In early August, Pastor Joel came to our church for a visit. Joel and I are both members of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org), a professional society for Lutheran pastors. As subscribers of the rule of that Society, we participate at least once a year in mutual pastoral visitation. We visit each other, observe some of the work and ministry practiced in our congregation, and then interview each other to see how our ministry is going. As we read through the rule, Joel quoted from it and asked me, “Have you been promoting an ecclesial and pastoral piety shaped by the daily discipline of prayer and meditation on the Holy Scripture?” I responded, “No, I have not been praying as much as I should, because the tasks and jobs and responsibilities of my work that I think I need and have to do distract me from my life of prayer.”
Then Joel surprised me. He asked, “Do you ever ache?” I answered, “Much of the time.” And he said, “And isn’t that prayer?” I had to sit with the idea for awhile, then remembered a famous passage from Romans 8:26, “ Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” His question was a word of grace for me. It reminded me that, though I have a responsibility as a Christian and pastor to pray regularly, at those times when I struggle to pray, the Holy Spirit will work prayers in me, sighs too deep for words.
Another way of saying all this, pneumatologically, is to urge the idea that it is the Spirit that makes available what is already promised. It is promised that our prayers will do something in the life of God. It is the Spirit who prays in us. It is promised that in faith there is justification. The Spirit keeps us in this one true faith. Thus the close links between the Spirit and Jesus in the writing of Paul. Although it is Jesus who is the Savior, the Spirit is intimately bound up in this saving because it is the Spirit who is with us now making Jesus present. And the Spirit is here because Jesus has promised it to be so.