Tuesday 4 January 2022

With the Spirit’s Help

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; 
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

—Romans 8:26

At the beginning of a new year, it is customary to speak about newness and hope, to express excited anticipation for God’s “new thing” springing forth in our midst, like a bubbling river in a parched desert (Isaiah 43:19). But that’s the funny thing about hope, at least as I hear scripture tell of it—the river doesn’t simply cancel out the desert, at least ‘not yet’. Scripture understands that there are times when it is difficult to hope, and we need God’s help to do so.

In his Letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul speaks of a hope that is born(e) in the midst of suffering, because suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and this character in turn creates a hope that “does not disappoint us.” This hope does not disappoint us, Paul says, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5). Without God’s outpouring love entering our hearts, any other kind of hope we entertain will prove disappointing, indeed will not really be hope at all.

Later, Paul will again speak of a hope that arises amid the “groaning” of creation. This is a hope “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). It is also a hope for we folks who “groan inwardly while we wait for the redemption of our bodies” (vs. 23). Paul finally tells us that, while we are in fact saved in this hope (vs. 24), it remains a hope for something we don’t see and must therefore await with patience (vs. 24-25).

Holding on to such hope seems like a tall order these days, doesn’t it? While it is certainly not difficult to hear creation or we ourselves groaning, it can be hard to imagine these signs of pain and suffering as part of a transformative birthing process, as part and parcel of new creation. To maintain such hope requires faith that, despite everything we can’t see (and many oppressive and destructive things we can!), God is nevertheless at work transforming the world for good, the world God made in love and for love.

As if recognizing the weight of his words, Paul takes a moment at this point to assure us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness, intercedes for us even, with inexpressible groans of its own. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know how or what to pray, for God searches our heart and finds the Spirit God gave us there, Jesus Messiah himself in fact (vs. 34), and forges a connection precisely when we are struggling to do so ourselves.

I like the way that The Message translates Romans 8:27-28: “[The Spirit] knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” What more can we hope for than that our lives will be worked into something good, something that will be a blessing to creation, others, ourselves, and God? And when our lives fail to be such a blessing—in those moments when we seem unable either to receive or give God’s love—Paul assures us that God is always there to set us on our feet again, readying us to begin anew, inspiring us to live a life of love buoyed by a hope that will not disappoint us.

May you be strengthened and inspired by the hope and love of our Maker and Redeemer in 2022 and beyond, friends, knowing that God’s Spirit is always there to help us find both!


Ron Kuipers