The Spirit’s Role in Prayer (Part 2)

How the Spirit Intercedes for Us

I concluded the previous post emphasizing 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!” Oh how I thank God for this truth! But Paul also writes about how, or the way in which the Spirit himself intercedes for us: “through wordless groans” (NIV), “with groanings too deep for words” (NASB, ESV), “with groanings that cannot be expressed in words” (NLT).

Paul most likely chose the noun “groanings” because he used it earlier as a way of describing what we and creation do while we await our freedom from our “bondage to decay.” He writes: “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” (8: 22-23).

When we pray (express our “groanings” in words to God), does the Spirit intercede for us by expressing “groans” along with us without words (that we hear or understand?), or does he intercede with groanings “to deep for words” within us but separate from us? There is no way to be certain. One scholar, Doug Moo, writes “Paul could identify the groans as the Spirit’s and still view them as coming to expression through the believer.” However, he doubts it and summarizes Paul’s meaning as “the Spirit’s own ‘language of prayer,’ a ministry of intercession that takes place in our hearts (v. 27 “he who searches our hearts”) in a manner imperceptible to us” (Moo, Romans, 562). He may be right or perhaps more accurately, partially right. I believe this is one way the Spirit can and does intercede with “wordless groans” on our behalf.

But Gordon Fee also notes that people in Paul’s time primarily both read and prayed aloud privately (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 581). One third of the Psalms are laments (groanings) that were sung aloud and probably spoken aloud. Suffering, pain, confusion often needs to be poured out, expressed. So when we pour out our struggles and pain (groanings) in prayer, I believe the Spirit is also, along with us, groaning in intercession on our behalf.

My point is to encourage you to pour out your pain and struggles when suffering. Remember that regardless of how it comes out, the Spirit is “groaning” with you as you are praying according to God’s will. Again, you are not praying alone! You also are not “groaning” alone and you don’t have to worry about how you are expressing yourself. The Spirit is taking care of the right words even though we don’t know what words he is expressing. But as you groan together, remember that the outcome is God’s will for good, in keeping with his purpose! Thank you, Lord!