We need God’s grace in our times of weakness. But we also need the Spirit to pray for us because our knowledge is not complete—we are ignorant of some things. Matthew Henry writes, “We are not competent judges of our own condition … We are short-sighted, and very much biased in favour of the flesh, and apt to separate the end from the way … We are like foolish children, that are ready to cry for fruit before it is ripe and fit for them.” One of my young daughters loves to eat pears, but she does not know how to tell when they are ripe. As a result, she will often grab a hard, green pear off the kitchen counter, take one bite, and leave the rest behind, claiming “it is too hard.” We often do the same. We want the “fruit” that God is preparing for our future (we may even know what it is), but we want it now, before it is ripe and before we are ready. We are ignorant of what is best for us because we are not fully aware of our weakness, and may not be aware of the maturing process God is performing within us.
The Spirit’s “Wordless” Prayers
We don’t know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit is not ignorant—and he prays for us according to perfect knowledge. He prays with “groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). A better way to translate this is “wordlessly.” The Spirit pleads on our behalf in longings that are inexpressible in words. This is non-verbal prayer. The prayer ministry of the Holy Spirit—his groaning for us—is silent.
The Spirit’s Knowledge Is Perfect
The Holy Spirit prays for us because God’s knowledge is perfect (Rom. 8:27). The passage continues, “He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is.” This speaks of the omniscience of God. When David charged his son Solomon to serve God he reminded him, “the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chr. 28:9). To the church at Thyatira, Jesus described himself as “He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23). God the Father already knows what the Spirit is thinking. That’s why there is no need for the Spirit’s groaning to be verbalized. He prays for us “according to the will of God.” What great confidence this brings! The Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:11), and the Father knows the thoughts of the Spirit. This means the two are always in full agreement. Since the thoughts of God are revealed by the Spirit in words (1 Cor. 2:13), his prayers never contradict God’s written Word, the Bible. This is crucial for us to understand since we can be guilty of fleshly prayer that is not always in sync with the will of God. R. C. Sproul writes,
Professing Christians often ask God to bless or sanction their sin. They are even capable of telling their friends they have prayed about a certain matter and God has given them peace despite what they prayed for was contrary to His will. Such prayers are thinly veiled acts of blasphemy, and we add insult to God when we dare to announce that His Spirit has sanctioned our sin by giving us peace in our souls. Such a peace is a carnal peace and has nothing to do with the peace that passes understanding, the peace that the Spirit is pleased to grant to those who love God and love His law.
Here is where the Spirit helps us immensely. In our ignorance, or even in our fleshly determination to see our own will be done, we often fail to pray according to God’s perfect will. We may pray with our mouths, “Thy will be done,” but mean in our hearts, “My will be done.” The Holy Spirit does not possess that same inconsistency. He always intercedes according to the will of God!
All Because of Christ, the Mediator
This intercession of the Spirit is only true for believers since the prayer ministry of the Holy Spirit flows out of the ministry of Christ as our Mediator. Several verses later in Romans 8 we read, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is he who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:33–34). Hebrews 7:25 affirms, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
[Excerpted from the chapter entitled When the Holy Spirit Prays in Pray about Everything.]