“For we do not know what to pray for as we ought…” (Romans 8:26)
Surely our minister knows “what to pray for as we ought.” She’s very devoted. He spends hours with the Lord. But that little pronoun, “we,” includes us all.
Well then, we protest, certainly books and schools can teach us “what to pray for as we ought.” But again, when the Bible says “we do not know.” This includes “Special Religious People”—those scholars, authors, and teachers we may adore, even the ones on TV, and yes, even those who’ve written books about prayer.
So, if “we do not know what to pray as we ought,” where does that leave us? Surely someone must “know what to pray for as we ought!”
Good news! The Holy Spirit of God “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Romans 8:26, NAB)
The Greek word (alla) translated “but” in this verse describes a very strong contrast. “We do not know how…but,”—in happy contrast to our prayer’s ignorance and weakness—“the Spirit itself intercedes for us!”
Thus, our prayers are not dependent on how well, long, accurately, or fancily we, or someone else, prays. Jesus warns against religious antics saying, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the assemblies and on street corners so that others may see them.” (Matthew 6:5)
It’s easy, when we get comfortable with religion, to leave the Holy Spirit behind. Jesus tells us that it’s possible to pray beautifully, cast out demons, and do many wonderful works in his name and leave God behind. (Matthew 7:21-23) Imagine going to hell (away from the presence of Jesus) after praying so well!
Recognizing our weakness is the key. “The same Spirit” who helps our “infirmities, weaknesses, and sicknesses” prays on our behalf!
A well-intended believer once asked me how my prayer life was going. I was uncomfortable with the question because I have always felt weak and ineffective when it comes to praying. But I responded, “Great!” Now I think it was a defensive and sassy response. But I also had some sense that my prayer life was fine and, yes, even “Great!” from God’s perspective, since I knew I needed all the help I could get.
And if the Spirit of God is praying on our behalf with groanings beyond words, how can our prayer lives get any better than that? We rest in the work of the Holy Spirit within our prayers and lives.
Perhaps that’s why the Bible calls us to “pray in the Spirit.” There are three verses that directly mention praying “in the Spirit.” From them we can learn that:
1. It is commanded. “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20)
2. It is for all occasions and through in many prayer styles. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18).
3. It occurs alongside our intellect. “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” (First Corinthians 14:15)
If you are feeling weaker about prayer after reading this, rejoice! When we are weak then we may let go and let God’s wonderful Holy Spirit take the lead!
“Giv’m heaven!”—John Parker
John Parker serves with Connections Simple Church of Chowchilla
P.S. I avoid referring to the Holy Spirit as him. It is mostly neuter gender in the N.T. and definitely feminine in the O.T. The N.T. does have masculine pronouns once in a while for the Holy Spirit. I like that the Spirit’s wind “blows where it listeth…” (John 3:9 AV)…lots of creativity there!
P.P.S. Speaking, praying and singing in the spirit in a language we don’t understand can be very helpful to free us up into the mind of the Spirit who seems to pray that way anyway!