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"How the Holy Spirit Helps Us in our Prayer Life"

PENTECOST May 24, 2015

Rom.8:9f,14-16,23,26f (1Cor.14)


The "big picture" of the Bible is God's reaching out to mankind to "reconcile the world to Himself" (2Cor 5:19), to restore the innocent and transparent fellowship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God back in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Genesis 3:8). God chose Abraham to be the father of a nation that would bless other nations (Gen 12:2f; cf Gal 3:29, 4:5-7). Moses said God gave Israel the Ten Commandments and other laws at Sinai to highlight the special relationship His 'chosen people' enjoyed - the Torah acted as a pointer to the intimacy, the nearness, God sought with people. Deuteronomy 4:6f "Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?"

But Israel's rebellion and disobedience led to their exile, being removed from the Promised Land. God revealed to the prophet Jeremiah He was preparing another way by which intimacy with Him could be enjoyed: He would give His very Spirit to dwell inside people, writing His laws on our heart, as it were. Jeremiah 31:31-34 ""The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD."This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD."I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.I will be their God, and they will be my people.No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD."For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."" So at the heart of the "New Covenant" is a new relationship, a new mode by which people know and have fellowship with God: the sin-barrier has been dealt with and removed. The prophet Joel, about the ninth century BC, foresaw that in latter days this would take the form of an outpouring of God's Spirit. Joel 2:28f "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days."

When John the Baptist came on the scene, people wondered if he might be the Messiah who would bring these things to fulfilment, but he insisted One was coming after him that would do this. Luke 3:15f "The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.John answered them all, "I baptize you with water.But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."

After Jesus died and was raised, He told His disciples repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name, as a result of His accomplishment at the cross, clearing the way for the Spirit's coming: Luke 24:49 "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

Less than two weeks later, at the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came: Acts 2:2-4 "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Through these other languages, visitors from all over the Roman world heard the disciples "declaring the wonders of God" in their own tongues (Acts 2:11). Peter interpreted the event as the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy and concluded, Acts 2:33 "Exalted to the right hand of God, [Jesus] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear."

In his great chapter on "life in the Spirit" in Romans 8, Paul maintains that to be a Christian is to have the Holy Spirit dwelling (housed) in us: Rom 8:9 "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." 8:14 "...those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." This Spirit of Christ / Spirit of God within us (he uses the terms interchangeably) makes us keenly aware of our being God's very children - that intimacy, nearness, relationship and connection that had been lost since Adam and Eve first sinned and rebelled. 8:15Bf "...you received the Spirit of sonship.And by him we cry, "Abba [Papa], Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children."

A few verses later Paul describes the Spirit's activity within us, helping us in our prayer life through "wordless groans" that may be unintelligible to us but are somehow, mysteriously, intelligible to God. Rom 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 with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."


One of the churches Paul planted was in Greece, at a cosmopolitan, avant-garde city called Corinth. The very name of the city was synonymous with behaving in a sexually immoral way. By contrast, God seems to have blessed the infant church there with a rich variety of spiritual gifts - all "given for the common good" (1Cor 12:7): messages of wisdom and knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues (12:8ff). He likens these different gifts to different functions of members of our body, emphasizing that they all belong, they all have a role, they're all to have "equal concern for each other" regardless of what the different gift is (12:25). He does not expect everybody to speak in tongues any more than everybody would have gifts of healing (12:30).

In chapter 14 of 1Corinthians, Paul goes into more detail about the gift of tongues, juxtaposing it with the gift of prophecy, which uses intelligible language. Note Paul's disposition toward tongues is very positive. 14:4 "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself..." God builds a person up through this gift. 14:5 "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues..." - so they can't be a bad thing. V18 "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all." The apostle obviously used this gift regularly, he spoke in tongues a lot! V39 "Do not forbid speaking in tongues..." They're a good and helpful thing, not to be discouraged.

What's actually happening when speaking in tongues? How does Paul describe it? V2 "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit." V14 "For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful." A very 'alive' part of you is praying - your spirit - but your mind gets a "by" on this one.

While tongues are a good thing, edifying the individual, Paul's emphasis in this chapter is that it's even better to prophesy because that builds up the whole church. If someone has the gift of interpretation of tongues, though, then they become intelligible and helpful to the whole church. V13 "For this reason [to build up the church, v12] anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says." If there's no interpreter, pray "under your breath" (we would say) rather than out loud; v28 "If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God."


At our recent congregational retreat, Chris Palmer did some teaching on the topic of spiritual gifts. As we talked afterwards, we thought it would be good to ask a few individuals who have particular giftings if they would share about them. My own experience with speaking in tongues is limited: earlier in my life I used it more often in my prayer life, sort of an extension when English words ran out and I wanted to keep expressing the love and adoration I found in my heart towards God, my Heavenly Father. As someone who's pretty intellectually-focused, it would likely be good practice for me to pray in tongues more often, as a reminder God doesn't love me just for my intellect but my whole body - soul - spirit. In counselling terms, God loves the "little boy" Ernest inside me, the [perhaps somewhat emotionally stunted or repressed] "me" just as much as the got-it-all-together-in-my-head "me". For me also, tongues are a reminder that Jesus is Lord, He's in ultimate control not me; yielding my tongue and unconscious to Him is another aspect or demonstration of total surrender. Pride has to take a back seat when one utters ecstatic prayer in senseless sounds. If it gives Abba/Papa delight to hear my heart babble and overflow, that's more important than me having to comprehend everything my spirit may be yearning to express.

Bonnie Shannon is another person in our congregation who has spoken in tongues and gave me permission to share some of her experience with you today. She did it more often earlier in her life when she was very involved in church life, youth ministry, and Bible study. For her, praying in tongues was extra special because it helped her come before her Heavenly Father with all her needs, imperfection, and brokenness in a completely honest and vulnerable way. She felt His presence especially near when she was communicating at such a deep level. (She became obviously moved as she was telling me this.)

Bonnie has had some other ways the Holy Spirit helps her in her prayer life. Sometimes she gets "visuals", pictures of what the Lord seems to want to be showing her. And one time (years ago) when a visitor to our congregation spoke in tongues at a service, Bonnie did get an interpretation which she shared with her husband.

Chris Palmer and Bonnie Morrison have also graciously agreed to share some of their experience...