Because it is stated so clearly in Scripture, particularly in the book of Hebrews, most believers know that Christ Himself prays for us. He is our intercessor. Christ is our high priest, resurrected from the dead and seated at God’s right hand, who “always lives to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25). We should take great comfort in knowing that we are in union with an external intercessor seated in the heavens who represents us faithfully to our Father, sympathizing with us in our weakness because he was made like us in every way except for sin. Knowing this experientially encourages us in prayer.
Yet further encouragement should come knowing we have an internal intercessor as well. Jesus said he would send “another Helper (or Comforter) to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit dwells within the people of God, and one of his great ministries is that of intercession.
We hear particularly of the Spirit’s ministry of intercession and the depths that it enters in Romans 8:26-27. After speaking of how the creation groans under the weight of our sin as it waits for the the fullness of redemption (8:22), and how believers groan as we await eagerly our own fulfilled adoption, we hear of another groaning.
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.
These verses indicate that the Spirit of God is groaning. Yet we need to ask, “How can the Spirit, being God, groan? How can the Spirit, who gave us the Word of God, be as it were speechless with a groaning without words, a groaning unable to be articulated?”
These questions are answered by recognizing that the Spirit’s groaning is not because He has an incompleteness in Himself that creates the groan. Rather, as the progression of the passage shows – from the creation to the children of God to the Spirit groaning – our other Helper is groaning because He is sharing our burden with us.
If a friend was helping you move a heavy piece of furniture, you can well imagine him groaning with you under the weight. However, let us say your friend is a world-class weight lifter who is on the other side of the furniture. As you are staggering under the weight, he could very well be talking about how light this chest of drawers is. That might get your furniture moved, but that would not encourage you very much! Now consider that the Holy Spirit moved over the face of the earth at creation, and in so doing moved mountains and oceans to form it. That very One now dwells within you. As he helps you with your burden he could just in effect say, “C’mon! What’s the big deal? This is light to me.” Instead, in a display not of God’s weakness but of his condescension, God’s Spirit groans within you for you.
So, Christian, take heart! That is why we call the Spirit our Advocate. Because he dwells within you, he knows your suffering, your pain, your inability, and your weakness. Rather than mocking you, or calling you to heights you cannot reach, he groans with you and for you.
How does this work itself out practically? Think of what makes you groan and you will have the answer. To assist you, here are three areas we might identify with brief explanations.
In sorrow too deep to express. When a heinous sin is revealed, a disease is uncovered, a death strikes suddenly, or a child wanders greatly, our hearts can be overwhelmed beyond words. The weeping and the wailing make expressing prayer impossible. Yet God’s Word would instruct us here that the weeping and the wailing, found in the heart of the hurting yet trusting believer, are expressions of prayer. The One who puts every tear of ours in a bottle is counting those tears as prayers.
In pain too great too bear. When a patient in an intensive care unit moans, this usually brings a nurse or doctor quickly to his side. When our heart pain is so great that all we can do is moan in the midst of it, the Spirit of God is always there in that pain with his intercessions and healing mercies.
In situations too confusing to discern. From desiring guidance in major life decisions to being in a tangled conflict with others, the believer often finds himself struggling even to know what to think next about certain life situations. Like the disciples with their sleeping Savior in the boat in the storm, we know we want to get out of the battering winds and churning seas but we do not know the way and are not even sure how to pray. Yet like the disciples, we must realize that regardless of the situation the Lord is with us in the boat. In the presence of His Spirit who journeys through all of this life with us, we have immediate reassurance in these times of trouble and confusion. Knowing the Spirit is making our Savior’s name Immanuel applicable all the time is of great encouragement and gives a hope that our bumbling prayers will bring deliverance from the Lord shortly.
Charles Spurgeon’s words on this subject are a fitting conclusion.
If the Spirit helps me groan, then God must accept the groaner. If thou couldst pray the best prayer in the world, without the Spirit, God would have nothing to do with it; but if thy prayer be broken and lame and limping, if the Spirit made it, God will look upon it, and say, as he did upon the works of creation, “It is very good;” and He will accept it.