Select Wisdom Brand
(Romans 8:26-27) When You Don't Know How to Pray

(Romans 8:26-27) When You Don't Know How to Pray

Ref: Romans 8:26–27

Have you ever tried to pray but words just wouldn't come out? Maybe your mind was racing in all directions and you couldn't focus on Christ; perhaps the weight of some trial rendered you unable to articulate your feelings. Did you know that during that time the Holy Spirit was actually praying for you? As incredible as it sounds, Stephen shows us from Romans 8:26-27 that prayer is more than a conversation between God and us


When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:26-27


We conclude this morning what has become a three part series on the subject of groaning which we’ve entitled, “From Groaning into Glory.”

We have discovered, in the word of God, that all of nature is groaning for release from it’s bondage to decay and corruption.

We have also been reminded that mankind is the steward of nature, he is not the savior of nature.

In fact, planet earth is headed for destruction.  A bathing of universal fire by which God will obliterate everything in judgment, before He refurbishes a new heaven and a new earth.

Noah preached for more than a hundred years that God was going to swallow the earth with a universal flood.  The Apostle Peter wrote, “the world was destroyed, being flooded with water.”

He goes on to say, “but the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”  (2 Peter 3:6-7)

According to the Bible, the world mocked Noah . . . they that heard him disbelieved his message.  So also today, the unbelieving world refuses to listen to the message of coming judgment when the earth will be swallowed – this time, not with water, but with fire.

Our groaning, fallen creation is filled with men and women who will perish.  And if you could grab everyone of them by their lapels and spell it out for them, the vast majority would be offended . . . they would call you intolerant and dogmatic.

To speak of coming danger is nothing less than an irritation to the unbelieving world.

Let me illustrate this in another setting.

In 1984 an Avianca jet crashed.  Avianca is the European airlines from Spain.  An Avianca jet crashed in Spain – it was a big jet and it literally crashed into the side of a mountain and everyone was instantly killed.  As investigators began to search the wreckage for that little black box – that flight recorder – they found it and made an eerie discovery.  The recording of the cockpit revealed that several minutes before the fatal impact there was a shrill computer synthesized voice in the background.  That little computer voice was repeating over and over again, “Pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up.”  It was a warning system.  The pilot inexplicably snapped back, “Shut up, Gringo . . . shut up!” and flipped off the warning voice . . . flipped some switch to mute the sound.  Moments later the plane smashed into the mountain and everybody died.

Adapted from

Like people in Noah’s day and our day, . . .they effectively say today to God, “shut up . . . we don’t want to hear your voice . . .”

They say to the claims of the gospel . . . shut up!

They say to their consciences, shut up!

They say to the design of God in creation . . . be quiet!

Fallen man refuses to listen to God. 

In Romans 1 Paul has said, “Listen to the voice of God in creation!”  You can’t miss His unmistakable power and creative majesty.

Now in Romans 8 Paul has said, again, “Listen to the voice of nature in creation!”  You can’t miss the agony . . . you can’t miss it’s enslavement to corruption and violence and decay.

It groans for a better day.  It longs for the coming day, Paul says in verse 21, “when creation will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The Bible tells us that following the bath of fire, heaven and earth will be remade and Eden will return to planet earth, never to leave it again.

Paul has secondly noted that every Christian groans as well for the day when he receives his glorified body – being completely and forever free from the body of flesh and sin.

In the meantime, Paul reminded us, we wait with anticipation and confident hope.

Frankly, if that was all Paul informed us of, we would all be left somewhat discouraged, right?

Creation is groaning and the Christian is groaning . . . end of story for now.

But that’s not the end.

We are about to discover that God Himself joins us in groaning too!

If you can believe it, the Holy Spirit is, right now, groaning on our behalf.

Paul goes on to write in Romans 8:26. And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness.

And in the same way as what?  With groaning – Paul will explain in a moment, but first we’re told we need help because of our weakness.

Again, Paul is refreshingly honest!  Even though we’re on the winning team, we are weak!  Even though we are sons and daughters of God, we are frail! 

Every measure of strength and every victory we experience in life is not in and of ourselves, but in and through Jesus Christ, right.

I can do all things . . . how?  By learning some secret to the Christian life?  By attending some seminar on the steps to spiritual freedom?  By becoming a Bible scholar? 

I can do all things - through Christ, who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

Jesus said to His disciples something he never wanted them and us to forget – “Without me you can do . . . nothing!” (John 15:5)

We’re weak.

Even though we are saved, we have imperfect perspectives, finite minds, human frailties, spiritual limitations, mental shortcomings, emotional inconsistencies and imbalances. 

Just how spiritually needy and weak and dependant on God are we?

Paul answers – for we do not know how to pray as we ought!

We can’t even pray right, unless the Spirit of God helps us!

The first point Paul will make could be given with this simple statement – you could write it in the margin of your Bible, next to verse 26:

The inability of the Christian!

Whether we want to hear it or not, Paul informs us that we cannot even pray without help.

Why not?

First, because the believer, tends to miss what God is going to do in the near and distant future.

We have no idea what the future holds – and yet we pray based on what we think God should do, right?!

Secondly, we do not know how to pray, because not only miss what is going to happen, we tend to misunderstand what is happening.

In the middle of suffering, or pressure, or trial, or challenge, we miss what God is accomplishing in our lives.

And I happen to be so encouraged by the Apostle Paul’s own personal story of misguided prayer.

There times he prayed, “Lord removed this thorn in my flesh.”  Three times, “Lord, take it away.”

Finally the Lord said, in effect, “Paul you have no idea what I’m trying to accomplish in your life . . . you’re praying for the wrong thing . . . my grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  That’s the same word used by Paul here in Romans 8:26, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness . . . for we do not know how to pray.” 

How’d Paul know that?  He’d experienced it!

Even the great saints prayed the wrong way! Isn’t that encouraging?!

We are in need of help in prayer, not only because we miss what God is going to do and misunderstand what God is doing, but, thirdly, we mistake what we truly need.

Ask the average person on the street, “What do you need?”  And the number one answer would probably be somthing like, “things, possessions, better health, better service, less taxes . . . more money.”

I was reading the newspaper this past Monday morning, over at Bojangles, one of my favorite hangouts.  I’m on a high carb diet.  So I had my buttery egg and cheese biscuit, hash browns and cinnamon twist with extra icing. 


That’s living, huh?!  Probably not as long, but living.

I was reading  USA today about the people who received federal payouts due to their loss in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  The average payout per family is 1.5 million dollars.

Would you believe, all this money has done, in many cases is blowing peoples lives apart.

Court battles over the money are pitting one generation against another; a victim’s parents against a fiancé or spouse.  At least 22 same-sex partners are fighting for their share, opposed by the deceased individual’s relatives.

The article went on to tell how women are coming to America from Trinidad, Bolivia, Colombia and Brazil, claiming to be related to victims, and no one in the family knew.

It told about one man who had moved to New York from Trinidad, married and had three daughters.  After the attack, a woman arrived to claim his body and the money, claiming to be his wife.  She was able to prove they were married and not divorced, thus making his marriage to his American wife illegal.

Another woman is battling in court against a Bolivian woman who claimed to be his wife.  They are battling over whether or not DNA can be taken from the deceased man’s razor to prove the paternity of remaining children.

Adapted from USA TODAY, Monday, January 19, 2004

What do you need?

Money!  A better job!  A relationship!  Things . . . power . . . popularity . . . a higher GPA.  That will solve everything!

I thought it was funny – one article in a recent World Magazine chronicles the lawsuit of Timothy Dumouchel against Charter Cable, his Wisconsin cable company.  He is threatening to sue Charter Communications because, he says, “the company has turned his entire family into lazy channel surfers against their will.”  He says he told them to discontinue to cable service but they only stopped billing him.  After repeated attempts to shut it down – as if he couldn’t just turn it off – he now says the resulting TV addiction has harmed his family.  I quote, “I believe the reason I smoke and drink every day and my wife eats too much is because we watched TV every day for the last four years.”  Charter made us addicted to TV.  Now listen to this, “He says he’ll drop the suit in exchange for free lifetime internet service from Charter.” 

Now that’s a healthy switch.  That’ll solve the problem.  

What do you need?  I need to solve my addiction to TV for an addiction to the internet.

I could probably get into trouble for this story, but I’ll risk it!  Somebody in the church sent this to me . . .

3 women wanted a certain kind of husband . . . and they were very choosy about it.  They heard about a recently opened “Husband Shopping Center” in Dallas.   Women were allowed one visit where they could choose a husband from among hundreds of men.  The Center was designed with five floors, with the men increasing in positive attributes as you ascended up the floors.  The only rule was, once you went up to another floor, you could not return . . . you had to choose a man from that floor.  These three ladies decided to go and find their husband.  On the first floor they noticed a sign saying, “These men love kids and have a job.”  They looked at each other and said, “Well, that’s better than nothing . . . what do we do?  They agreed, let’s go up another floor and see what’s up there.

They got on the elevator, went up to the second floor, where a sign in the foyer said, “These men have high paying jobs, love kids and are very good looking.”  Ooh, the ladies said, “This is too good to turn down . . . well, let’s go up one more floor.”

When the elevator opened to the third floor, the sign on the lobby wall said, “These men have high paying jobs, love kids, are extremely good looking, can cook and love doing housework.”  Oh my . . . let’s pick a man here . . . but then they said, “No, there’s even better men further up . . . let’s go!

The sign on the fourth floor read,  “These men have high paying jobs, love kids, are extremely good looking, can cook and love doing housework and have a never ending romantic streak.”  Mercy me they said, but just think!  What must be awaiting us further on?! 

So up to the fifth floor they go.  The door opened, the sign read,  “This floor is empty and exists only to prove that women are impossible to please.” 

I personally didn’t think that was funny!

Ladies don’t feel too bad.  Someone sent me this a few weeks later.  Kids were asked why their mommies married their daddies.  One little girl was asked that question, “Why did your mom marry your dad?  To which she responded, “Well, my grandma says that mommy didn’t have her thinking cap on.”

I didn’t think that was funny either.

For the sake of self-preservation . . . let’s get back to the text!


Bottom line!  We don’t know what we want out of life!  We don’t know how to pray!.

Paul says with perfect clarity in Romans 8:26.  “The believer does not know how to even pray without help!”

But here’s the good news.  God has left us a Helper!


The Capability of the Holy Spirit


And it is very important to understand the nature of the Spirit’s help.

The Greek word for help in verse 26 is a word used by the Greeks to refers to someone carrying one end of a log. 

You see, just because the Spirit of God prays for us doesn’t mean that we’re not supposed to pray.

No . . . the believer groaning with his need for wisdom and courage and faith and consistency and purity, praying without ceasing . . . not knowing exactly what is in the mind of God to expect, but the Spirit of God is helping him by helping to carry the load.

The word “help” indicates, Kent Hughes wrote, that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just give armchair advice.  No, he rolls up his sleeves and helps us bear our weakness . . . how marvelous this is – we have two intercessors on our behalf; one in Heaven – our Lord Jesus who intercedes for our sin – and one in our hearts – the Holy Spirit himself.

R. Kent Hughes, Roamans (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 163.

When we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray for it or when to pray for it or if we should pray for it; when in the midst of pain or suffering or challenge and struggle throughout the normal course of the day, we’re told the Spirit carries that end of the load by helping us pray what we should.

How does the Spirit pray?

Paul answers that question with the next phrase.  “But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27. 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.”

Here’s how the Spirit helps us pray.


1) He personally intercedes for the believer.

Did you notice the personal involvement of the Spirit?   Paul wrote in verse 26,  But the Spirit Himself(!) intercedes.

You ought to underline the word “Himself.”   The Holy Spirit does not want anybody else to replace Him. 

He could appoint cherubim and seraphim to intercede for us.  He could command planets to speak our name continually before the Father.  He could be satisfied that other believers around the world are interceding for you in prayer . . . but He’s not satisfied unless He is personally involved in praying for you!

Ladies and Gentlemen, never, ever fall into the enemies trap of believing you’re in this fight alone! 

He will whisper in your ear, “On this journey, your are on your own.”

It’s a lie!  Paul proves it right here.  The Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for “us” – you ought to write your name in the margin, right there where the word “us” is found in verse 26b. The word “us” is in italics because it is supplied by the translator for interpretive sense.  Just go ahead and put your name in there. 

The Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for Stephen . . . for Susan . . . for Bill . . . put your name there – He is involved in your journey, right now.

What are you troubled about?  What keeps you up at night?  He’s praying for God’s solution to be worked out in your life. 

What are you agonizing over?  That’s on His prayer list.  What are you happy about?  That’s on His list of praises too.

Can you imagine what’s on His prayer list for you?

That’s how He prays . . . with personal intercession on your behalf.

Secondly, the Spirit prays:

2) with passionate communion with the Father

26b.  “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

This is not some sort of charismatic tongue.  This is not some sort of gibberish without any rational content.  We’re told by Paul that the content of this intercession is too deep for words.

John MacArthur, Romans: Volume One (Moody Press, 1991), p. 467

The verb, stenazo, or groan means to deeply sigh . . . to long after . . .

What you have here is an amazing description of what theologians call inter-trinitarian communication – that is, divine articulation between members of the Godhead, namely between the Holy Spirit and God the Father.

This is referenced by Paul to the Corinthians, “Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11)


And this communion on behalf of the believer is described in the same way he describes the groaning of creation for redemption and the longing of the Christian for home.

Dr. Earle wrote, “[Isn’t it true that] intercessory prayer reaches its deepest depths when it passes beyond the realm of [anything other than a] groan.”

Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Baker, 1989), p. 181

Now you would think that because the Spirit’s will and the Father’s will are identical, and because God is one, Paul’s statement seems unnecessary.  The idea of communication among and between Father Son and Spirit seem almost redundant, right?  But Paul is pointing up the truth in order to give encouragement to believers. 

MacArthur, p. 469

What a mystery . . . but what encouragement! 

Let me summarize the mystery Paul has revealed; “The believer, surrounded by a groaning creation, is groaning himself while being indwelt by God who groans on their behalf.”

The Spirit of God personally intercedes . . . He passionately communes and finally,


3) He purposefully reinforces the will of God

The first two points tell us what the Spirit does for us – this point tells us why.

Paul writes in verse 27, “because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Not our will . . . but His.

Do you know what it means to pray in the Spirit?  It means to pray for the will of God because that’s how the Spirit prays.

Jude wrote that the believer is to pray in the Spirit (v. 27).  That means we pray like the Spirit prays. 

We pray a prayer that the Spirit would not mind repeating! 

What do you pray?

I love the answer one kid provided.  His pastor was talking with him after church on Sunday morning . . . “So, your mother says a prayer with you every night, huh?  “Yes sir,” the boy responded.  The pastor asked, “And just what does your mother say?”  The kid replied, “Thank God he’s in bed.”

When we pray, do we have our intentions in mind, or God’s?!

When you pray and the Spirit prays on your behalf – it is not a replacement for obedience during tribulation; for faith in the midst of fear; for action when we are tempted to passivity; for trust, for obedience, for submission to God . . . prayer is simply the thing that undergirds all of the above.

And the best prayer you will ever pray, is the prayer of  daily surrender to the Spirit of God who envelopes your every move with intercessory prayer so that you fulfill the will of God.

In fact, the best prayer you will ever make is a prayer you don’t know how to make . . . but the Spirit . . .the Helper makes it for you . . . with groanings too deep for words.

We come to the end of study like this and we must marvel at the:

  • goodness of God. 
  • the strength and persistence of God. 
  • the work of God on our behalf. 
  • the security of our salvation because of God. 
  • the promise of our inheritance because of God! 
  • the redemption which is yet to come because of what God has promised.

And in between here and there . . . between old earth and new earth . . . between flesh and immortal bodies . . . every day . . . day by day . . . we surrender in advance to our Lord who has sent us a Helper for our journey.

One who will groan with us and for us as we move toward that eternal inheritance in glory.

One who will help us right now

Fight the good fight,

                        Run the race,

                                    Bear the cross . . .

‘Till we reach that heavenly land . . . where the groan of creation, of the Christian, and the Holy Spirit cease . . .when our groaning is exchanged for eternal glory.

Add a Comment

We hope this resource blessed you. Our ministry is EMPOWERED by your prayer and ENABLED by your financial support.
CLICK HERE to make a difference.