“Pastor, I don’t know how to pray for my mother since her stroke. Do I pray for her life to continue–though I know she is suffering deeply–or that the Lord she loves will take her?” What should be the content of your prayers? How should a Christian pray about finding a mate? What is the content of your prayers about your work? How do you pray for the troubled world in which you live?
In Romans 8:26-27 Paul tells you the bad news: you don’t know what to pray for as you ought. Weakness is not a particular infirmity of some, but characterizes believers in the present time. Weakness is focused in the matter of prayer. Weakness includes suffering and all temptations to sin in this present age, Hebrews 4:15.
The good news in the text is that the Holy Spirit is your Intercessor. Christ intercedes for you, Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1. The Spirit also lives with you and is in you, John 14:16,17. He prays for you with groanings too deep for words. To the groaning of creation (its eager anticipation of your redemption) and to the groaning of believers, looking forward to the consummation of salvation (Romans 8:22,23), can be added the groaning of the Third Person of the Trinity! This groaning takes place in your heart!
Have you ever thought of “Searcher of hearts” as a name for God? That is how Paul describes him here. The One who searches the hearts of his children is the Father, Psalm 139:1,23; Hebrews 4:13. What does he find in your heart? Paul expects that he finds the groaning of the Spirit.
Your sufferings have a cosmic scope. In verses 18-25 those sufferings are part of looking forward to the redemption of your bodies and the renewal of all creation. The groaning in prayer in verses 26-27 have a similar scope. Your praying is not all about you.
The Spirit’s work is not a momentary ecstasy or temporary escape from weakness by some special gift. Rather, it is a permanent, even growing, indwelling. What makes your prayer effective is the intercession of the Spirit, coupled with Christ’s prayers for you. The measure of God’s grace is not the weakness of your understanding, but the knowledge, wisdom, and love of the Holy Spirit.
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., summarizes this praying of the Spirit: “The veil of our limitations–our ignorance, our shortsightedness, our uncertainty, our lack of concentration, our sinful doubts and confusion–constantly casts a shadow over our prayers, keeping them from being as they ought to be, fully ‘according to the will of God’ (v.27), ‘according to his purpose’ (v.28). Positively, in our ‘best’ moments, when we are overwhelmed with the glory of God, the grandeur of his salvation, and the wonder of his love, we experience the weakness-inadequacy of our praise and thanksgiving.” (Perspectives on Pentecost, pp. 85,86).