When I think of Charles Spurgeon, my mind goes to one story before anything else. I once heard that when Spurgeon’s depression flared, his wife Susanna propped him up and pushed him back into his chair so he could continue working. I was so taken aback by my imagining of this scene — it made me think about all of the times me and the other women in my family had been that low in depression. Spurgeon’s weakness ran much deeper than work-related stress, and was not just a symptom of physical exhaustion.
This kind of weakness is hard to overcome. Spurgeon touches on this deep weakness in his explanation of the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer. The reason the Father gives us his Spirit to help us pray is because we are weak; we don’t know how to pray properly, we often don’t feel like praying, and we struggle to put our worst life pains into words.
Spurgeon brings out the beauty of this doctrine by explaining that God is not angry because of our failures in prayer, but has compassion on us as his children. Instead of acting the disinterested King who says, “if you do not have grace enough even to ask properly, I will shut the gates of mercy against you,” God says, “I will write out your petition for you, I will put it into proper words and use fitting phrases so that your petition shall be framed acceptable.”
“If you cannot put two words together in common speech to men, yet [the Holy Spirit] will help you to speak with God; ah! and if at the mercy seat you fail in words, you shall not fail in reality, for your heart shall conquer. God…never reads our petitions according to the outward utterance, but according to the inward groaning. He notices the longing, the desiring, the sighing, the crying…
God knows our needs without hearing words, like a mother knows the needs of her baby when it “makes very odd and objectionable noises, combined with signs and movements, which are almost meaningless to stranger” but are understood by the mother who “comprehends incomprehensible noises.” If that were not intimate enough, the Spirit even claims our groanings “as his own particular creation.”
Prayer is for your own benefit and comfort—it’s an “outlet for grief” and a “lotion” to “bathe our wound in.” Rely on the Spirit to help you know what to say in prayer, and in the worst times, when you do not have the words or the strength to say anything, know that the Spirit is propping you back up into your chair so you can press on.
Jenny-Lyn de Klerk is the Puritan Project Assistant at Regent College and Assistant Editor at Books at a Glance. She has a BA and MA in Biblical and Theological Studies from Ambrose University and is currently working on a PhD in historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can find her blog here.