Romans 8:26-27, “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. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Questions about the effectiveness of our prayers are on the minds of believers from the moment of their conversion. What does it mean to pray according to God’s will? If I do not pray according to God’s will, how can the Lord use my prayers as He says He will? How can I be sure that the Father hears and answers my prayers?
Today’s passage deals with many of these issues, as the Apostle Paul gives us further reasons to be encouraged despite our ongoing weaknesses and our struggle with the flesh. The encouragement he gives in Romans 8:18-25 has to do with the certainty of our hope that we will be glorified. It is a future-oriented hope. Verses 26‘27 provide encouragement with a focus more on our present circumstances. There is a reason beyond the certainty of our glorification that gives us reason to be confident in the present despite our weaknesses—the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit.
Due to the fact that we still suffer the effects of the fall, our prayers in and of themselves are never sufficient to make us persevere. Our limited knowledge of the situations in which we and others find ourselves, abiding selfishness, and many other factors prevent us from knowing God’s will for us specifically in all its fullness. We ought to pray only according to God’s will (1 John 5:14-15)—according to what He desires for us—but we cannot do that perfectly. Yet that should not lead us to stop praying or to believe our prayers will be ineffective, for God never considers our prayers in and of themselves. Paul says that the Holy Spirit takes our imperfect prayers and makes them perfect. He intercedes alongside us and within us “with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Invisibly and inaudibly, He takes our prayers and makes them conform to the perfect will of the triune God. His ministry of intercession is effectual. God knows and attends to the mind of His Spirit as He prays for us (v. 27). He will always hear and grant the Spirit’s prayers. We need not fear that the imperfection of our prayers and the weakness of our flesh will prevent us from persevering to the end or keep us from waiting patiently for the final glory to come. God the Holy Spirit prays perfectly, and His requests for us are always granted. In his commentary Romans, Dr. Douglas J. Moo writes, “When we do not know what to pray for—yes, even when we pray for things that are not best for us—we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit’s ministry of perfect intercession ‘on our behalf.’”
John Calvin comments, “Except we are supported by God’s hands, we are soon overwhelmed by innumerable evils…though we are in every respect weak, and various infirmities threaten our fall, there is yet sufficient protection in God’s Spirit to preserve us from falling, and to keep us from being overwhelmed by any mass of evils.” The Creator of the universe prays for us Himself. That should leave us with no doubt that His perfect will for us will always be done.