In Romans 8:26-27, the Apostle Paul offers great encouragement to the Christian who struggles in prayer. This encouragement is found in the intercession of the Holy Spirit for us.
As we look at our text this morning, we will ask of it three questions:
1. Why do we need the intercession of the Spirit?
2. How does the Spirit intercede for us?
3. What is the result of the Spirit’s intercession for us?
Let’s now look to the Word of God in Romans 8:26-27.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (27) And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
I. Why Do We Need the Intercession of the Spirit?, v. 26 a, b
Here we see the necessity of the Spirit’s intercession for us. We need the Spirit’s intercession because of “our infirmities” (v. 26a). This is a reference to our weakness in our mortal bodies that we experience even though our souls have been saved. There are many weaknesses in our natural bodies that burden us as we await our glorification. One of the most troubling weaknesses for the Christian, however, is our ineptness in prayer. This is the specific weakness that is in view in this morning’s text. As verse 26b explains “our infirmities”: “we know not what we should pray for as we ought”. This is not a matter of style or manner, but of content. We’ve been given a basic outline for prayer by Jesus in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. This model prayer instructs us on the kinds of things for which we should be praying. We should pray for God’s name to be regarded as holy, for God’s righteous kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The problem is that we don’t know how to pray this way in our specific circumstances. Should I pray for this sickness to be healed to show God’s glory or for grace to endure this sickness in order to show God’s glory? This is our primary weakness in prayer. We don’t know God’s will! This is why we need the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit. Since He is God, He knows God’s Will and is able to make intercession in us for God’s will, even when we don’t know what that will is.
I believe there is encouragement in this passage because the apostle Paul includes himself as one who shares our weakness in prayer. He calls it “our infirmities” and says that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Misery loves company and there is comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our struggles in prayer. Even the great apostle Paul struggled in this area. Remember how in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul describes an unanswered prayer for relief from a “thorn in the flesh”. The text says,
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The apostle Paul didn’t get the answer he wanted, but God’s will was done. Likewise, we often don’t know what God’s will is in our specific situations. This is why we need the intercession of the Holy Spirit. That leads us to our next question: “How does the Spirit intercede for us?”
II. How Does the Spirit Intercede for Us?, v. 26 a, c
The answer to this important question is found in verse 26 as well. The verse begins by stating that “the Spirit … helpeth our infirmities.” Then after describing our weakness in prayer, the apostle explains how the Spirit helps us in prayer. He “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Here we are told that we are not alone in our prayers. The Spirit is with us. He is within us! Not only do we have the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25-26; 9:24), we also have the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, here with us making intercession for us. We have two intercessors when we pray. One with the Father and One with us! What a glorious privilege this is!
But how does the Spirit make intercession for us? The Bible says that it is “with groanings that cannot be uttered.” These are unspoken (Gk. alaletois) groanings that “cannot be uttered”. I don’t believe this verse means literal groans, but metaphorical groans as in verses 22 and 23 which refer to the groanings of creation and the redeemed. Also, verse 27 specifically says that God “knoweth the mind of the Spirit” (the unarticulated), not the groans of the Spirit.
So what does all this mean? I believe it means that while we pray audibly (often times ignorantly), the Spirit is making intercession for us inaudibly (without words). In other words, the Spirt translates for us by praying for us what we should be praying.
Just this morning, Hannah (our 5 year old daughter) came into my office and handed me one of her toy earrings in two pieces. She told me that Isaac (our twenty month old son) had handed them to her and told her that he found it in two pieces (In other words, he didn’t break it.) The problem is that Isaac is not articulate enough to say that. So I asked, “How did he tell you that?” Hannah answered, “He told me in baby language. I can understand baby language.” She then said, “I told it to you in people language. Do you know why? So you could understand it.” This is something like what the Holy Spirit does for us in our prayers. We speak people language, but the Holy Spirit understands us and He speaks God’s language and He speaks to God on our behalf.
That leads us to our final question of this text, “What is the end result of the Spirit’s intercession for us?”
III. What is the Result of this Intercession of the Spirit? v. 27
The answer to this question provides the really good news of this text! The good news is that God knows the mind of the Spirit and therefore understands His unspoken groanings. Those unspoken groanings of the Spirit are intercession for us according to the will of God!
Let’s look at the verse in more detail. God is “He that searcheth the hearts.” In Jeremiah 17:10 God declares,
I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
In 1 Samuel 16:8 the Lord said to Samuel, “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” This God who looks on the heart, knows “the mind of the Spirit”. What is the mind of the Spirit? The mind of the Spirit always makes intercession on behalf of the saints according to the will of God! The point is that since the Spirit intercedes in accord with God’s will, His prayers are always answered! Although our spoken prayers are not always answered, the unspoken intercession of the Spirit which accompanies our prayers is always answered! God’s will is not thwarted by our weakness in prayer. There is great encouragement here! God’s will is going to be fulfilled in our lives despite our weakness in prayer.
So we pray, to the best of our ability, according to the will of God. But even when we don’t pray correctly we can take comfort in the fact that God’s will is being accomplished through our prayers by the accompanying intercession of the Holy Spirit.
Now, also we see the connection to verse 28. All things are working together for our good because the Spirit is translating our prayers into prayers prayed according to the will of God and God’s will is infallibly being accomplished! Talk about a powerful prayer life. We have one through the intercession of the Spirit. There’s a sense then in which all my prayers have been answered! After the Holy Spirit is finished with my prayers, all my prayers have been answered affirmitively!
So, let us pray to the best of our ability according to the will of God. We must have the attitude of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done.” But when all is said and done let us pray with confidence knowing that the Holy Spirit is interceding for us according to the will of God even when we pray for the wrong things!