The Intercession of the Holy Spirit

And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

People have a tendency to romanticize childhood for many reasons. Many people remember childhood as a time of innocence, a time with far fewer cares. Sure, we thought we had problems, challenges, and difficulties as we grew up, but most of us would gladly trade our present understanding and trials for the “difficulties” of childhood!

Childhood is only care-free when parents and other adults foster an environment in which children can be care-free. Plenty of trials, sufferings, challenges, and responsibilities need to be addressed, but the adults most often handle them. Sadly, many children grow up too quickly because of their circumstances: governmental oppression, loss of parents, divorce, illnesses, or other factors may cause children to learn more about the reality of life than they probably should at their age. Children, therefore, are care-free because they do not know much better; they have not yet been exposed to the challenges of life that their parents take care of for them.

There is only one problem with all of this: we “grow up” and start thinking that we now all of a sudden do understand all of the difficulties, challenges, and issues that surround us. We think we have a handle on reality.

As Paul seeks to encourage the Romans, he makes a startling declaration in Romans 8:26: the Spirit helps us in our infirmity, or weakness: we do not know what to pray for as we ought.

But wait a moment: we know what we should pray for, right? We should pray to thank God for all the blessings with which He has blessed us in Jesus (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). We should pray for all men so that we can live in tranquility and for them to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should pray for one another for each other’s welfare (James 5:16). We should always be in constant communication with God our Defender (Ephesians 6:18). How, then, can Paul say that we do not know what to pray for as we ought?

All of these things are well and good, and we should pray for them. Yet, as Paul says, we are weak. For one thing, we are often forgetful and take many things for granted; there are many things for which we know we should pray but we forget or overlook them. For that matter, we do not really understand reality as well as we think we do. There is an entire realm beyond our perception but is very real: the spiritual realm, in which the spiritual forces of good and evil constantly conflict (Ephesians 6:10-18, Revelation 4:1-22:6). There is much to the “secret things” of God, far beyond human understanding (Deuteronomy 29:29, Isaiah 55:8-9). We cannot perceive the spiritual realm all around us; therefore, we are very much like children, oblivious to all sorts of things that may endanger us or cause us difficulty.

But just as parents do all they can to take care of their children and often to shield their children from many of the difficulties and hazards of life, so God provides a way to take care of the needs of believers they neglect to mention or concerning which they are completely ignorant: the Holy Spirit intercedes on their behalf with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). The Father knows the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for believers according to the will of God (Romans 8:27).

There are many who question this understanding of the passage, wondering whether Jesus is the only true intercessor for believers, and that the spirit of the believer, not the Holy Spirit, is under discussion. The challenge cannot be sustained. For one thing, we do not see such a complete contrast between a believer, a believer’s “heart,” and a believer’s spirit as such an interpretation would demand. The solution does not get rid of the perceived problem anyway, since Paul says that the “spirit” intercedes for the saints according to the will of God in Romans 8:27, and so there remains an intercessor for saints beyond Jesus. While it is true that Jesus is the only Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), mediation and intercession, while similar, are not the same thing. A mediator (Greek mesites) is like an arbitrator, standing between two parties; in this case, Jesus stands between God and man, having partaken of the nature of each. An intercessor (Greek noun enteuxis, verb entugchano) speaks on behalf of another without necessarily taking on the nature of each or the case of each. Yes, Jesus does intercede for us before the Father as well (cf. Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25), but intercession is never considered something that only He can do. Believers are to intercede for all men (1 Timothy 2:1); the Holy Spirit, as we see in Romans 8:26-27, intercedes for believers before the Father with groans too deep for words.

What an encouraging and comforting message! There are all sorts of pitfalls, problems, and dangers we happen upon in life; how well do we remember to pray regarding them? There are many times when we get so caught up in ourselves and the way we see things in our weakness; how many times have we forgotten to pray to obtain perspective? There are innumerable details that make up our lives; how many of those details do we take up in prayer before the Almighty? How many times do we feel as if we have been neglected by God? What if God has always been there and the Spirit has always been interceding for us, taking very good care of us, and yet we never had an inkling or an idea since it did not involve things we could see or hear?

We must remain diligent in prayer and never allow any excuse or rationalization to keep us away from praying about anything and everything (Luke 18:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 1 Peter 5:7). Nevertheless, we will remain weak, and God knows that. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead, intercedes for us before the Father for innumerable and untold concerns, issues, and opportunities. Meanwhile the Son intercedes as well before the Father; two of the three Persons of the Godhead intercede before the other Person on our behalf (cf. Romans 8:34)!

God cares for us. God intercedes within Himself on our behalf. He does not abandon us or forsake us. How much humble pie will we be served on the final day if or when God makes it evident to us just how active He had been in our lives, with the Son and the Spirit interceding on our behalf, seeking our welfare in ways we neglected, took for granted, or could never even understand? Those among us who are parents may have an inkling of it when we look back and see how our parents took care of us and how much that involved concerning which we were entirely ignorant! Let us therefore trust God, ever thankful for His care, praying constantly for those things concerning which we understand, sustained by the intercession of the Holy Spirit for all that which we do not!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Common Suffering

Whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world (1 Peter 5:9).

During times of great difficulty– be it physical, emotional, and/or spiritual– it is easy for believers to get the impression that they are alone in what they are experiencing. They may feel that they are alone because it seems that no one else is suffering quite like they are. Others may feel that they are the only ones left who truly stand for God’s purposes and that everyone else has stumbled.

These feelings of isolation are normal and represent part of the temptations that go along with suffering. The Bible is very clear, however, that no matter how we suffer, we are not alone!

Peter demonstrates here in 1 Peter 5:9 that the sufferings the brethren in Asia Minor were experiencing were shared by their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that all the temptations we face are those common to mankind– there is no sin with which we are tempted that has never tempted anyone else before. If we stopped and thought about it– or communicated with fellow believers in other places– we would soon learn that most of the challenges, difficulties, and sources of pain that we experience are quite similar to those experienced by others. We are all in the same boat!

When it comes to feeling like we are the only ones left standing for God’s truth, the example of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is instructive. After defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and the message of Jezebel’s wrath, Elijah was distressed and fled. Consider what he says to God:

And he said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).

Elijah felt like he was the only one left. Yet consider what God has to say to him:

“Yet will I leave me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).

Elijah might have felt as if he were alone, but God knew that there were seven thousand others who stood for Him and His truth. Just because we are not aware of others who are doing God’s will does not mean that they do not exist. We can be confident that God will always make sure that there is a remnant of His people, and that they are never really alone (Romans 11:5). After all, even if one were the last one standing with God, there is greater power on God’s side than that which is opposed to Him (1 John 4:4)!

Despair, isolation, and feelings of being alone happen quite naturally in times of distress, challenge, and/or suffering. Yet they are lies. We are not alone. There are other Christians out there who are suffering the same things we are. There are others out there striving to serve God. And, regardless of what others may do, if we seek to serve God according to His will, He will provide strength and comfort (cf. Romans 8:31-39). Let us not be deceived into thinking that we suffer alone– let us pray to God for strength and be encouraged by our fellow believers in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Kingdom Perspective on Difficulties

And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, “Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh…But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25).

There are many difficult sayings that Jesus spoke. We either just move on to more easily understood passages or read them and we scratch our heads and try to figure them out. Nevertheless, there can be great value in understanding the more difficult sayings of Jesus, especially in difficult days.

Jesus’ pronouncements of blessings and woes in Luke 6:20-26 involve some of those difficult sayings. It is quite tempting to make them parallel with the beatitudes of Matthew 5 and move on. While the underlying message of both is similar, the contexts are different and the meaning is different. We have to come to terms with what Jesus is saying in Luke 6!

On the surface, it seems quite difficult and contradictory. What real virtue is there in being poor, hungry, or mourning? Is it really sinful to be rich, full, or to be laughing? This passage seems to be extremely disturbing!

Yet Jesus Himself provides the clue to understanding what He is saying. Notice the reasoning behind His statements: the poor are blessed because the Kingdom is theirs. The hungry and weeping are blessed because they will be filled and will laugh. Woes come to the rich because they have received their consolation. Those who are full and who laugh will have woe because they will be hungry and will mourn and weep.

We ought not infer from these verses that there is any inherent virtue in poverty, hunger, or mourning, nor that it is bad to be rich, full, or to laugh. Jesus ate and drank, after all (Matthew 11:19). Instead, Jesus is attempting to turn the world of His hearers upside down– He wants them to see value in what is normally considered undesirable, and the detractions in what is usually considered desirable.

As human beings, we naturally prefer wealth, satisfaction, and laughter. They are fun and enjoyable. We would rather not be poor, hungry, or mourning. Those are no fun.

Yet look at it the way Jesus would have us look at it. If we have wealth, what is left for us? If we are currently full, what is going to come next? If we are laughing, what will come next? We are either going to remain at that plateau or we are going to be faced with that which we do not want: hunger and mourning.

But what happens when we are poor, or hungry, or weeping? Sure, the present does not seem too great, but there is nowhere to go but up. We will have the opportunity to have the Kingdom, or to be full, or to laugh again.

Therefore, according to the Kingdom perspective, we need to remember that if or when we receive wealth, we have our consolation. When we are full, we are just going to get hungry again. When we are laughing, all we have to look forward to are days of woe.

But when we are poor, we can be comforted to know that the Kingdom is ours. When we are hungry, we can have faith that we will be filled. When we mourn, despite the tears, we can look forward to days of laughter.

This is a great message for difficult times, especially difficult times like today. There is great economic uncertainty. Thousands have lost their jobs. The present does not seem too hopeful. Yet if we are poor, hungry, or weeping today, we can cherish the blessing of knowing that there will be days of satisfaction and laughter to follow.

Whether rich or poor, full or hungry, laughing or weeping, let us trust in God and put His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Queen of Heaven

“As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off burning incense to the queen of heaven, and pouring out drink-offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine” (Jeremiah 44:16-18).

The fateful day of reckoning had come and passed, and the people of Judah were left to sort out what happened. Their land was taken; their city destroyed; the Temple of YHWH obliterated. How could this have happened? Where was God in all of this?

Most of the Judeans were taken into exile to Babylon, but some were left in the land. After more misfortune, they decide, against God’s will, to go to Egypt. There many again serve the “Queen of Heaven,” among other gods and goddesses. After all, their reasoning went, life was good in Judah when they served the Queen of Heaven. It was when Hezekiah and Josiah interrupted that service that everything turned for the worse! Thus, they reasoned, there was no point in obeying the word of the LORD.

Their logic may be understandable, but that does not make it right. Notice that the “Queen of Heaven” did not tell them any of this; instead, they are reasoning based only on what they perceive. Meanwhile, Jeremiah is speaking directly from God, not only condemning their current deeds, but making it clear that this disaster did not come without sufficient warning. God made it very clear through the prophets that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people exiled if they did not change their ways (Jeremiah 44:1-14). The people do not deny any of that. But they still justify their wives’ behavior and idolatry!

What ends up happening to these Judeans? We do not know. We do know that those who believed in YHWH and put away their idols were those who returned to the land of Judah, and a large proportion of more idolatrous Judeans simply assimilated into the cultures among whom they were exiled and thus no longer part of the covenant. A sad fate indeed!

These Judeans are not the only ones to experience great trauma and difficulties and left to sort out what it all means. Unfortunately, many maintain a hardened heart toward God throughout the process, and latch on to whatever reasoning exists that justifies their continued behavior. The reasoning might even make sense. But does that make the reasoning right?

While we cannot and should not say that all difficulties and sufferings that we experience mean that God is punishing us, we are to remember God throughout the process, and realize that it is not within ourselves to direct our own steps, and that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves (cf. Jeremiah 10:23). When God does discipline us, we ought to endure it for our own good (Hebrews 12:3-11). Will we have the faith to turn to God regardless of our circumstances, believing that they will all work out for good somehow (Romans 8:28)? Or will we try to find some way to justify our God-dishonoring behaviors to our own hurt? Let us listen to God’s message and live!

Ethan R. Longhenry