You will not endure as a Christian without powerful, effective prayer.
That might be a frightening thought at first blush. If you’re like me, your prayer life feels inadequate. You feel more like the faltering father of the demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:24) than a faith-filled Elijah (James 5:17–18).
But that does not mean powerful, effective prayer for your needs does not exist. Because of our weakness in this period between Jesus’s first and second comings, the Father has sent us another Helper. Now, when we have no idea what to pray for, he steps in:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
The way the Spirit helps us is surprising. If we don’t know what to pray for, you’d expect the Holy Spirit would help by, you know, telling us what to pray for. If not that, perhaps he would help us understand God’s plans in Scripture better, or give us prophetic words about what he’s doing. But instead, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit constantly intercedes for us.
To intercede, of course, means to intervene in someone else’s cause — to make an appeal on someone else’s behalf. I remember taking my wife to a Starbucks in Fairfax, Virginia when we were dating. I was waiting with my signal ticking, ready to take a spot being vacated, when a car swooped in from the other direction and stole my spot.
I was annoyed, of course, but being a polite Canadian, I sighed and prepared to find another spot. But two strangers sitting outside saw this injustice go down, and they were outraged. They leaped up and yelled at the driver who had stolen my spot. The sheer weight of their moral indignation forced the driver to screech off in humiliation while they waved me into my rightful possession.
My only role in all of this was merely to sit there with my mouth open. These strangers had interceded for me not by giving me tips and pointers for how to handle the situation, but by jumping in and taking care of it themselves. All I had to do was drive into the empty spot.
Surely the Spirit does help us to pray more effectively, but that’s not what Romans 8:26 is about. Paul says the Spirit “intercedes for us,” which means there’s a direct conversation between the Spirit and the Father in which we are discussed, but do not participate.
Heaven’s Prayer Room
Imagine the heavenly prayer meeting. It goes on for you and me and the whole church of God continually.
The exalted Son, seated at his Father’s right hand, powerfully pleads our case, bringing forth his blood and righteousness (indeed, his very person) on our behalf (Romans 8:34). He defends us from all the accusations and condemnation of the evil one. And because the Father loves his Son, every promise is “Yes and Amen” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
As if that were not grace enough, the Holy Spirit is also present, on speakerphone, as it were. He’s calling directly from our hearts, where he not only knows our every need more intimately than do we ourselves, but he also gazes into the depths of the Father’s will with complete clarity. Since all of his requests are perfectly in line with that will, and everything for which he asks echoes the requests of the beloved Son, his continual requests are continually granted.
More than that, the Helper does not plead for us with disinterested duty; he intercedes with deep groans. The Spirit of God groans right alongside us and the whole creation as we wait for our full redemption (Romans 8:22–26).
All You Need to Endure
Here we teeter on the edge of something mysterious and glorious. The Bible only mentions this ministry of the Spirit here. For a brief moment the curtain is pulled back, and we catch a glimpse of our great Friend and Helper hard at work on our behalf.
It’s been going on since you became a Christian, and it will go on until you die or Christ returns. The Helper carries the burden along with you, even taking most of it upon his shoulders. However often or earnestly you pray, the Spirit intercedes on your behalf more often and more earnestly. No matter how intensely you groan in the body, the Holy Spirit groans yet more intensely on your behalf.
Do you long to be free from sickness and decay (Romans 8:20–21)? The Holy Spirit longs for it, too. Do you wait eagerly for the full manifestation of your sonship (Romans 8:23)? The Holy Spirit waits for it even more eagerly. Do you join with the saints in crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)? The church’s cry is only the echo of the Spirit’s passionate desire to glorify the Son who sent him.
And when you don’t know what to pray, or feel too overwhelmed to let out more than a groan, the Spirit is interceding for you with the exact requests you need. Left to our own blundering devices, the riches available to us in Christ would rust away unused. But with the prayers of our Helper, we receive everything we need when we need it.
You will not endure to the end without powerful, effective prayer. And that is exactly what you have in the Holy Spirit — your interceder and your Helper.