The Spirit’s Groaning

June 6, 2017

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 the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
-Romans 8:26-27

The eighth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the church at Rome begins with a wonderful statement: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The rest of the chapter contains many other verses that those of us who were raised in the church likely have memorized, including the two verses provided for us by today’s lectionary.

A couple of days ago, the church celebrated Pentecost. After Christ’s ascent into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit just as He had promised. And, in Romans 8, Paul lays out some of the benefits the Holy Spirit offers to those who are in Christ — to those people to whom the work of Christ has been applied. One of these benefits is the intercession of the Holy Spirit on our behalf.

That brings us to Romans 8:26-27. If we’re honest, there have been times in all our lives when prayer has been difficult; and likely there have been seasons when prayer has been almost impossible. Can you think of a time in your life as a follower of Jesus when prayer has felt futile, yet you kept trying to pray? Or maybe a time when you wanted to pray, but circumstances in your life left you wordless? I imagine there are some of you who, at times, simply gave up and stopped trying to pray (at least for a season). Regardless of which camp you have found (or now find) yourself in, the promise in these two verses should bring great comfort. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you at times like these.

But, Paul is saying much more than that. This is not simply a passage to turn to when we feel like our prayer life is not quite what we would like it to be. Instead, Paul is pointing to a universal condition among Christians: “we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” It’s not just that the Spirit intercedes for us when we are unsure how (or what) to pray. Even when we feel like our prayer life is going along pretty good, we still need the Spirit to intercede for us. But, this is not cause for despair.

So, what is Paul actually saying here? Is he saying that the Spirit prays some sort of inexpressible language to the Father that we, as mere humans, are not able to pray or understand? I would oppose such a reading, for that is not what I believe Paul is saying. Rather, the groans are simply “too deep for words.” This makes sense even apart from the context of prayer. Surely, there are times in your life when, even though there were words to express your emotions, those words were not sufficient, so you simply groaned rather than voice words that could not satisfy. Because even a groan has meaning. Even though the groans of the Spirit in prayer on our behalf are wordless, they are not meaningless1

There are other times in the Bible where groaning is mentioned. Throughout the Old Testament, God hears the groaning of his people Israel. The Psalmist groans and the LORD hears him and responds. In Romans 8:22, the whole of creation groans, and in the next verse (v. 23), we ourselves “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Stott draws a parallel between the groaning of creation, our groaning, and the groaning of the Spirit. “The Holy Spirit identifies with our groans, with the pain of the world and the church, and shares in the longing for the final freedom of both. We and he groan together.”2

What should bring us even more comfort is that, as the Spirit groans with us and for us, he groans in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:27 tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us in accordance with the will of God. We may not always pray in accordance with the will of God, but the Spirit does. And God answers.

About the Author
  • Robert Lancaster serves as the Electronic Resources & Reference Librarian at Dordt University. In addition to his library degree, he also has some degrees in theology.

  1. John Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 245.  

  2. Stott, 245.  

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  1. I have not been to church for at least ten years. I was turned off by phoniness. I started gambling and it turned into a problem, and I am in gamblers anonymous now. I feel I have found my higher power and it is nothing like Christianity. Some of the things I learned in church seem to condemn me, like Jesus is the only way. I’m tired, and I do believe he is redeemer but I do not want anything to do with made up religion. To my point if you are still with me, I am a bipolar person, and I discovered a higher power. I have been having deep groaning for this god. I think it is my higher power praying for me. What do you think?

    1. Jesus did not come to condemn you, he came that you may be justified. He paid the price for your sins already, and he remembers them no more. Step out in faith and rededicate yourself back to him and acknowledge him as your lord and savior. God will fill your heart with peace that passes all human understanding

    2. The groanings of the
      Holy Spirit in itself is testimony you are having his spirit rise up in you, but also in my opinion it means you are hurting the spirit of God deeply thus the groanings.
      Our Father will lead you. He is residing in you the evidence are the groanings. When he directs you, choose his path, his way.
      You will know. He will lead you. You have free will to choose something other than his direction.
      Choose God.

    3. I think many have a misconception about who they are in Christ. We all should grow tired of fake Christianity and religion, In others and ourselves however if Christ truly abides in us, we should be able to stay in church and hold those who are weak in their faith. We ought to pray for them with groaning meaning with our inner hearts for their growing up in faith and deeper love for the church meaning the body of Christ or brethren in Christ t be united in His Spirit as one with Him.

  2. Jesus is the only way,no one is perfect in or out of church,you guys should of been faithful and became leaders to teach the “fakes” how to serve god.The church is the body of christ theres no other way,Jesus loves you.

  3. Always remember Jesus came so that you can have a personal relationship with Him, The church is made up of a body of believers, who struggle with issues, you would never know. The church is the hospital were sick people go to receive medicine ( Gods word) in order to live in relationship with Christ. You don’t have to attend church to believe in Jesus but you do have to read His word to live the life that you were born to live……Read the bible and understand it for your self. This is not about anyone else , its about you so take your eyes off of other people and focus on you and the word of God. Amen

  4. @Jim VanDyke

    It’s been a few years since you posted so not sure if you will see this maybe you will.

    I understand your hurt and you being turned off to church by phonies and fakes. I myself have also been hurt by some in the church (but not all) been hurt by fake pastors ( but not all). Don’t put your faith in man but put your entire faith in God and Him alone and HE will guide you and HE will protect you and HE will give you strength. It’s not about the “church” (the building) nor the people. It’s about the relationship between you and God alone first and foremost. The church and the people do not save you only God, Jesus does. God alone saves. Now with that being said we do not forsake the assembly as mentioned in scripture for the church and the people all play a part to be used by God. Pray and open your heart completely to Him and we will direct you to a true loving and living for God church filled with people who are truly sold out and serving the Lord. Don’t give up on HIM so easily for He died for us and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins and He will return one day and sooner than we think. Perhaps some of your calling now is to expose some of these fake and phony churches who take advantage of people. God has had enough of this and according to scripture they will be judged first as “judgment begins in the house of the Lord “(1 Peter 4:17). Pray, earnestly seek Him and He will
    Show you. “Pray without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17). “ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if WE DO NOT GIVE UP (Galatians 6:9) I’m not sure what the “groanings” your are experiencing are. But be careful that if you are not seeking God, Jesus, that a door will open for the enemy….
    “Be sober, be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8). satan is the ultimate deceiver and without God on our side the enemy will deceive us and start making us follow things that are not of The Lord. Seek HIM and HE will give you “groanings” of the Holy Spirit and you will know it’s of the Lord and you will know what He is speaking. I encourage you brother if you Havnt already to reach out to
    Jesus in constant prayer. He loves you so much. He is there. Trust HIM.