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In Our Weakness

When I was a boy, one of the highlights of the year was when the mailman brought those wonderful catalogs from J.C. Penney and Sears Roebuck to the house.  I remember one year when something absolutely captivated my attention.  It was a picture of a toy that featured a track with two battery operated cars, one a police car and the other a criminal’s getaway car.  A series of switches could be triggered around the track to help the police catch the criminal, or let the criminal trick the police car and get away.  It was complicated, intricate, and I wanted it.  I was too young to bother with reading the entire description in the catalog, so I didn’t get the actual name of the toy.  I knew that there was a dialogue balloon coming from the police car that said, “Catch that car!”  When the time came to visit the mall and tell Santa what I would like for Christmas, I suddenly realized that I lacked some crucial information – I didn’t know the exact name of what I really wanted.  I hesitatingly offered to Santa that I would “like a…Catch That Car.”    Back at home, I began to worry that I had confused Santa.  Perhaps he was unsure of what it was that I wanted and I would get the completely wrong thing.  After all, I didn’t really know the name of it myself.  I showed my mother the picture of the toy track, and hoped that somehow, she could get word to Santa and clear things up for me.  Well, she came through and Santa came through.  On Christmas morning, there was the track with the cars, and it was every bit as glorious as I knew it would be.

I think of that story every Christmas and whenever I read Paul’s passage in Romans:  “..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.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27).  I ask for a lot of things from God, and most of the time I don’t know exactly what I’m asking for or I ask for good things out of not so good motivations.  Like many of us at Christmas I ask God for “peace on earth”.  But is that what I’m really asking for?  If I’m honest, I want peace on earth by means of everyone agreeing with me.  For there to be peace on earth, I would have to love those who hate me, and seek to get along with people who I don’t really like that much.  I can imagine the Spirit saying to God (with perhaps an exasperated sigh), “What he’s really asking for is growth.  What he really seeks is a heart more like ours.  He just doesn’t understand what that means.” 

What all believers want is to be more like Christ.  But we don’t always know how to put that into the right language.  Or we ask for things without understanding the deeper spiritual cost that will come when God grants what we ask for.  We desperately need the Holy Spirit as an intercessor and interpreter to refine our spiritually juvenile prayers and define what we need, much like we sometimes need a mother who can translate our wishes to Santa.  On a Christmas night so long ago, the world in solemn stillness lay, hoping and asking for a word from God.  The world received God’s ultimate and perfect Word.  We wanted a conquering Messiah.  God knew we needed a servant.  We wanted a king.  God knew we needed a baby born to a poor family.  This Christmas I hope you will remember the baby and be thankful that God knew exactly what we wanted and needed, even if we didn’t and don’t.  I pray God’s richest blessings upon you this Christmas time and into the new year.

Grace and peace,

Mike Stallings