The Spirit’s Groan

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The Holy Spirit is somewhat mysterious to us, isn’t He? Of the three persons of the Holy Trinity, He is spoken of less than the Father and the Son. What He does seems less prominent to us. After all, even Jesus described Him to be as mysterious as the wind (John 3:8). I hope that over the past year I have helped you grow in your understanding and love of the Holy Spirit. I want to conclude these meditations with Romans 8:26–27 and the Spirit’s groan. Because our present sufferings are not worth comparing with our future glory, the creation groans, the Christian groans, and the Spirit groans for that final state.

Paul speaks of the assistance of His groan: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Why? Because “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (v. 26). As those who have been made alive by the Holy Spirit to be the children of God, we “ought” to know how, when, and why to pray. As children of God, though, we do not know what to pray for “as we ought.” Our ongoing struggle with sin particularly affects our ability to pray. The good news is that your weakness in prayer should not cause you to be depressed because the Spirit promises to help you in prayer.

What is so encouraging about this assistance is the affection of the Spirit’s groan. This is no impersonal assistance like that automated voice on your cell phone. That little word helps speaks of His taking our burden upon Himself. The Spirit is not passive in seeing us from afar not knowing how to pray, but He is a participant with us in our time of need. How? He “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26), which can mean that they are beyond words or that they are without words. Think for a moment of all the groaning of God’s people throughout Holy Scripture (for example, Ex. 2:23–25). But here Paul says we have the precious promise that while we groan in prayer, not even knowing how, God the Holy Spirit groans “for us.”

“So what? What good is it to have another person praying for me, only to have their prayers, like mine, so often feeling like they are unanswered or unacceptable to God?” This is why verse 27 is key. Notice the acceptance of His groan. Not only does the Spirit assist us as He is affected by our weakness, but His groanings before God in our behalf are accepted by God. “He,” that is, God the Father,  “who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” He knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because although there are three distinctions within the triune God, they are all equally God. While distinct, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same omniscience, that is, they know all things. They know that our prayers so often miss the mark of the will of God, but “the Spirit intercedes according to the will of God” (v. 27). God hears us because His Spirit within us intercedes for us. And if the Spirit prays perfectly, God hears, God accepts, and God answers. 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.