The Holy Spirit as Intercessor
January 24, 2021
The Holy Spirit as Intercessor, 1.24.21
A warm welcome to all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you have a Bible, please go ahead and turn to Rom 8:26–27. That will be our passage this morning.
Thank you, all, for your help this morning. As you probably noticed from Pastor Jesse’s prayer for us this morning, a burden of the elders during this sermon series on prayer that we are in and in light of our current political context is that we would life up our political leaders in prayer. That we would pray for them—for their salvation, for their wellbeing, for their leadership, for their wisdom to know how to lead our beloved country. This instruction does not mean that we must support them politically. It doesn’t. It does mean, however, that we must pray for them. The Bible is very clear on this. 1 Timothy 2:1–2 speaks of this. To refuse to pray for our leaders is to sin. As Christians, we are commanded by God to pray for our leaders. This we must do as individuals and as a church. I plan on spending one Sunday morning expositing this passage sometime during our series on prayer. That will not be this morning,
That will not be the topic that we discuss this morning. Our topic this morning will the Holy Spirit as Intercessor. What we have been exploring since we started our series on prayer at the beginning of the year is the theological foundations of our prayer life as individuals and as a church. In the three sermons we’ve gone through thus far, the Trinity has loomed large. As Christians, we believe that God is three in one and one in three. This belief regarding the Trinity is an essential component of our Christian faith. You cannot be a Christian and deny the God is three in one and one in three. The Trinity is who God is.
Who God is as triune ought to impact our understanding and practice of prayer. In the first week, I explained how our prayers should be generally directed to God the Father, through the blood of Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Two weeks ago and last week, we explored how Jesus intercedes for us. We explored this theme in both the Old and New Testaments. This week we continue our exploration of the Trinitarian foundation of prayer by answering the question, “What role does the Holy Spirit have in prayer?”
What we are going to see is that God is always there to help us through life’s difficulties. We all struggle in this life. We all do. Struggle, sin, discouragement, and ignorance is what is common to us all. These struggles weigh us down. They, at times, can be unbearable. What we will see this morning is that God provides help to us in our weaknesses in that he provides the Holy Spirit who prays for us as we struggle through life. That’s the large idea, the main idea that arises from our text this morning.
Let’s go ahead and read the passage together. Thus saith the Lord,
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is ethe mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
I will have three points for you this morning based upon this passage. The first is this. Write, “Our weakness.” With this first point, what I want you to see is that the Spirit’s ministry to us through his prayers for us comes to us in light of our desperate need for help. Looking again at the passage, specifically, v. 26.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
The burden of this point is to expound and explain what Paul means when he says, “our weakness.” Based upon this passage, what exactly is it that Paul specifies we lack? How are we weak? What is it that we need from the Holy Spirit?
I think the best way to answer these questions is by looking at the context for one form of weakness that we have and then looing at the passage specifically to see another form of weakness we have.
The first form of weakness that we have is the general difficulty of life. When you become a Christian, the Lord doesn’t immediately take you to heaven. Rather, he keeps you here. And as you remain here on this earth, you struggle. The life is a battle, dear friends. It is a pilgrimage that at times is very hard and difficult. This is an experience that is common to all Christians. It’s this general experience of pain that I take Paul to be referring to as our “weakness.”
Now I want to show you where in the text I am getting this. Look at the very first word in v. 26. The ESV uses the word “likewise.” If you don’t have an ESV, your translation might say “likewise” or “in the same way.” What this word indicates is that there is a logical connection between what Paul says regarding the Spirit’s prayers for us in v. 26 and 27, with what Paul says in the previous section, with what Paul says before v. 26. What does Paul say in the previous section?
Look at v. 25. Paul here talks about hope. Verse 25 reads,
But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
When we take the “likewise” in v. 26 in light of what he says in v. 25, we can say that the “likewise” makes the connection that the Spirit helps us by sustaining our hope. In other words, we experience hopelessness as Christians. There are times in life when we are beaten down, discouraged, down in the dumps. We don’t want to get out of bed. We don’t want to keep serving. We become discouraged and depressed. That’s real. Some Christians might experience hopelessness more so than others, but we all experience it.
This hopelessness is related the setbacks, suffering, and difficulties we experience as we wait for Jesus to return. Look at Rom 8:18. Paul writes,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Paul acknowledges here that there is a coming glory for the Christian, but in the meantime we experience suffering. We experience suffering in the present time. The glory that awaits us will climax this suffering, but in the present time we struggle. We fail. We fall.
Now that is not the only form of weakness that the Spirit helps us with. That was a general form of weakness. Verse 26–27 present us with a specific form of weakness that we struggle with. The specific form of weakness is our ignorance regarding what we should pray about. Looking at the passage with me. Look at the second sentence that Paul writes in v. 26,
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought
The idea that Paul explains here doesn’t need a tremendous amount of explanation. It means what it says. Paul acknowledges that there are times in the life of a Christian where they do not know what to pray for.
I do not think that Paul’s statement regarding our ignorance is an absolute statement. That is, I don’t take Paul’s statement to mean that we never know what to pray for. This ignorance that we experience in prayer is not absolute. It’s partial. It characterizes our prayer lives some of the time, not all the time. There are many things that we know we should pray. So, for example, 1 Thess 4:3 says this,
This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality
We know from this verse that we should always pray for our sanctification and for our sexual purity. This is always the case. We should always pray this. God has revealed to us that sexual purity is his will for us. So we should always pray that for ourselves and for others. We are not left in the dark about that. We know that. We can and should have confidence to pray that prayer over and over again. So we are not completely ignorant of what to pray for.
Sometimes we are, though. I regularly feel this ignorance of what to pray for. I know that I should pray but I don’t know exactly what to pray for. There’s a mismatch between my understanding that I need to pray and my understand of what to pray. We are times placed in situations where we just don’t know what to do. Every option that is before seems to be a bad option. There’s a fork in the road and each path provides a less-than-desirable outcome. This happens to me a lot.
Take for example end of life issues. This is a dilemma that I am often times left not knowing what to pray. So you have an elderly saint who’s health is deteriorating. You don’t want them to die. Death is our enemy. So we naturally pray for physical healing. And yet we know that there is an inevitability to death in this life. If Jesus choses to tarry, saints will continue to die. We all will die one day if Jesus does not return. So in situations where you have an aging saint who is deteriorating, do you pray for their health to recover—only to have to delay the experience of death for another day—or do you pray for the Lord to take them—only for them to have to experience the pain of death? In situations like these, dear friend, we are confronted with ignorance. These types of situations confront us all the time in the Christian life.
So our ignorance leaves us not know what to pray. Further, our ignorance also leaves us praying for what we ought not to pray for. Another example is helpful here. Imagine the situation in which you pray fervently to get a specific job. You apply, get really far in the interview process, but in the end the choose to go with another applicant. You’re crushed. You asked God over and over again for the job, but he said no. Two or so months later, a better job opportunity arises. You apply, are interviewed, and get the job. You getting that first job was not God’s will for you. He had something better for you. You didn’t know that, though. You thought you knew what was best for you, but you were ignorant. You had no idea what was on the horizon. You prayed for a situation fervently that was not God’s will for your life. We do this a lot. We are ignorant what to pray for and we regularly pray for what we shouldn’t pray for.
Difficulty, weakness, and ignorance characterize our lives. We’re not completely in the dark for we have the Word of God to guide us, but we walk in the darkness and stumble upon the way often. This life is a period of testing and trial. We need tremendous help in this life. We are not able to make it our own. We need a companion who can help us. We need a helper who can pray for us when we are hopeless and who can ask God on our behalf what we truly need. We need someone to help us with our handicaps in our prayer life.
Dear friends, the beauty of Christianity is this: what you need most is what God supplies abundantly. God supplies what you need. Y’all (that’s a Southern word) God is generous. Really generous. To use a Midwestern term. Is God richly generous to us? You betcha. Listen to this verse from Philippians. Y’all remember that book? We spent a good amount of time in it. Phil 4:18 says this,
My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
That’s true generally, and that’s true specifically with our prayer lives. When we struggle to pray, when we battle hopelessness, when we don’t know what to pray for and pray for what we ought not pray for, we have a helper. That helper is the Holy Spirit.
Look at v. 26. Paul says,
The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
So I looked this word “help” up and I was stunned to find out that it means “help.” The Spirit is there, dear Christian, to be of help to you. To pick you up when you’re down. To encourage you when you feel down in the dumps. To give you hope and peace. That’s generally the case. And in your prayer life to pray for you what you don’t know what to pray for yourself.
Looking at the second part of v. 26.
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought [we covered that in our first point], but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.
What I want us to see first is the “but.” Y’all, that is a life-giving word right there. That’s a tremendous “but.” “Buts” function to indicate contrasts. Paul’s making a contrast here. What’s the contrast? The contrast is this. You have tremendous insufficiencies in your prayer life but God has provided the Spirit to cover over your praying handicaps. Praise God, dear friends. God supplies what we lack. That’s who God is.
The way the Spirit addresses our prayer deficiencies is that he “intercedes” for us. Paul communicates this idea of intercession with two reference to it. Verse 26 contains a reference to it. The Spirit “intercedes” for us. And then look at v. 27. The Spirit “intercedes for the saints.” To references to the Spirit’s intercession in these two verses.
What we see here is that the Spirit performs a similar task for us that Jesus himself does. Jump to Rom 8:34, just a couple of verses later. Notice what Paul mentions Jesus does for us here.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
We have two intercessors, dear friends. Jesus intercedes for us. The Spirit intercedes for us.
(Just as a paranthesis here. Notice that from both of these passages Jesus and the Spirit are praying to God the Father. God the Father does not intercede for us. Jesus and the Spirit do. Jesus and the Spirit intercede for us by speaking to the Father—not to each other—on our behalf. This, I take, to be further evidence of what I covered three weeks ago that our prayers should be as a general rule directed to the Father. For this is how the Son and the Spirit pray.)
Jesus intercedes for us in heaven. The Spirit intercedes for us in our hearts. Both the Son and the Spirit intercede for us, but they do so from different positions. Rom 8:34 specifies that the Son is in heaven, “at the right hand of God.” Rom 8:27 specifies that the Spirit is in our hearts when the passage says, “he who searches hearts.” The Son intercedes for us in heaven; the Spirit intercedes for us in our hearts.
This is how one theologian put it. This is so rich.
There is one in heaven, the Son of God, who “intercedes on our behalf,” defending us from all charges that might be brought against us, guaranteeing salvation in the day of judgment. But there is also an intercessor “in the heart,” the Spirit of God, who effectively prays to the Father on our behalf throughout the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives here one earth.
Wow. Our bases are covered, dear friend. We have a helper here on earth in the Spirit and in heaven in the Son. God loves us, y’all. He cares for us. He’s got it covered.
According to the Will of God
The efficacy of the Spirit intercession for us relates to the last prepositional phrase in v. 27. It says,
According to the will of God
The Spirit intercedes for us “according to the will of God.” God’s will is what we ultimately need. We, though, don’t know the will of God perfectly. We know it partially. The Spirit has full access to the will of God. He knows it fully well. The Spirit has perfect access to it. The beginning of v. 27 specifies why the Spirit has perfect access to the will of God.
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit
What’s this mean? It means that the Father and the Spirit know each other. The “Father” is the one who searches hearts.” The Father knows the Spirit’s intentions; and the Spirit knows the Father’s will. Together in this passage there is perfect symmetry between Father and Spirit. They are different and yet unified in their knowledge of each other and their desire to help the Christian.
Groanings Too Deep for Words
Some dense stuff. There’s one more phrase that we need to investigate to understand the Spirit’s intercession for us. He helps us in our prayer lives by praying for us according to the will of God. He is what we need. God supplies what we lack in our prayer lives by giving us the Holy Spirit. Probably the most difficult idea to understand in this passage regarding the Spirit’s intercession for us occurs at the end of v. 27. Paul writes that the Spirit intercedes for us, looking at the passage,
With groanings too deep for words.
Different translations render this phrase differently. The NIV reads, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The KJV reads, “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The NLT reads, “Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Quite a diversity of translations. What does this mean?
To explain what Paul is saying here, I will say what I don’t think Paul means here. I do not believe that Paul is talking about the believer speaking in tongues. I do not believe that Paul is saying that when the believer doesn’t know what to pray for that the Spirit produces in the believer’s prayer life the prayer language of tongues, a language that is “too deep for words.” I don’t think that’s what Paul means here.
Another way to understand this passage is to understand the Spirit’s groanings to be attached to our own groanings. That the Spirit prays to the Father through our own groanings in this life. There are times in life where are prayer life is all of groanings. We are down and out. We offer prayers to God by just saying, “Help us, God.” According to this interpretation, the Spirit would take those groanings and join in them as a prayer to God. I don’t think that that is the right interpretation.
I take what Paul to be saying is this. In our weakness and ignorance, we don’t know how to pray. We are left immobilized sometimes in our prayers lives. We are captured and arrested by our ignorance. Even though this is true, our ignorance does not prevent God’s work in our lives. God is still working and moving in our lives. How does he do this? He does this by the Spirit’s intercession for us. The Spirit intercedes for us independent of our own prayer lives. The Spirit has a ministry of intercession for us to God the Father that we are completely oblivious to. The Spirit constantly intercedes for us, and we are not conscious of this ministry he has for us. He’s praying for you right now. And other than this text telling you that this is the case, we are completely unaware of this.
What a tremendous helper we have in the Holy Spirit. Yes, we ignorant. Yes, we struggle. Yes, we sin. All of that is true. But also yes to God’s work of redemption in our lives, even in our struggle, ignorance, and sin. The Holy Spirit helps us in prayer. And that help is independent of our own actions or acknowledgement. There is more mercy, grace, and help in the Holy Spirit than there is sin, discouragement, and ignorance in us. Praise the Lord.
Now for some specific points of application. I have four points. The first point is for non-Christians. The last three are for Christians.
Reflect on What You Don’t Have
If you are not a Christian, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not have the hope of intercession, you need to reflect on what you’re missing out on. The difficulties of this life can be unrelenting. Too difficult to carry on your own. Your sins and discouragements and struggles weigh you down. There is hope for you this morning. The hope is found in the ministry of the Holy Spirit for you. God offers you His Spirit. God supplies what you lack. To receive the Holy Spirit, you must go to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. You must say yes to him and no to your sin. Please do that. Right now. Don’t wait. This gift of the Holy Spirit is too wonderful to reject any longer.
For the Christian, three points of application. Remember that God is at work in you even if your can’t feel it or perceive it. We all from time to time feel dry in our walks with Christ, don’t we? God seems distant. We get caught up in habits and patterns of sins. We grow cold. Feel numb at times to the Lord’s grace. We feel like our prayers hit the ceiling and don’t make it to God. During these times of difficulty, we must remember that God’s work in us is independent of us. If you are a Christian, God is at work in you, even if you don’t perceive that work. God is at work in you, even if you can’t see it or feel it. Your salvation is not based upon you. The Holy Spirit is praying for you, even when you’re not praying. Even when you’re sinning. The Holy Spirit is praying for you.
This theological truth is captured well in Michael W. Smith’s song, “Waymaker.” This song does a tremendous job of brining out the spiritual truth that God is always working in the world and in the life of a Christian. God is always at work. God is also moving his church on the path of redemption. Always. This is what the song says,
Even when I don't see it, come on, even when Even when I don't see it, You're working Even when I don't feel it, You're working You never stop, You never stop working You never stop, You never stop working.
That’s true. That’s what Paul is teaching here. Specifically, the Spirit is working in your life. Never doubt it, dear Christian. Regardless of where you are at in life, dear Christian, God the Holy Spirit is praying for you. You don’t do anything to deserve this; and you do nothing to make the Spirit work in you. God is always working in our lives, church. Even if we can’t see or feel it.
Third point of application. When you are in those periods in life where you don’t know what to pray, when you are pushed into a corner and you have nowhere you go and you have no idea what to ask for, confess your inability and ignorance to God. Take this passage, specifically Rom 8:26, and tell this to God.
God, I’m really struggling right now. I don’t know what I need in this moment. I don’t know how I should pray. You say in your Word that, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought.” The Bible says I am weak. But God you offer me help. You offer me help by the Holy Spirit. I entrust myself to you in light of this passage. I know that you are at work. I ask for your help and grace.
Now what you say doesn’t have to be exactly like that. That was just an example. But do something like that. Confess your weakness and ignorance to God. Tell God that what Rom 8:26–27 is true, and that you desperately need him. God delights when we acknowledge his word.
Last point of application. Give God thanks. Give God thanks. We serve a tremendous God, dear friends. We are saved by grace alone. God is at work in us all the time. He never stop, he never stops working. He’s always at work. Thank God for this. Thank God in your prayer lives that he doesn’t need you to work in you. God doesn’t need us. He’s working in us independent of us. Praise God for that. Thank God for that.