What is the one thing that we all need, but that we are so reluctant to ask for? I’m sure you could come up with many answers to that question, but the first thing that comes to my mind is “help.” When we find ourselves in a quandary, we need to ask for help. When we lose our way, on the way to our destination, we need to stop and ask for help. (That is unless you are a guy, right fellas?) When we lose our way on the highway of life, we should stop and ask for help. When the questions in our hearts and minds outnumber the answers at our disposal–we should stop and ask for help. When we finally recognize that we are in the pits and there is no one around holding a shovel except ourselves–we should put down our shovel and cry out for help. When we come to a fork in the road and are uncertain as to which way we should go, we should ask for help. We all need help. At many times in our lives, in various ways, we will need help. It is the rare individual who is willing to humble themselves and say, “Will you help me?”
Francis Thompson, was an English poet, and genius of a man, who wrote the famous poem, The Hound of Heaven. Francis was born in 1859 to a wonderful family. His parents were strict, devout Catholics. Francis was raised in a good home, a godly home. Francis went to Ushaw Seminary, but was asked to leave in 1877 because the Rector felt he lacked the necessary discipline for the priesthood.
After Francis left Seminary, he spent the next six years unsuccessfully trying to follow his father’s footsteps by studying medicine at Owens Medical College. Francis had a vivid imagination, he was so creative, but science was just not his thing. He got into an argument with his dad about his low grades and decided to hit the road. He made his way to London.
Francis’ life hit the skids. He got into drugs, became an opium addict, and drank himself into a stupor. While Francis was living with the homeless on the streets of London, in a community called Charing Cross, his dad was still trying to get him into college at Oxford. Francis lived to get his fix and to drown his disappointments in alcohol.
His brilliance didn’t die even though his hopes did. He would find newspapers in the trash cans around the city and write “Letters to the Editor” on discarded pieces of paper. The editors of the London newspapers would say, “One greater than Milton is living among us,” but there was never a return address on any of his letters or articles.
Francis continued to buy his drugs and mingle at Charing Cross. He would go down to the River Thames and sleep by the river. Francis was running, running from God, and running from his problems. With his drugs, alcohol, and disappointments in life he was running, but the Hound of Heaven was on his trail.
Francis was down by the river one night reading the Bible. He was reading the story of Jacob and it captured his attention. Jacob ran from God for most of his life. He read that when Jacob wrestled with God, somehow in his prayer, something happened in Jacob’s life and God changed him. Something happened in Francis Thompson’s life that night and he wrote these words.
Oh world invisible, we view thee,
Oh world intangible, we touch thee,
Oh world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air?
Do we ask of the stars in motion,
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
Tis ye, tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.
But when so sad thou canst not sadder
Cry, and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesaret, but Thames! (The Kingdom of God)
In February 1887, Wilfred Meynell, the editor of Merry England, a Catholic literary monthly magazine, received some grungy looking manuscripts, accompanied by the following covering letter:
In enclosing the accompanying article for your inspection, I must ask pardon for the soiled state of the manuscript. It is due, not to slovenliness, but to the strange places and circumstances under which it has been written.
Meynell must have wondered what sort of a man wrote the enclosed contents. What were the “strange places and circumstances” he referred to? All attempts to find the author failed until Francis noticed one of his poems had been published in Merry England. Mr. Meynell had published the poem hoping that it would draw the author out into the open.
One day in the spring of 1888, a man in his early 30s, in ragged clothes and broken shoes, looking much older than his years, and ill, came to Mr. Meynell’s office. He introduced him as Francis Thompson. The meeting with Wilfred Meynell was a gift from God and it marked the beginning of one of the most creative periods of Francis’ life. There is no doubt that God used Mr. Meynell to save Francis’ life. Wilfred and his wife took Francis under their wing. They arranged for him to stay in monasteries where he could escape life on the streets. Francis would still relapse from time to time, but he had reached his bottom, and life was getting better.
The first time that Mr. Meynell arranged for Francis to stay in a monastery, he stayed at the Norbertine monastery of Storrington in 1889. It was there that Francis wrote the autobiographical poem Hound of Heaven. The poem speaks of God, the One who does not abandon, but pursues, even the most wayward soul.
It was also during this time that Francis wrote a diary that was later discovered under the floor boards of his room. Through the pages of the diary, Francis reflected upon his life up to that point, particularly his addiction to opium, and the period of his life when he was destitute in London. Francis wrote about his own experience of the love and power of God; a God who seeks out his wandering children and will never abandon them, regardless of what they have done or how far they have fallen. Francis told about the God who reassured him that with His help, he could overcome his opium addiction.
Help. What a desperate word. What a glorious word. We all need help and it is my prayer this morning that you, like Francis Thompson, will recognize your dire, desperate need for the Lord’s help this very day. Turn with me to Romans 8:24-27.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 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. 27 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. (Romans 8:24-27 NIV)
Romans 8 has become for me what a mother’s arms are to a newborn baby–a cradle of comfort, security, and peace. In Romans 8 we learn about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God to His children. We learn that God has given us His Spirit to live in us and guide us through this maniacal maze we call life. We learn that God has given us His Spirit to enable us to put to death those natural inclinations of our wayward heart which will destroy us. We learn that God has given us His Spirit to enable us to cry out, “Abba, Daddy!” We learn that God has given us His Spirit to reassure us that we have been adopted by God, to remind us that we are His children. In our lesson for today we will learn about another great help God has provided for us through the Holy Spirit. Take a look with me at Romans 8:24-25.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24-25 NIV)
What Paul is referring to here is our salvation. He doesn’t mean that we are “hoping” we will be saved, but rather he is reminding us that our salvation, what God has done on our behalf, is the very springboard of hope. What God has done through His Son is the basis, the bedrock, the very foundation of our hope, and yet our salvation is incomplete. I do not mean that we are “partly” saved or that God’s work is somehow insufficient to fully save us. You cannot understand Romans 8:24-25 apart from Romans 8:23. Read it with me.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 NIV)
Paul has told us, in Romans 8, about the “groaning” of all the universe, which at present is held in bondage to decay. Then he goes on to say that we ourselves groan inwardly as we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
When I say that our salvation is not yet complete, I am referring to the completed transformation, the redemption of our bodies. We are saved, we are justified, but we are still in these fleshly bodies and facing temptation at every turn. John MacArthur writes,
Every true believer agonizes at times over the appalling manifestations and consequences of sin in his own life, in the lives of others, and even in the natural world. Because we have the first fruits of the Spirit, we are spiritually sensitized to the corruption of sin in and around us. Because the Holy Spirit now indwells us, His work in us and through us is a type of spiritual first fruits. They are a foretaste of the glory that awaits us in heaven, when our corrupted and mortal bodies are exchanged for ones that are incorruptible and immortal. Although we will not be totally free of sin’s power as long as we are in our present bodies, the Lord has given us complete victory over the dominion and bondage of sin. When we experience the Holy Spirit’s empowering us to turn from iniquity and to truly worship, serve, obey, and love God, we have a taste of the future completed and perfected renewal He will work in us at the resurrection. (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8. Moody Press: Chicago, IL. 1991)
Paul says that hope that is “seen,” hope that is fully realized, is no hope at all because at that point we will fully possess all that God has promised. What we are now is not what we shall be some day. John put it this way.
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3 NIV)
What a glorious day that will be! The day when either we draw our last breath and we hear those glorious words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” Or the day that we will hear the trumpet blast and see our glorious Savior split the skies and return for His own. What a day that will be! That is our hope. This is what moves us. This is our guarantee, but we have not yet fully realized this hope–it is still to come.
Next, I want us to turn our attention to Romans 8:26-27. This is the place where we find the next marvelous aspect of the Spirit’s ministry to God’s people. Read along with me.
26 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. 27 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. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV)
This is another great example of how important it is to study God’s Word in context. What does, “In the same way,” refer to? Well, I’m so glad you asked. You have to look back to find out the answer to the question. Just as the hope and expectation of glory sustain us in the groanings and suffering of our lives, so the Holy Spirit sustains us in our “weakness.” The Greek word, “ἀσθένεια” (astheneia) means, “lack of strength, weakness, infirmity, feebleness of health, or sickness.” This word appears 24 times in the Greek New Testament. It is a broad term and it covers the whole range of the weakness that characterizes us in this life.
We need to stop at this point and prayerfully consider: What is our weakness? What is your weakness? For Francis Thompson it was his opium and alcohol addiction, but for you it might be something altogether different. This I can assure you–you are weak. There is something in your life, a thorn in your flesh, that has not been conquered and it reminds you of your humanness. It reminds you that you are not who God has called you to be, not yet. Your weakness might even be your perceived strength. It might even be your spiritual arrogance. I would say that those who are in Christ should be more aware of their weakness than any other people on the planet. King David sure was. He wrote these words,
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. 9 All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. 10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. (Psalm 38:8-10 NIV)
As Paul writes about how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, he knows full well how badly the Spirit’s help is needed. In Romans 7:24, Paul wrote about his own condition. Listen to the anguish that flows from his pen as he makes his confession.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24 NIV)
What are we to do? What do we do? Do you turn away and act like nothing is wrong? Do we pretend that our weakness is really one of our greatest attributes? Do you know what I mean? Have you ever known someone who has a horrible temper and they let it flare in the office to try and increase productivity among their employees? Or, maybe you are a father with a bad temper who blows up on his kids in the name of discipline? Or maybe you have a problem with alcohol or drugs. When you are in a social setting a few drinks, a few pills, or a couple of lines really loosen you up and you become the life of the party. You are everyone’s entertainment. You’ve convinced yourself that you don’t have a problem, that everyone likes you better when you loosen up a bit. After all, you’ve got it under control. These are just a couple of ways that we hide from our weaknesses.
Weakness is not limited to character flaws or addictions. For some this morning, your weakness may be a physical infirmity. You may be dealing with the diagnosis that you are never going to get better or that your situation is terminal. Persistent depression may hang over you like a pall of darkness. Physical limitations, mental illness, soul anguish, all of these things weaken us and seek to rob us of life.
What do we do? Do we go on playing games? Do we succumb to weakness and wait to die? Or do we face the music and cry out to God for help? For those who are willing to humble themselves before God, cry out to Him in utter desperation, help is already on the way. Paul says, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” The word for help in the Greek New Testament is “συναντιλαμβάνομαι” (sunantilambanomai) and it means, “to take hold with another,” or “to strive with another.” James Montgomery Boice writes,
But the special meaning in the word used here in Romans is to help by bearing the Christian’s burden. It pictures our ignorance of what to pray for as a heavy load. We are struggling along under it, as it were. But the Holy Spirit comes alongside and helps us shoulder the load. He identifies with us in our weakness, as Jesus did by his incarnation, and he labors with us. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Vol. 2. pgs. 888-889)
This is a rare word in the Bible, but what is not rare are the occurrences of God’s help for His people. Over and over again we find that God is “my help.” He was the help of the Hebrew slaves when they left Egypt. He provided a ram in the thicket for Abraham in his time of need. He was the help of David when he was being pursued by King Saul. He gave Esther favor with the King. He cooled the fire of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace so that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could emerge unscathed. He comforted Job in his great loss. He helped Mary and Joseph escape King Herod. He healed blind Bartimaeus. He raised Jesus from the grave. And He continues to help all of those in need who will cry out for help.
How do we need help? Well, Paul tells us that not only are we weak, but we don’t even know what to pray for. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “For who knows what is good for a man in life?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12 NIV) Who knows what is best? We think we do, but do we really? Paul thought that having the “thorn in his flesh” removed would be best for him. He said that he even asked the Lord three times to remove it, but God refused. Paul wrote,
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NIV)
Twice in Romans 8:26-27 we read that the Spirit intercedes for us. Have you ever found yourself in a dilemma and wondered, “What should I pray for? How should I pray? What is God’s will?” and yet you didn’t have any answers? Job can sure relate. Because of what had happened to him, Job was a confused man. He couldn’t understand the “why?” that he could not escape. His buddies thought they knew, but Job thought they were wrong. They were wrong.
We are called to pray at all times and in all circumstances and yet we find ourselves in situations where we don’t know what to pray. What a comfort to know that we are not alone when we run into those situations in life–the Spirit is interceding for us, praying alongside us. The Spirit of God does not suffer from the confusion that we often face. He knows the will of God and He is praying for us. Not only is the Spirit of God interceding for us, but Jesus is also praying for His people. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus lives to make intercession for His people. Think of how awesome this picture truly is: Jesus is at the right hand of the Father praying for you and me. The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our hearts to pray for you and me.
When we don’t know what to pray, when our way is clouded by the trials and tribulations of life, when our weakness weakens us to the point of not even being able to pray, God’s provision carries us, sustains us, and draws us to the Father.
On a wall in his bedroom Charles Spurgeon had a plaque with Isaiah 48:10 on it: “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” Spurgeon wrote,
It is no mean thing to be chosen of God. God’s choice makes chosen men choice men…We are chosen, not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty is marred, fashion is destroyed, strength is melted, glory is consumed; yet here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
Oh, my friend, I cannot express to you with adequate words the help that He is to me. He has saved me from myself. He sustains me through each and every day. When my heart is so heavy that I can’t get a word out, He is there to hold me, to cover me with His glorious grace, and to pray over me with perfect words of intercession. Would you like to know that kind of peace? It all begins and ends at the foot of the cross.
I received a phone call from a distraught friend of mine wondering if they could come by and talk to me? I said, “Come on by.” When she arrived she walked into my office in tears and these were her exact words: “Pastor, I can’t pray. Will you pray for me?” She sat down and I asked her some questions to try and find out what was going on. Her heart had been broken by events that had happened that day. We talked about life. We talked about the Lord. His provision. His friendship in a mean world. A few minutes later the two of us were praying. My friend was praying. Not only for herself, but for her enemies. I told her, “I am so glad that you came by. You could have gone other places and done other things in your brokenness, but the Lord led you here.” What a blessing to be led by the Lord. What a blessing it is know that He who calls our hearts “home” will nudge us into prayer when we can’t even pray.
I want to ask you this morning, “Do you have that power living in you? When you are confronted with your weakness do you lean upon the Lord in your moments of desperation?” If not then I want to invite you to ask Jesus into your heart this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 25, 2012