you into His presence through prayer?

I hate illustrations like that. Do you know why? They don’t motivate me to pray, they just make me feel even more guilty about the sad state of my present prayer life. So I’d like to take a little different tact.

In many places the Bible indicates that you are meant to experience a mutual relationship of pleasure and joy with God through prayer (pair Proverbs 15:8 with Psalm 37:4). If this is true, why is prayer so difficult?

In Romans 8:18-27 the Apostle Paul outlines our situation of life in a fallen world.

Verse 18: He says that one of the ways to deal with present suffering is to be mindful of coming glory. What is happening in the meantime?

Verses 19-22: He personifies the creation and speaks of it doing two things: groaning and waiting eagerly.

Verses 23-25: He speaks of believers as doing the same two things: groaning and waiting eagerly. In the present we groan and wait knowing that glory is coming.

Verses 26-27: These verses begin with the phrase, “In the same way” – as what?  In the same way that you maintain hope in the midst of the suffering of this life, the Spirit will give you hope in the midst of the problems you experience in prayer. Along with creation and Christians the Spirit is also groaning. His intercession runs deeper than words. Prayer is a spiritual reality but still we experience problems in prayer.

If you would like to see your prayer life energized, Paul’s message is that there is hope. I want to look at verses 26-27 through three questions: Why do you have these prayer problems? What is the solution? How can you put that solution into practice? In this blog, we will look at the first question and in the next two blogs we will look at the other two questions.

Why Do You Have These Prayer Problems?

  • You lack strength (vs. 26)

Notice that Paul launches into this discussion of prayer fully assuming that there will be problems. He doesn’t say, “When you are weak” or “If you are weak” – he takes it for granted that weakness will be present. How did he know? Most likely, he experienced that weakness himself.

When Paul speaks about your weakness, he is not speaking about your sins.  The focus here is on inability. That is, he is not writing about sins you practice but about the sin nature you possess. Sin touches all of who you are and all of what you do; you have an innate inability to perform as you would like to when it comes to spiritual things. You may even have the desire to be a person of prayer but your weakness keeps you from performing; your performance doesn’t match your desire.

  • You lack knowledge (vs. 26)

Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we should.” Certainly that is not true in a general sense. You know you should be praying for the spread of the gospel, revival and reformation, the holiness of the church, and many other things. But in specific circumstances you often don’t know what to pray for and the deceitfulness of your own heart can lead you to pray for things it would be dangerous for you to have. You can be like a little child fascinated with the flame on the stove thinking that it looks so pretty it must be wonderful to touch, until dad or mom give a firm “no.” Even Paul received a “no” answer to some of his prayers (II Cor. 12:7-9). We don’t always know what we should pray for. All of you who have been believers for any length of time can testify that you are thankful that the Lord saw fit to say “no” to some of your prayers. They were shortsighted and lacked understanding and knowledge.

Paul does not leave us in this place of weakness and knowledge but he leads us to a solution to these problems. We will take up this solution in our next blog.


About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
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