Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. ESV
Sometimes the impact of a few words in the Word can become a lightbulb moment. That happened with those few highlighted words from Romans 8:26. The Lord has been using the Word and my own words each time I write a blog post to refine me during this time while the entirety of my life has been re-defined. I am no longer part of a couple, I am a widow. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” has become my new awareness that in the faith the Lord has given me there is a powerful relationship between weakness and prayer.
My concept of praying as a strength has been revealed for the flawed idea it is. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” I know my prayers have changed because what my heart needs to pray in this time has coincided with the awareness of my own weakness. For the first time I emotionally understand Paul’s comment about his weakness being his strength. I’ve experienced “groanings too deep for words.” My own words of prayer have mostly seemed weak to my ears. But somehow the “mind of the Spirit” heard those words that were spilled out in tear-filled broken phrases and translated that weakness “according to the will of God” into a different reality for me.
I’ve become aware that the power of prayer doesn’t depend on the strength of my words to provide the answers I need to endure anything more than confessing my own weakness. Just a couple nights ago I found myself needing to confess I had once again flunked trusting the faith I write and speak of. That’s when I realized weakness and prayer ARE the “odd couple” the Spirit of God uses to remind me the reality of Jesus’s strength IS my faith. What I am able to ask of Him in weakness, the Spirit of God can use to reveal deep truth to me: a broken and fearful heart still has life. Life is good because Jesus said so. His promises still hold true as long as His life is in my body. “He who searches hearts knows” my weakness and my fumbling prayers are the gift of my heart and He responds “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in [your] weakness.a“ That’s a passing grade I can live with.
a 2 Corinthians 12:9
Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. NASB
It’s a sad truth that many Christians have looked at God’s acceptance of their apology as little more than a release from guilt. There is a difference between knowing you’re forgiven and “no condemnation.” It’s the difference John Piper points out in this quote: “our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.”
Even forgiven believers struggle to accept the potential God has created in them because there are obvious limitations that condemn us; the ”shoulds.” The “Shoulds” are “the law of sin and of death” that “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has overcome. We have incorrectly separated our potential from our limitations rather than celebrating that God has a plan to weave a life for us that includes potential AND limitations.
Nothing is more powerful than the realization that careless. broken and sinful people can be forgiven AND that Jesus has a plan to redeem our potential AND limitations as part of the perfect life He’s creating for us right here and now. Can you believe that? It’s true!
Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 12:10 “For when I am weak, then I am strong…” Click the image to enlarge it. It’s a visual object lesson. God has lined up those secured vertical strands of His promises to be like the years of our life. Our choices sometimes fall under the promises and sometimes skip right over the top of them. The Lord has chosen to weave those “+” and “-“ choices of our life into a fabric that completes His life in us. Potential AND limitations woven together “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit;” confident that we are part of His perfect design. “Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
2 Corinthians 5:10 & 17
10 for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
One of the mental images I believe the Holy Spirit gave me years ago was about finally meeting Christ face to face before that judgment seat. I’ve only shared it a few times and no one seems as wowed by it as I am. It was certainly meant for me. But I think it speaks of what the reality of anyone entering into eternal life with Christ will be like. As believers in Jesus we’re prepared but we’re not perfect. That moment of meeting is more than a pat on the head with a “well-done,” because life-saving reality requires absolute reality.
This is my vision of absolute reality, I am wrapped in Jesus’s arms, prepared for eternity…but first…I see my life for the first time through Christ’s eyes, like a movie. Frankly some of what I have to see makes me weep tears of sadness that I missed the mark so many times. But they are not tears of guilt or punishment, they are the final cleansing. They are the tears of purification. There in Christ’s arms, preparation turns into perfection; the purification of the heart, soul, mind and strength that knows the absolute reality of life and love that will last all of eternity.
In my own grief since Ken’s unexpected death, only last Friday morning that image comforts me in a new way. This time it was my husband wrapped in Jesus’s arms being loved and assured that his preparation in life is now the absolute reality of the purification of his heart, soul, mind and strength. He is loved by Jesus and perfect, forever. There’s a newer memory that comforts me too, something Ken repeated only last Thursday evening, Jesus Loves Me, This I know. I can easily imagine Ken singing that simple song he believed was the essence of his Faith, that next morning wrapped in Jesus’s arms, knowing he was right all along.
2 Corinthians 3:Are we beginning to praise ourselves again? Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation, or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf? Surely not! 2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our[your] hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. 3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts. NLT
Stone is so enduringly permanent it’s surprising the truth of those letters carved on tablets of stone is lost. But is it?
The recent pandemic has tragically highlighted just how vulnerable life can be. That makes it equally surprising that God has now chosen to write the permanence of His truth in human hearts. The letters of eternity and permanence no longer lie in impenetrable stone. God has rewritten His own truth in our/your heart. That truth rewrites the story of a stubborn, stony hearta being replaced with a tender, responsive one able to feel, think, grow and replicate God’s own heart one to another. “Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.”
aAnd I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. [Ezekiel 36:26]