The Spirit’s Role in Prayer (Part 1)

We Never Pray Alone!

Romans 8:28. Do you know it? If you do, do you ever think of it as a prayer passage? Paul wrote: “And we know that for those who love God, [the Spirit] works all things together for good, to those called in keeping with [God’s] purpose; because whom he knew in advance, he also predestined to be conformed unto the likeness of his Son . . .” (Gordon Fee translations, God’s Empowering Presence, 587). Nothing about prayer in the passage itself. But what most of us miss is that this passage is the concluding statement about how the Spirit helps us, particularly when it comes to praying about suffering that we or those we love are experiencing.

Throughout chapter 8, Paul has discussed the role of the Spirit in our lives. In verses 26-27, he concludes: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us (literally “assists” us) in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless [inarticulate, G.Fee] groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (NIV).

What is our weakness? In the wider context, Paul is referring to our suffering. Earlier, Paul wrote: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. . . . But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (8:18, 22-23, 25). Later he writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (8:35, 37).

Paul assures us that we will suffer. Elsewhere, he also assures that God works for good through suffering (Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; see also James 1:2-4). Thus, in our “weakness”, our present suffering, we also feel weak in knowing “for what we ought to pray for” because God may be “working for good” either through endurance or deliverance. Our confidence, regardless of how we end up praying [maybe like Jesus, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39)], is in the fact that the Spirit (God) works all these things (listed above) together for good, and the outcome is in keeping with God’s will—his good “purpose”—because “the Spirit intercedes [for us] in accordance with the will of God.”

The point is that we never pray alone! The Spirit himself intercedes for us as we pray and he always prays rightly, in keeping with God’s will! This is our peace, our hope, and our confidence with the outcomes of our prayers!