The Prayers of the Spirit

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Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching Romans 8:26-27 as we continue to walk through the eighth chapter of Romans. The text is centered upon the subject of prayer and Paul explains how the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness. 

Prayer is one of those subjects that goes unaddressed by many pastors and consequentially it becomes ignored by many believers. Bad habits often continue on from a child through adulthood without being corrected. This can lead to severe problems regarding the spiritual walk of a believer along with an ongoing pattern that’s passed on from one generation to another. 

Consider the prayer life of James, the half brother of Jesus. He became a follower of Christ after Jesus’ resurrection and rose to the leadership role of the church in Jerusalem. He was martyred for his faith in Christ, yet, what we often don’t hear about James is that he was a prayer warrior. He was known by many as “camel knees” since he spent so much time on his knees they were rough and tough like that of an old camel. 

Another man that we learn a great lesson from in church history is George Muller. He loved the orphans and cared for thousands of them during his lifetime—however, it was his relentless prayer life that propelled his ministry forward. George Muller once said, “I have joyfully dedicated my whole life to the object of exemplifying how much may be accomplished by prayer and faith.”

According to Romans 8:26, we are weak. Often we pride ourselves in our strength or we live life remembering how strong we once were in the past. We think that if we really worked hard, we could get back to that level again when in all reality it’s simply not possible. Perhaps you remember the days when you once lifted weights or competed in various athletic disciplines. To decline physically is considered normal, but it’s the exact opposite spiritually. So, why do we think about our Christian life in the same way? We think about how we once memorized verses of Scripture, searched the pages of the Bible soaking up the doctrine, and longed to pray to the Lord. But, over time that pattern declined and today your spiritual life parallels your physical life – both are in a state of decline.

According to Paul we are weak and stand in need of the help of the Spirit of God. When we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit of God helps us! This is one of the unique roles of the Spirit of God—as helper he brings us to a place of prayer and encourages us to remain steadfast in the faith during seasons of difficulty and challenging trials. Leon Morris observes, “It is not only that we do not pray very well; it is also the case that, while we often think we know what we need, we are not always good judges of that either.” [1]

The Spirit of God not only helps us in our weakness, but he intercedes for us in prayer. In other words, the Spirit of God prays for God’s children. When we read the Bible, we find that Paul and Moses struggled in prayer at times, so none of us can pray a perfect prayer. However, the Spirit of God prays with perfection. The third person of the Trinity praying to the first person of the Trinity without the slightest error or sinful motive. This should be of great joy to our hearts. John Knox once said, “Our needs go far beyond the power of our speech to express them.”

Paul says the Spirit groans in our hearts. John Murray explains that the groanings “are the intercessions of the Spirit and the groanings are but the way in which these intercessions are registered in the hearts of God’s children.” [2] As the Father searches the heart (vs. 27), he receives the prayers of the Spirit that are registered in our hearts. The Spirit of God knows what we need and he likewise prays in complete union with the Father.

When we pray, we often conclude our prayers by saying, “if it be your will.” The Spirit of God has no need to conclude his prayers in such manner. He prays in complete unity with the Father and knows the will of the Father before he prays. In other words, the Spirit prays in complete perfection unlike us in our weakness. 

Life magazine photographer, Cornell Capa, once asked Elisabeth Elliot if she was fearful to go live with the Aucas after they had killed Jim. The photographer was asking her if she was concerned that God would not answer her prayer for safety since he didn’t answer her prayer for Jim’s safety. Her answer came back without hesitation: “I prayed for the protection of Jim, that is, physical protection. The answer the Lord gave transcended what I had in mind. He gave protection from disobedience and through Jim’s death accomplished results the magnitude of which only Eternity can show.”

Remember in your weakness to have confidence that the Spirit of God is near and he will help you to pray. Whatever you do—don’t neglect your prayer life. 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 – pray without ceasing.

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  1. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 327.
  2. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 312.