Please explain Romans 8:26-27. How does the Holy Spirit intercede in our prayer lives?
This passage says that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers because we do not know how to pray. How does the Spirit do this?
Some say He is “kind of in the middle” between us and God, and intercedes for us in the sense that when we pray, He more or less “edits” our prayers when we do not pray for what we should pray for.
This is incorrect for several reasons:
First of all, Christ, not the Holy Spirit, is the “one” mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). Secondly, Christ, not the Spirit, makes intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Thirdly, the Father knows what we will pray before we actually pray it (Matt. 6:8), and therefore does not need the Spirit to “interpret” or “edit” our prayers.
So how does the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf in our prayers?
He aids our knowing how to pray through the Scriptures. The Scriptures come from the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21), and it is the Scriptures that teach us everything there is to know about prayer (cf. Matt. 6:7-15; the Psalms), including correcting us when our prayers are wrong (cf. James 4:1-3). The Scriptures “thoroughly equip us for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and prayer is a good work. Thus, the Spirit “intercedes” in our prayers in the sense that the Spirit-inspired Word of God teaches us to pray. Otherwise, we would not know how to pray, what to pray for, or even to pray at all.
This sheds light on the meaning behind Paul’s statement that “the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). Some, in line with the previously mentioned thought that the Spirit “edits” our prayers when we do not know what to pray for as we ought, interpret the Spirit’s groanings as “too deep” for OUR words. The thought I’ve heard expressed by many is that there are times when we simply don’t know how to put into words what we want to say to God, and so the Spirit intercedes and lets the Father know what is in our hearts which we do not know how to verbally articulate in prayer. However, as stated earlier, the problem with this interpretation is that it doesn’t account for how the Father “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8).
Instead, the concept of the Spirit’s “groanings to deep for words” refers to something else. We must remember how Paul described the “things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10) – i.e., the Spirit-inspired Scriptures (1 Cor. 2:12-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:16) – as that which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (1 Cor. 2:9). Peter brings out how “no prophecy of Scripture was ever produced by the will of man,” nor does it “come from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). If left solely up to us, the concept of prayer would not have come into our minds, much less the knowledge of how to pray correctly, and thus would never have passed our lips. By ourselves, we indeed “do not know what to pray for as we ought.” Yet because of the Spirit’s intercession through inspiring the writers of Scripture to instruct us properly about prayer, we now know. Indeed, the Spirit-inspired Scriptures are how the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weaknesses,” whatever they might be (Ps. 119:11, 28).
Note how Paul immediately speaks of how “he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit” (v. 27) right after he speaks of the “groanings too deep for words” (v. 26). This also lends itself to the conclusion that the Spirit helps us with our prayers via the inspired Word of God. The Hebrew writer points out how “the Word of God” discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Jesus, referred to by John as “the Word” (John 1:1, 14) and shown to be the source of the inspiration the Spirit would give the writers of God’s Word which is Scripture (John 16:12-15; cf. 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Eph. 3:3-5), knows what is in our hearts and minds (cf. John 2:24-25; cf. Matt. 9:4). He certainly knows the mind of the Spirit since they both are part of the Godhead and the Spirit received his message which he would then give to the apostles and prophets by inspiration from Jesus. The Son of God (the Word, Jesus), as well as God the Father before him (John 12:49-50) who also is fully aware of what is in our hearts (Eccl. 12:14; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 4:5), are the source of the message the Holy Spirit would pass on through inspiration to the writers of Scripture, including the scriptural teachings about prayer.
Thus, Romans 8:26-27 speaks of how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us concerning our prayers through the inspiration of God’s Word which teaches us and thoroughly equips us about prayer.