There may well be times when we groan inwardly as we come face to face with the brokenness of the world, or even our own brokenness and our poverty of spirit. I’ve seen and experienced that groaning when people experience death and bereavement. I’ve seen and experienced that groaning when marriages break down irreparably. I’ve seen and experienced that in the dark depths of people suffering from and struggling with adverse mental health. I’ve seen and experienced that groaning when people treat each other in appalling ways. I’ve seen and experienced that groaning in people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, in people whose very humanity is diminished by bad life choices. We groan because in the core of our being we know that this is not how this world or the people in it (including ourselves) are created to be, and we realise in the deepest places the wrongness of it. Our groaning can be manifest physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.
The realisation of this is a burden that bends us down to breaking, taking us to a place of weakness. But it is not a burden that we bear alone. It is in that place of weakness, when everything is stripped away that we find ourselves at the foot of the cross. Christ on the cross lifts us up in our brokenness and “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” leading us to a place of renewal, and to a place of hope.
One of the fruits of being hopeful is that it builds up our strength and resilience. Being hopeful helps us to endure, to persevere and not give up. Paul begins today’s reading with the words “in the same way…” – in other words, much like hope bears the fruit I have mentioned, so too does the Holy Spirit at work in us, giving us strength and sustaining us – even through there may be times when (in a worldly sense) all hope seems lost.
The truth is that we often come face to face with the grace and glory of God at our times of greatest weakness. Think about Job “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.” (Job 19:25 NLT) or Paul “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), and finally “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6). There are many more examples.
In my journey of faith, and having “lived life”, I have noticed that my spirituality has changed. I have become much more contemplative, with (my) silence often a feature of my quiet times. I am very aware though that there is often that inward groaning as I bring situations before God in prayer. It is almost as if mere words are not enough, almost as if I am lost for words. In this there is a sense of awe and humility in consciously coming into God’s presence.
We see this in Job 40, in which Job replied to God “I am unworthy–how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4), or as Michael Card so eloquently put it “I am unworthy, how can I reply? There’s nothing that you cannot do. You are the storm that calmed my soul. I place my hand over my mouth. I place my hand over my mouth.” If you get a chance, read the whole of Job 40 or perhaps listen to Michael Card’s ‘The Job Suite’. I want to encourage you if you find yourself lost for words in prayer, if you are unsure or uncertain of what to say – let your whole being cry out to God knowing that God knows our thoughts from afar, and how the Holy Spirit joins in with that so we might express what we cannot fully express ourselves. In that may you realise another truth; God knows what he is doing – in all things God works for the good of those who love him! Let’s have in mind; “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT)
It is sometimes said that a picture paints a thousand words; but I also believe that we can paint such pictures with words! If you ever wanted a picture of hope realised, then turning to our reading today:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35) “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 8:38-39) NOTHING – NO THING – can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called, justified and glorified. So “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)
Thank you, Lord, that we are never truly alone and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Thank you that you draw alongside us and that your Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. Thank you that your grace is sufficient for us and that your power is made perfect in our weakness. Thank you, Lord, that in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are more than conquerors.