In Romans, Paul readily admits that there are times in which the Christian does not know what to pray (Romans 8:26). He then encourages the reader by informing that help is readily available:
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 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. (Romans 8:26-27 NASB)Paul was so adept at prayer that his prayers led to an out of body experience (II Corinthians 12:1-4) yet even Paul confessed to not always knowing what to pray.
In these instances, the Holy Spirit intercedes on behalf of the intercessor (Romans 8:26-27). The word used for “intercede” in Romans 8:26, huperentugchano, is a compound word comprised of huper (“over” or “on behalf of”) and entugchano ( “to turn to” or “to appeal”). It is a legal term used to express what an attorney does when speaking on behalf of a client and carries with it a connotation of “to make petition” or “to plead on behalf of another”. As the word is only used in Romans 8:26, it is never used of humans but rather only of the Holy Spirit.
When have you wanted to pray but not known what to pray for? Why do we not know what to pray?
One of the keys to prayer is to align the intercessor’s desires with God’s. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prays “your [God’s] will be done” (Matthew 6:10 NASB). Praying God’s will is often easier said than said as sometimes we do not know what God’s will is. Commenting on Romans 8:26-27, Douglas J. Moo (b. 1950) reminds “our failure to know God’s will and consequent inability to petition God specifically and assuredly is met by God’s Spirit, who himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT), 526).”
Our uncertainty when praying does not mean we should not pray or even that our prayers will be ineffective. Stormie Omartian (b. 1943) simplifies, “The Holy Spirit guides our prayers so that they are aligned with the will of God, and that makes them far more powerful and effective (Omartian, The Power of a Praying Life).”
What situations have you been in where you honestly did not know God’s will? Did you sense the Spirit interceding on your behalf?
“We don’t have to know how to pray in order to pray; we just need to know whom we seek.” - Janet Holm McHenry (b. 1951), Daily PrayerWalk: Meditations for a Deeper Prayer Life), p. 120