Every now and then I mention that I love reading books by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Nouwen, a spiritual leader of the church, was someone who embodied the loving spirit of Christ in all of his actions and deeds. One of my favorite devotional books written by Nouwen is his yearlong journal he kept entitled Bread for the Journey. In this book are the reflections that Henri jotted down each day for an entire year, and then published them as a guide to help those who desire to live a spiritual life. The following is an excerpt from the book.
Empowered to Pray
Prayer is the gift of the Spirit. Often we wonder how to pray, when to pray, and what to pray. We can become very concerned about methods and techniques of prayer. But finally it is not we who pray but the Spirit who prays in us.
Paul says: “The Spirit … comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God’s holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God” (Romans 8:26-27). These words explain why the Spirit is called “the Consoler.”
Sometimes, being alone in prayer it can be difficult to articulate one’s feelings in the form of a well composed prayer. All too often, we try to put thoughts together in a logical order so as to pray a meaningful prayer. The result is time spent concentrating on the words of the prayer instead of simply following the Holy Spirit’s lead and enjoying my quiet time with God. Martin Luther teaches us that it is best to use simple language that captures the essence of our need and with his explanation of the third article of the Apostles Creed, Luther reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as The Holy Spirit calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, The Holy Spirit generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, he will raise me and all the dead from the grave. God will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is most certainly true!
When we come before God in prayer, we come as needy people; people who cannot approach God without the help of the Holy Spirit. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we enabled to meet God on such an intimate level. We must understand that it’s not the words of our prayer that God receives with joy; rather, he knows our hearts and receives our prayers as faithful response to the gifts of the Spirit. In prayer, God receives us, the totality of our very being. Through prayer we enjoy communion with the God who first created us, no matter how unworthy our words seem to be.
This Lenten season, one of the spiritual disciplines our congregation is dedicated to is living a life of prayer. Learning to pray aright, understanding that in difficult times, the words do not matter, for the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words (Romans 8:26-28). What matters is that we follow the example of Jesus, spend time alone with God in prayer, and lift up before him the things that weigh on our hearts and minds.
Living a life of prayer also means offering our thanks and praise to God at all times and in all situations. Our heavenly Father is generous beyond human measure, and even in difficult times his mercy and grace endure. For the love we receive, for the support of family and friends, for the air that we breathe and the food we eat, we give thanks for the many and wonderful blessings of our Father who meets our every need.
Loving Father, we give you thanks for the gifts of your Holy Spirit that we may come to you in prayer. Continue to bless us with these gifts, and help us to be such blessing to others that they too may realize the power of Christ, through these same spiritual gifts. We humbly pray for this and all that you see as good for us, through the precious name of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.