Meditations in Romans : 39: Groaning Spirit
Rom 8:26,27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
There is a sense, I feel, that as we work our way through these verses it is like entering more and more deeper into a dark wood of revelation. When we came to verse 19 we spoke of it as a tantalizing verse, but then had to repeat that with verses 20 and 21. When we speak of a ‘dark wood’ we don’t mean dark spiritually but dark in as far as it is difficult to see what Paul is saying. We are moving in areas that most Christians rarely think about. Our danger in these two verses is that we go along with what we have heard others say about them and not with what they actually say. Now I say this because often people interpret what is here as meaning that we groan with the Spirit’s help, but that is not what these verses say. We may not fully understand it at first sight, but these verses explicitly speak of the Holy Spirit groaning. Let’s examine what they say.
Paul starts these verses with this simple phrase: “In the same way”. He’s just been speaking about how hope helps us in our sufferings. Now he moves on to speak of how “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” In what way are we weak? Oh, that is simple, he implies, “We do not know what we ought to pray for.” This goes to the fundamental root of prayer. What is prayer if it is not us Christians speaking to our Father in heaven and often that speaking involves asking, and when we ask we are requesting Him to intervene on earth and bring about things which we believe are His will. But there is the problem; although we may have ideas of what to pray for generally, sometimes we come to a place where we don’t know what to pray in detail.
Now normally when I would be teaching about corporate prayer I would be suggesting that we need to ask the Lord and then listen to the Lord for the sense of the direction He wants us to pray and in a corporate setting that is right and proper, but Paul is speaking more generally about prayer here. Now I am also aware of what I think about ‘speaking in tongues’. I believe this is another of those joint man-plus-Spirit activities and when I have pondered why God has given it to us, my conclusion is that He has given us a tool to overcome our frustration. Sometimes when you are filled with the Spirit you have such a sense of praise and thanks giving that you just want to go on and on and on. The trouble is that you have this yearning to do so because the presence of God is so wonderful but you start running out of words. At this point you switch into tongues and still have the sense of wonderful praise and thanksgiving but it bypasses the mind and enables you to just carry on without having to struggle for words.
But now Paul focuses on the “the Spirit himself”. Note that clear emphasis; this is the work of the Spirit, this is what He is doing, not what we do. So he continues, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” It is the Holy Spirit who speaks up for us. Now the apostle John said something similar: “if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) When we get it wrong, the Son turns to the Father and speaks up for us, on the basis of what he has done on the Cross. Now, in the present context Paul continues later in verse 27, “the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” The Holy Spirit who dwells within us, and who feels and knows every thought and therefore everything about us, translates His knowledge and, linking it with what He knows is the will of God for us, communicates it to the Godhead in what Paul describes as “groans that words cannot express.” He avoids the frustration He might otherwise feel in trying to communicate with words which are limited. His groans are perfectly understood by the Father and the Son.
Let’s try and communicate this another way. Sometimes when we want to share what we feel with another, we know that words are inadequate. We want to tell our partner we love them and words seem inadequate, so we smile and they see in our eyes the wonder of our love. We hug them and they feel in the strength of our hug the wonder of our love for them. We do something for them which is clearly sacrificial and they understand and catch the depth of our love for them – all without words.
God “searches our hearts” and wanting to understand as fully as possible what we feel, He catches what the Spirit (His Spirit) within us is feeling. Being inside us, knitted with our spirit He feels and understands perfectly all that is going on inside us – more than we ourselves realise. We sense something in our spirit, aided by His Spirit, but we aren’t sure of what it is, although He knows and so rather than leave it hanging in the air, so to speak, the Holy Spirit within communicates it to the Godhead by these wordless groanings, communicating back to heaven the perfect understanding of God on earth, because (and this is the marvel of this) the Holy Spirit IS God.
In these verses we are really treading on holy ground, all to do with communication within the Godhead. Sometimes in prayer it is just us speaking to the Father. Sometimes, especially in corporate prayer but it can also be in individual prayer, the Father reveals the things on His heart He wants us to pray out. (It seems almost as if there is something about the will of God being spoken out that adds to its value). At other times, in praise and thanksgiving, the Spirit enables us to speak in tongues so we carry on praying without intellectual knowledge of the meaning. At other times Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf. On other occasions the Spirit communicates the will of the Father through our Spirit to heaven but through HIS groanings. What a variety of communication means to heaven!