by Erin Barger
Romans 8:26-7: “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 through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
As 7-year-old boys are prone to do, our firstborn son, Lazarus, brightened my day with a flower. As a flower is prone to do, days later with no access to its root system, this little friend shriveled and lost its luster. It was more than nearly dead. Lazarus was a bit distraught, realizing that a gift he intended so earnestly, was no longer a sufficient gift in his view. So, I did what any scrappy mama would do. After he left for school I, the steward of the garden, replaced the dying flower with a living substitute. It was my joy to do the thing I could do, as the gardener, which was out of his grasp.
This option occurred to me because of our Sunday reflection of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Our prayer lives can suffer for so many reasons. They might be lacking in adoration, bearing the weight of self — being more focused on what we can get versus the praise we might give and the people we might therefore become. It is here, in our struggles to speak to God, that we open a door to the cares of the world. As fleeting as they may be, they offer just the distraction we prefer, though we know it is at the throne of grace that our deepest darkness is resolved.
Yet, rather than sitting quietly with the deep fear, the convulsing grief and the terrifying questions … rather than go to the garden for a new flower, we go to the sewer instead. And we may even wonder, as we stare at waste and refuse, why we feel less than fulfilled. Perhaps we waste time on sewage (insert your favorite meaningless and sometimes harmful distraction here) because we fear that nothing we have to say is something God wants to hear.
Then the Holy Spirit enters. God’s own Spirit intercedes … making the dead come to life, the self-serving gaze turn outward. The plea may begin in desperation but ends in adoration … eventually, when seeing the flower (and the sewage) for what they are. In Isaiah 59, one of my favorite passages, God looks down at the lack of justice, and his people, moaning “sadly like doves … [while] justice is turned back and righteousness stands afar off.” And what does He do?
Isaiah tells us that, “His own arm brought salvation.” Regarding God’s sufficiency, we often turn our thoughts first to the great Redeemer, brother and Savior Jesus, the Son of Man. But immediately relevant and required is God’s own Holy Spirit, whispering the words in our ear (or maybe rather translating our words into God’s ear) in a way that guarantees our connection. While Jesus mediates and covers us with his life and its sacrifice, the Spirit changes us into a flower that is not only smells sweet to our Creator … it actually begins to resemble God himself.
And guess what, friends? As Lazarus’ mama, even — no, especially — his dead flower was beautiful to me…made all the more because of his desire to love me and bring me joy. As any mother or father figure can attest — the desire, the attempt, was enough.
Prayer: “Holy Spirit, come …. cover my voice with your song, a resonant combination of power and grace. God, my offering is lacking. Your righteousness and justice worked our solution and salvation and for this we give you praise. God, when my offering of prayer is shriveled and wasting away, and I see no path to you, thank you for sharing your Holy Spirit to comfort, convict and guide. According to your will, hear the cries of my heart that are even hidden from my understanding. As you know me better than I know myself, cover me with your Spirit and give me the courage to step aside, making room for the sweetness that only you bring.”