“In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27)
How do we pray? Often we pray blindfold, unsure of ourselves, and unsure of what God’s will really is. Our motives are muddied and we come to God unclear even of what we want and where we stand, like an employee asking for a raise.
When praying for healing, for example, do I say “If it be thy will” or “I declare the healing of Christ”? The problem is that if the first seems craven, the second seems arrogant.
So the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray. Since we are unsure of God’s will, we are unable to be specific and definite. But that inability is met by God’s Spirit, who Himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God. When we do not know what to pray for—yes, even when we pray for things that are not best for us—we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit’s ministry of perfect intercession “on our behalf.”
It is weakness, after all, that drives us to pray in the first place! Jesus didn’t say, “Without Me, you can get along with all of the everyday stuff. But when you get hit with something really big, call on Me.” Rather, He said (John 15:5), “… apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
Perhaps we fail to pray because we think that we’re strong enough to handle life without God. It’s encouraging here in Romans 8:26 that God doesn’t confront us or condemn us for being weak. Rather, He sends His Spirit to help us in our weakness.
The word “helps” occurs only here and in one other place in the New Testament. The meaning is, someone is carrying a heavy load and another person comes alongside to take the other end and bear the burden with him. The other use of “help” is in Luke 10:40, where Jesus is in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, but Martha was distracted with all her preparations. Finally, she burst out, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” She wanted her sister to help bear the burden of preparing and serving the meal.
The word implies that the Holy Spirit doesn’t do everything, while we sit back and do nothing. Rather, we are to keep praying and, if appropriate, keep working or obeying or whatever the Bible may tell us to do about our situation. But as we pray, the Spirit says, “Let Me grab the other end. Let me help you by picking up your burden and taking it before the Father’s throne. I know what to pray for when you don’t.” So the Spirit helps us by praying for us in our weakness.
And here, in that middle ground between prayer as worship and prayer as petition, “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” He takes up our needs at the deepest emotional level and conveys our hurts and cares to the Father’s throne, all in line with the will of God. This should encourage us to pour out our hearts before Him.
Romans 8:27: “And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” The Spirit takes our deepest feelings and unexpressed needs to the Father, who understands everything perfectly. Nothing leaves God scratching His head, wondering what our real needs are.
We won’t fully understand the mystery of prayer in this life, but we know that the Lord commands us to pray. He has ordained prayer as the means through which we cooperate with Him in bringing about His sovereign will. He encourages us with the truth that the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, tenderly takes our prayers and directs them according to God’s will before His throne.
So don’t let the fact that you don’t know how to pray as you should discourage you from praying.
Don’t let the fact that prayer isn’t easy discourage you from praying.
Don’t let the fact that your prayers don’t seem to be answered keep you from praying.
There’s something going on here that you can only guess at.
Just stay close.