The Spirit pleads for us. 8:26-27


In our passage for study, Paul speaks of the groaning of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's groaning is out of empathy for us in the situation we now find ourselves. We do not hear the Spirit's yearning, for it is heart-felt intercession on our behalf to the Father. A believer is not alone in the rough and tumble of life. In the face of our weaknesses and sufferings, the Holy Spirit supports us, particularly when we cry out to God. We may not know what to say, or even how to say it, but the Spirit teaches us, even speaking for us in our weakness.

The passage

v26. "We do not know what we ought to pray." This verse is often used in support of speaking in tongues, ie. "praying in the Spirit", glossolalia. It is more likely that Paul is simply extending the point he has already made in this passage: the Christian life is difficult, full of limitations, but we remain secure in the Lord. There is troubles from without, persecution and the like, and troubles from within, indwelling sin constantly raising its ugly head. As we kneel in prayer before our Lord, we are simply unable to find the words to describe our situation. So often we are left with silence, broken at times with the simple cry, "Lord have mercy." Yet, from the depth of our psyche, the Spirit searches out the sense of our despair and pleads on our behalf before the throne of the Ancient of Days. All this is part of God's grace-ministry toward us. The Spirit's pleading, we are told, is "with groans", like the yearning of nature and the yearning of the saints. He groans from the load that we are unable to bear: our sins, our pains, our troubles, all the scars of life.

v27. But "the searcher of hearts knows what the Spirit's intent is, that it is in God's own way that he intercedes on behalf of those consecrated to God", H.W. Cassirer. We don't know our own mind, let alone the mind of God, but God knows our mind and the mind of the Spirit who speaks for us with a truth that is divine. "What a profound doctrine of prayer is here - the divine within us appealing to the divine above us! And what comfort for the unready in prayer to know that the Spirit is there to reinforce their soul's inarticulate desires!", A.M. Hunter.

Praying in the Spirit

Often in our prayer-life we find ourselves overwhelmed with weaknesses. We hardly know what to say, how to say it, let alone find the time to say it.

In Pentecostal circles this problem is dealt with by "praying in the Spirit." A Christian who practices speaking in tongues gathers up the many needs they see before them and then moves into a time of personal tongue-speaking. They believe that they are speaking a heavenly language under the power and control of the Holy Spirit. In this state, through the Spirit, their needs are rightly presented to God. This is certainly an interesting point of view, but this passage cannot really be used to support it.

The point Paul is making in this passage is something we can all identify with. Our life as a believer is filled with ignorance, weakness and poverty; we stand but by grace through faith. When it comes to prayer, that same ignorance, weakness and poverty abounds. Often we are speechless, yet our state of loss does not leave us lost because we are under the grace of God. Just as faith (Christ's faithfulness and our faith in his faithfulness) justifies, so faith sanctifies. We are not left alone in our Christian journey. The Spirit of Christ stands with us, supporting and shaping. And when it comes to prayer, he sees to it that what we need to ask of God, in the face of the rough and tumble of life, is asked on our behalf.

As to whether the Spirit asks for us, or teaches us to ask rightly, probably both are true. So, we pray of what we know "according to God's will", and what we don't, we leave in God's hands. We let the Spirit intercede for us before the throne of God's grace and rest secure in his eternal acceptance.


1. Our present weakness can be illustrated in the limitations of prayer. What is meant by "we do not know what we ought to pray [for]"?

2. Discuss what is meant by the Spirit praying for us "in accordance with God's will." From this idea, draw out a general principle on prayer.

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