How do you pray when you don’t know what to say? How do you pray when you have lost your Godward perspective, when your hope has been stolen, when you have no joy? How do you pray when you are utterly confused as to what God is doing in and behind your circumstances? When you honestly don’t understand what the will of God is? When you are struggling to surrender your own will to God’s will? When you have committed the same sin, for the 10,000th time? How do you pray when you don’t know what to say?
Questions like these expose the reality that prayer is not easy—it is a struggle. The discipline of prayer is a battle. However, as believers in Jesus Christ we have an all-powerful resource—the Holy Spirit, who prays for us. Romans 8:26–27 explains, In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Here we find massive encouragement to keep praying even when we may not fully understand what exactly we are praying for. Verse 26 begins, “In the same way,” which signals that what Paul is about to say connects very closely with the previous context. Chapter 8 is the completion of a three-chapter section on sanctification, how we grow in Christ. Romans 1–3 exposes our utter depravity and lack of righteousness. Chapters 4–5 explain the gift of God’s righteousness, which is ours by repentant faith in Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who came to undo on the cross what the first Adam had done in the garden. Romans 6 describes the right way to win the battle against sin (by recognizing who we are in Christ and daily applying that truth to our heart). Chapter 7 corrects the wrong way to win the battle against sin (by keeping the Law). This is not because the Law is bad; no, the Law is good. The problem is not the Law—it is much deeper.
The problem is the principle of sin reigning in the flesh. This is a deep problem that requires a deeper solution—redemption in Jesus Christ; a redemption that delivers us not only from the eternal penalty of sin, but also from its power in our daily lives. Chapter 8 teaches us how we live out that powerful redemption—by walking according to the Holy Spirit, which is the same as walking according to the Word of God—the book the Spirit wrote.
This battle—the daily fight against the flesh—will continue until the day we see Jesus face to face. Because of this reality, true believers long for the day when they will be fully delivered, fully redeemed. We sing, “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it…”—we are already redeemed. But we also sing, “When I stand in glory, I will see his face. And there I’ll serve my King forever, in that holy place.” We will be fully redeemed, delivered from the very presence of sin, when we see Christ. Until then, we groan—we ache for the day
when our salvation will be complete in our experience. According to Romans 8:18–22, creation is groaning. All creation feels the effects of the curse and aches for the fullness of redemption. Believers in Christ groan for the redemption of their bodies because the Spirit resides there (v. 23). Then come verses 26–27: “In the same way.” Just as creation groans, waiting for the fullness of redemption, and as a believer groans, waiting for redemption from his or her earthly body, so the Holy Spirit groans in prayer: “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” What a great comfort to know we have this divine prayer warrior interceding for us!
[Adapted from my book Teach them to Pray]