“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Just as creation groans, waiting for the fullness of redemption; and as believers groan, waiting for redemption from their earthly bodies; so the Holy Spirit groans in prayer.
The Holy Spirit prays for us because we are weak.
The Spirit who resides within us as believers in Christ “helps” us, that is, He comes to our aid, rescues us, and helps to carry our heavy burden. This is the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in our “weaknesses,” our human frailty. It is significant for us to realize that physical, emotional, and spiritual weakness reveal human frailty, but are not necessarily the result of sin. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, experienced human frailty, which is partially what qualifies him to be our High Priest who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” yet he never sinned (Hebrews 4:14–15). The omniscient Holy Spirit knows our weaknesses as well and it this same “Spirit of adoption,” whom we have received from God, “by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).
The Holy Spirit prays for us because we are ignorant.
Often we “do not know what to pray for” (v. 26). Sometimes we are aware of our ignorance¸ like the disciples who said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). And sometimes we are blind to our ignorance. For example, when the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with their mother to demand a position of leadership, Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).
The Spirit prays for us because our knowledge is incomplete. Matthew Henry writes, “We are short-sighted…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, but we want it now, before it is ripe. We do this because we are ignorant of what is best for us and, therefore, don’t know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit is not ignorant—and He prays according to perfect knowledge. He prays with “groanings too deep for words.” The Spirit pleads on our behalf in longings that are verbally inexpressible. This is his silent prayer ministry.
The Holy Spirit prays for us because God’s knowledge is perfect.
The passage continues, “he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit” (v. 27). The omniscient Father already knows what the Spirit is thinking. That explains why there is no need for the Spirit’s groaning to be verbalized. The Spirit of God knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and the Father knows the thoughts of the Spirit. The two are always in full agreement. Since the thoughts of God are revealed by the Spirit in words (1 Corinthians 2:13), his prayers never contradict the written Word, the Bible, which he inspired (2 Peter 1:21). 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. 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 the same inconsistency. He always intercedes according to the will of God!