“The Spirit Himself Makes Intercession for Us”
(Romans 8:26-27 – Pentecost 9 – August 2, 2020)
Romans 8:26-27 – 26Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Dear Redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ:
How important it is to be able to communicate our needs, especially when we need help in time of weakness. We learn this from the earliest moments after birth. You may not remember, but the first thing you did when you entered this world was to cry. That is, you communicated your needs in no uncertain terms. You told everyone who was listening that you had hunger to be fed, coldness to be warmed, fears to be calmed, love to be felt. And if your terms were not met, you would keep communicating them until they were, with the most stubborn persistence. And before you could speak an intelligible word, your parents fully understood. In fact, long before you ever asked, they anticipated your needs and prepared for them, as parents know best.
Even as you began to grow up and learn many words to say (and say and say), even then, your loving parents fielded your requests and provided your needs as parents know best. In this, they had to provide a bit of interpretation. You may have believed that every heartfelt request was well worded and justified, and it only remained for loving parents to comply with your wishes. But alas, they did not. Rather, just because they were loving parents, they did not always give you just what you asked for. They protected you. They provided something better.
It is similar in our relationship to God. Long before we were born, from eternity He anticipated our greatest needs and prepared for them as a heavenly Father knows best. In the fullness of time, He sent His Son into the world to work out our salvation and win our eternal life. Then in our lifetime, by the power of Baptism and His Word, God sent His Spirit into our hearts to give us faith in Christ. He adopted us as His children, with the promise to care for us now and forever. It says before our text Romans 8:15-17: “You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1) And that is what we are! As such, one of the best gifts He gives us is prayer. We are privileged to communicate with our Father who art in heaven! As we pray in the name of His Son, He promises to hear every word. And as a loving heavenly Father will do, He answers every time in the way that is truly best for us.
For this reason, He provides interpretation. As children will do, sometimes we say and say all that is on our heart. We bring before God many ideas of what we think would be for our greatest good. Other times, we have no idea what to say. In our weakness and lack of wisdom, we simply look up to Him who holds our hand, and cry: “Abba, Father… Help me!” But in every circumstance, the Holy Spirit whom He put in our heart takes our words, and even our wordlessness, and interprets it all. So we are guaranteed that every need for time and eternity is spoken just the right way at the throne of our Father in heaven.
This is what our text says: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.” How important this is for our communication with God. Like little children, living in a world full of things far beyond their understanding, clinging tightly to the hand of their parents, trusting them to know and do what is best; so as children of our heavenly Father, we confess our weaknesses and lack of understanding. We do not always know what we should pray for as we ought. In fact, at times it can be downright overwhelming living in this world.
This is because, in a sense, we are living between two worlds. Before our text, the apostle Paul has described this present creation in which we live, this world corrupted by sin and full of troubles. In verses 22, Paul said: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. And we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” The groaning of creation is heard in all the evil, injustice, violence, destruction, sickness, pain, sorrow, death, and decay. As children of God, living in this fallen world, we also feel the devastating effects of sin. We see it all around; we feel it in our bodies, minds, and souls. Things are not the way they ought to be. Sometimes in our stress, pain, sorrow, or confusion, we do not even have the words to express our burden. And we groan within ourselves.
Yet at the same time, the Spirit of God, who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, lifts our hearts above the tribulation of this fallen world. In His Word, He directs our hearts and minds to our Savior who has won our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. He points us in hope to that perfect world that is to come. He assures us that we are heirs with Christ of heavenly glories that are too great for earthly words to express. In verse 18, Paul pointed us to our heavenly hope as he said: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
So our life here is like living between two worlds. Is it any wonder when “we do not know what we should pray for as we ought”? As God’s children in Christ, we live in expectation of eternal glory to come; yet we deal with present weaknesses and lack of perspective. We are learning about life from His Word. There is so much we have yet to learn, so many things He will reveal to us only in heaven. In the meantime, we count on Him for every need of body and soul. At times, we struggle with how to express these needs to Him. We do not understand how He will work out all things for our good. We are learning to speak to Him whose ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:9). We speak to Him about spiritual and eternal things of infinite weight and glory. We try to speak His language, but we speak as children who do not always know what to say.
Yet He understands every word on our tongue, thought in our mind, and groan in our heart. This is because His Spirit, whom He put in our heart, “makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is.”
The Spirit helps us in prayer. He is like an interpreter. He takes all our childlike prayers, the sighs and cries of our hearts, and puts them into heavenly language! God understands what is in our heart better than we do! Even before we utter a word of prayer, He knows it (Psalm 139:4).
So our heavenly Father tenderly invites us to pray and lay all our needs before Him. His Word says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Why is God so willing to hear our prayers? Haven’t we often misused prayer? One reason we may not know how to pray at times is because we have let our sinful nature lead us away from prayer. Our sinful nature acts contrary to the Spirit, and it leads us to laziness in prayer. It leads us to put other focuses before God and His Word. We may pray for foolish things. We may pray selfishly. We may fail to give thanks in prayer. In many ways our faith wavers, our sinful nature gets the best of us, and our prayers fall far short of God’s language. Why should He listen to us?
Yet He does, because the Holy Spirit “makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” By His grace God is counting us “saints”; whom He made His holy children through faith in His Son. As we pray, we look to Jesus as the Savior who made up for all our failures. His prayer life was perfect. He prayed without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). He prayed and gave thanks to His Father for every need of body and life (Matthew 4:4; 14:19). He prayed for strength against temptation and evil (Matthew 26:39). He prayed in behalf of others’ needs, both friend and enemy (Luke 23:34). In prayer, He committed His life into His Father’s hands, even to His last breath (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ prayer-filled life was perfect to make up for our failures. And as He died on the cross praying for our forgiveness, God was pleased to forgive all our sin.
As it goes on to say in Romans 8:34: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” Even now, Jesus speaks to His Father in our defense. So even though we have often sinned and failed to pray, yet our entire life and all our prayers are presented before the throne of God in the name of Jesus. We pray to our Father in heaven, “Forgive us our trespasses”; and for Jesus’ sake He does.
As Jesus intercedes for us at His Father’s right hand, the Spirit intercedes for us in our heart. So though we pray in weakness, our prayers are always understood and answered the best way.
There are times when we may pray for something that would not be helpful, but hurtful; something that would hinder God’s purpose for us. Like children in their persistent requests, we may say and say and say what we think would be best. We may find ourselves like Paul, pleading three times to the Lord for that thorn in the flesh to be taken away; surely that would be for the best. But as we pray in our weakness, “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.” In His eternal wisdom and love, the Spirit interprets it. He says to God our Father, “This is what Your dear child really needs.” God knows the mind of His own Spirit, and for Jesus’ sake He answers for our good. Sometimes, His answer is the one He gave Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
How often we pray for things far beyond our understanding. We pray as Jesus taught in petitions like: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” We cannot imagine all the ways God is answering. We cannot see how great a spiritual battle rages all around, as Satan sets himself against God’s kingdom, trying to stop the Gospel’s advance in the world, trying to drag us into temptation and eternal ruin. But as we pray in our weakness, “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us.” He takes the groans coming from our hearts, burdened by the evils in this great tribulation, and He interprets them. The Spirit speaks from infinite wisdom and love and says to God our Father: “This is just what Your dear child needs right now.” God knows the mind of His own Spirit and answers for our good. He delivers us from temptation and evil. He sends His angels to protect us. He strengthen our faith by His Gospel in Word and Sacrament. He makes His Kingdom come and His will be done in our lives, all according to His eternal loving plan for us in Christ.
What a wonderful privilege prayer is, as God’s children and heirs of eternal glory in Christ. As we live in this fallen world with our weaknesses, it is comforting to know that our Father in heaven understands all our prayers, and for Jesus’ sake answers in the best way. It is comforting to know that God understands the hearts and prayers of our children even from infancy, before a word is on their tongue; for they have received His Holy Spirit in Baptism. It is comforting that God knows the hearts and prayers of His children even unto old age, even if they can no longer form prayer on their lips. It is comforting that even in our weakest hour, even to our last breath, our Father in heaven fully understands our deepest groans, and He answers for our good; for “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
And the Holy Spirit, who is put in us as a seal guaranteeing our heavenly inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14), will see us through to our eternal home. Then at last, our prayers uttered in weakness here will find their fulfillment in heavenly conversation there. Then we will speak face to face with our God and Savior in His glory, knowing Him fully even as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2).
Even now, we lift our prayer of praise to Him, saying: Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.