As an editor, I am often approached by people who have a story or an idea. “Do you think that would make a good article?” they ask hopefully.
“It could,” I tell them, because we always need articles. “No promises, but if you write it up and send it to me, I’ll take a look at it.”
Later—usually much later—I will get an email with a document attached. “It’s a bit longer than you asked for,” they say. “Well, quite a bit longer, actually. And I am not sure I have actually said what I wanted to. Anyway, here it is. Do what has to be done to it.” The aspiring writer has learned that it is much harder to put an idea on paper than it is to tell the story in person.
So I put on my editor’s hat and prepare to sort things out. Provided the writer has a sound idea, an editor can usually get even the roughest prose ready for publication. The material usually just needs some reorganizing, some grammar corrected and verb tenses straightened out. I try not to lose the personality of the author. I ask myself, “What is it he or she is struggling to say?” Then I reshape the material so that they can say it—clearly and unambiguously. I know I have done my job when I send the writer an edited draft for approval and get a message back saying, “Yes—that is what I was trying to say.”
The experience of sorting out what others are wanting to communicate has helped me understand something Paul wrote about prayer. In his epistle to the Romans, he says, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26, NKJV).
At first reading, you can get the idea that there is a kind of incoherent moaning going on as background noise while you pray. But that isn’t the case at all. The “groanings that cannot be uttered” are ours. We want to communicate with God clearly and effectively. We want to understand his will in our lives and the lives of others and ask him to make evident his grace and mercy. But often our efforts fall far short, sometimes degenerating into a confused and frustrating web of muddled clichés. But God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has invited us to participate in their free and loving communion, and prayer is one way we can do that.
So, Paul explains, the Holy Spirit enters into our inadequate prayers and redeems them. In this way we can have absolute confidence that we are heard, and although the answer to our prayers is seldom an unqualified “yes,” we can be certain, as the Spirit gives us assurance, that our lives and the lives of our loved ones are secure in the unquenchable love the Father has for the Son. God promises that his ears are always open to the groanings of his children (1 Peter 3:12). In fact, Paul is telling us, he is personally present in our groaning from start to finish.
Later I often find my prayer has been answered. Not often exactly as I had asked, but I learn that a person has been helped or a problem solved. And in retrospect I can say, “Yes, that is what I was trying to say.”