WITH DALE RATZLAFF
We continue our study in Romans 8:26-28.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 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.
Paul often links a new thought to a preceding one. “In the same way” points us back where Paul shows that by looking to the wonderful future God has prepared for us, Christians can endure hardship no matter what the cause. It is the Spirit of God that testifies with our spirit that gives us the hope to endure hardship. Now Paul shows that the Spirit also helps our weaknesses. By using “we”, Paul includes himself as one who has weaknesses. These “weaknesses” are not sin, nor are they the hardships that are the natural result of our fallen, human nature. We have many “weaknesses”, and I am sure that the Spirit helps us in them all. However, Paul lists one weakness that we all have—we do not know how to pray as we should. Christians are told to pray about many things in Scripture. We are to pray for our enemies, those who persecute us as Jesus commanded (Mt. 5:44). But how do we do that? Do we pray that God will bless them like Stephen did?
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep (Act 7:59-60).
Or should we pray as David prayed against his enemies?
O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth; Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.Let them flow away like water that runs off; When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts. Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along, Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun (Ps. 58:6-8).
We are told to pray for those for whom we minister that they may be made complete (1 Cor. 13:9). We are to pray for other gospel workers (1 Thess. 5:25), for God to send more workers into the harvest field (Lk. 10:2), for kings and those who are in authority (1 Tim. 2:1–3), and for one another (Jas. 5:16).
How many times have we prayed, not knowing just how we should pray? We may not know how to pray in many circumstances. Perhaps we neglect to pray because we do not even know what the correct outcome should be. When people are near death, do we pray for supernatural healing, or do we pray that the Holy Spirit will be with them, comfort them, and give them peace and assurance that they will soon be “with the Lord”? How do we pray for wayward children or friends? Do we pray that God will bless them and keep them from suffering want? Or, do we pray for God to allow them to “hit bottom” so they will realize the path they are on leads only to suffering and shame? Do we pray for supernatural intervention, or do we pray that our loved ones will understand the laws of cause and effect in their decisions?
In our weakness and limited knowledge we can rest assured that,
The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
This verse has been interpreted in many different ways and at best raises many questions. Who “groans”, the believer or the Holy Spirit, or is it the Holy Spirit that is groaning in the believer? Charismatics often use this as an example of “praying in the Spirit”, speaking in tongues. While this type of praying is not explicitly excluded, it does not appear to be the thrust of Paul’s teachings. Tongues are a spiritual gift given only to some Christians, and the biblical examples of tongues demonstrate the use of actual languages (i.e. Acts 2:4–13). Some teach that tongues are not even for today.
All do not speak with tongues, do they? (1 Cor. 12:30).
Many years ago in a church I pastored I recall a man who was a faithful prayer. He had a long prayer list which he prayed over every day. At times when I was present when he was praying, I heard him groan with much feeing, often in a sense of anxiety or discouragement. To me, however, his groan seemed to counter Paul’s instruction on prayer.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6).
We might sum up the Spirit’s groaning of intercession on our behalf as taking our inexpressible thoughts, desires and misspoken prayer requests and editing them according to the will of God.
…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.
This is a fantastic promise. This truth alone ought to cause us to pray more even in times when we feel too weak to pray, don’t know what to pray for, or don’t even know how to pray. Somehow the Spirit searches the desire of our hearts, and takes that information and corrects it as necessary to be in harmony with the will of God and then intercedes, or communicates, to God the Father. Some of our readers who may be from a Catholic background may think this promise is not for them, but only for the “saints”—those who have demonstrated consistent obedience in their lives. However, that is not what this verse teaches. Rather, “saints” as used in the New Testament simply means believers—those who respond to the gospel with faith and trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on their behalf.
Sometimes we may think that time in prayer, personal prayer, is a waste of time; but it is not. Our prayers may be shallow, spoken in poor format, and disjointed at times but knowing these verses gives us reason to pray in hope. Even the apostle Paul felt his weakness in prayer. Read again these verses and remember well that we don’t pray alone, but the Spirit is there working with our prayers according to the will of God.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 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. 28
Father, thank you for the Holy Spirit who helps my weakness. I often don’t know just how to pray. Thank you for the Spirit that helps my prayers to be according to your will.
In Jesus name.