I just returned from sharing lunch with a humble MARBC pastor. Few of you reading this have probably met him nor would you recognize his name if I shared it. He and his wife have faithfully plowed, sowed, watered, and cultivated in a small town for several years. All the while they have fervently prayed for any spiritual growth that would lead to a harvest - in a field that you and I would probably have abandoned long ago. He recently reached out to me seeking this lunch date so that he could “pick my brain” about what to do in the next chapter of life to which God seems to be leading this faithful, veteran couple.
He came ultra-prepared with notes carefully written on little sheets of paper as we connected at the little restaurant. He was concerned that he would clearly articulate the details and burdens of the ministry that he was prayerfully preparing to leave, due to quickly advancing issues of age and poor health. He also came with an expectancy that I could offer some options and solutions regarding the challenges that will still confront the shrinking flock at the “church of the rocky soil” after his departure.
The important details that we discussed in that little restaurant setting were overshadowed from my perspective by something even more significant. Here is a man of God whose spiritually calloused hands are still clinging to the plow handles that the Chief Shepherd assigned to him. Simultaneously he is seeking God’s Spirit to help him, and his dear wife, know how - and when - to release their grip. It was a powerful moment that impacted all of our senses as we sat across from each other in that small booth. He and I both knew it and were dependent upon God’s clear guidance in those precious moments.
On my bookshelves are many books that attempt to both define biblically and apply practically the spiritual discipline of prayer. Many of them are thick, detailed, and very edifying. Sandwiched amidst those thick spined treatises is a little booklet that packs a spiritual wallop. I received it as a gift several years ago and have chosen to re-read it each month in 2021. It is a 30-day devotional that features several of Charles Spurgeon’s reflections on the topic of prayer.
One of the daily readings has as its focus, “Praying in the Spirit.” Providentially, I read the following devotional entry earlier in the day prior to this impactful lunch encounter. Read with an open heart what C. H. Spurgeon observes as he ponders this amazing spiritual gem from Jude 20:
“I understand that the Holy Spirit is actually willing to help me pray, that He will tell me how to pray, and when I get to a point where I'm at a loss for words and cannot express my desires, He will appear in my extremity and make intercession in me with groanings that cannot be uttered. Jesus in His Gethsemane agony was strengthened by an angel; you are to be strengthened by God himself. This thought needs no adorning of oratorical expression. Take it as a wedge of gold of Ophir and value it; it is priceless, beyond all prices. God the Holy Ghost condescends to assist you when you are on your knees, and if you cannot put two words together in common speech to men, yet He will help you speak with God. And if at the mercy seat you fail in words, you will not fail in reality, for your heart shall conquer. God requires no words. He never reads our petitions according to the outward expression but reads them according to the inward groaning. He notices the longing, the desiring, the sighing, the crying. Remember that the outward of prayer is but the shell; the inward prayer is its true kernel and essence. Indeed, a prayer wailed forth in the bitter anguish from a desolate spirit - a cry so discordant to human ears - is music to the ear of God. Notice the value of the heart in prayer and be comforted. ‘Holy Spirit, teach me to pray, strengthen me to pray. My heart is Yours. Intercede for me before the Father’s throne. Amen.’” *
What Jude shares succinctly in his brief urgent note to the church via the four-word phrase, “pray in the Spirit” (Jude 20), Paul elaborates upon in Romans 8:18-30. Sufferings are miniscule when compared to the coming glory (8:18). The struggles make us more than eager for the revealing to come (8:19). Creation groans to be unbound and restored to its created purposes because God chooses to bless those He has redeemed (8:20-21). The pains of spiritual birth and the legalities of spiritual adoption will culminate in literal redemption (8:22-23). And to guarantee that the saints can keep focused upon these eternally significant truths (8:24-25), the Holy Spirit groans on their behalf. The Holy Spirit isn’t bound by the tendencies of earthbound saints to focus only on the temporal, physical and emotional ramifications of their human struggles (8:26). Instead, He “goes deep,” groaning and interceding at a level that is both spiritually significant and humanly unutterable (8:27). As a result, He drives and directs the children of God to embrace God’s will and eternal purposes (8:28-30).
My veteran pastor friend and I left our lunch meeting this afternoon feeling satisfied physically by the good meal we shared. However, we left feeling satisfied more so spiritually. He left encouraged by the guidance and perspective that he received through our conversation. I left greatly impacted by the spiritual example of a faithful prayer warrior who is still “praying in the spirit” for God to be glorified in and through his humbly consecrated life. He has – and is.
I have experienced similar emotions whenever I leave the home of my godly brother-in-law, who is also a wonderful friend, early spiritual mentor, and fellow pastor. He has been sidelined from active ministry for a few years now due to several intense physical afflictions. Sharon and I cherish every “always too brief” encounter that we share with him and Sharon’s older sister. I have to admit that there are always pangs of guilt in my heart whenever he asks me to share about my recent ministry experiences and how God is at work in His Church. He always tears up as I share about the work of the Lord. They are tears of joy celebrating how God is at work, mixed with a tearful desire to once again have his arthritically crippled hands wrapped around the handles of a God-ordained plow. He recognizes that he can no longer serve at the forefront of a dynamic public ministry as he did in years past. Nor is he the energized, effervescent evangelist who could passionately challenge others to count the cost and receive the gift of eternal life through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Yet now, by the Holy Spirit’s groaning enablement through prayerful faith and perseverance, he may be preaching his most powerful message for the glory of God.
Driving back to my office, I prayed that my life will be as spiritually focused as my humble lunch companion. I prayed that I will be instilled with the Spirit-filled passion and desire of my faithful, longsuffering brother-in-law. I pray that yours will be as well, my fellow brother and sister in ministry. You, too, mean much to so many of us, no matter where you may be plowing. Most significantly, you mean eternally more to the Chief Shepherd. Keep doing what you do for the Lord while praying in the Spirit. He will answer you and bless you.
You have His Word on it!
* Charles Spurgeon on Prayer; A 30-Day Devotional Treasury, compiled and edited by Lance Wubbels; Emerald Books, Lynnwood, WA
The MARBC is a regional partner with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.
830 Russwood, St. NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
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