Summary: Delivered 1986: When we cannot express ourselves even in prayer, God's Spirit communicates what we cannot say. So also His Table opens up a channel of communication via the contrite heart and the broken spirit.
Have you ever had this experience? You are caught up in a great debate, or maybe it's a discussion of some issue. You are quite sure you are right; you know, you just know, that what you think is the right way, and here you are, arguing your point. With power and passion you get right up to the climax, and suddenly, you're stuck for a word. The right word. It just will not come, no matter how hard you try, it will not come to you; and by the time you think of a synonym, the moment is gone and the argument is lost. Ever have that experience? You lawyer types, did you ever have that happen to you in the courtroom?
I remember my father getting to that point lots of times, usually when he was trying to tell me how I should be doing something or maybe how I'd already messed up. "Look, look, you've got to watch what you do with that, that, that thing, you know, that, whatchamacallit, that thingamabob … oh, you know." Of course, I did know, and I sort of hate to admit it now, but I never would tell him the word he was groping for. I'd just pretend that I didn't understand a thing, not a thing, and of course could not be expected to perform the task until he got the right word out!
Sometimes words fail us, don't they? As much as the preacher hates to admit it, words don't solve everything. Just being able to say something does not always get at the heart of what needs to happen, because so often we cannot come up with what we want to say.
Several years ago I was asked to meet a student who was arriving at our campus. Missionaries on Okinawa had contacted us and asked us to look after Minoru, who would be coming to our town on the Greyhound Bus just in time for the opening of the semester. So we went to the bus stop and waited; it was not hard to spot Minoru, because you don't see lots of Japanese folks in eastern Kentucky small towns. I went up to him as he left the bus, stuck out my hand, and said, "Hello, you must be Minoru, I'm Joe Smith and I was asked to meet you." I expected some sort of answer, just the usual pleasantries; but what I got was a blank stare, then he pulled a little book out of his coat pocket: flip, flip, flip through the pages. He stopped at one page, studied it a moment, looked up and grinned, and said, "Hello". I knew we were in trouble then! When you even have to look up in your Japanese-English dictionary the way to say hello you are in trouble, words fail. Words. Fail. By the way, this student did have to take a crash course in English, and it was tough, but he finished college, he went on to seminary, and is now a missionary. So even when words fail, we do sometimes overcome.
My point is very simple, though; there are times, many times, when we are not equipped to say what we want to say. There are many times when what we need and want to say to one another is just not something you can put into words. My wife is one of those intuitive creatures who can size up other people in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. But then she will say to me, "I can't explain it, all I know is there's something wrong with that guy.” If you get to know her, watch out, by the way! She will take your measurements!
But again, there are times when what we want to say and what we feel about one another cannot be put into words. Words fail. And at a deeper level, there are times when what we want to say, ought to say, to our God cannot be put into words either. There are times when we know we need to pray, we must pray, but the words do not come. There seems to be no way to express what is in our hearts.
You've been running along at top speed for months, you've worked hard, you've played hard, you've done everything with a frantic sort of' intensity. And you know you are tired. You know you need to unburden to the Father. But somehow you cannot concentrate your attention on prayer, somehow the mind keeps running off in a thousand different directions. You need to pray, you want to pray, but words fail. What then? What do you do then?
You've been trying to manage a relationship, and it isn't going particularly well. You've got a tiger by the tail, as the saying goes, and this other person is about to bite! If you could turn this relationship over to the Lord, if you could seek the guidance of the Lord, maybe it would be different, but every time you seek to pray about it you find that it's all confused. It's jumbled. It's not coherent. You try to talk to God but all you can do is to hear the strident voice of this broken relationship. And words fail. What do you do? If you cannot even pull yourself together enough to pray your way through the tangled web of human interaction, then what is left? What is left when words fail?