I don’t think I have ever met a Christian who has not at some point in their life struggled to pray.
There can be all sorts of reasons for this. Sometimes it is because of physical or emotional tiredness. Sometimes it is the pressure of a busy life. Sometimes we go through a season of what is vaguely described as a season of spiritual dryness. Difficulty in praying is often the result when we experience any of the preceding.
What can intensify the inner struggle that we experience, and even the sense of failure, is the recognition that we have all been given so much in Christ. We have the Holy Spirit living in us. We are adopted children of God. What’s the problem? Why should there be any problem whatsoever with prayer?
Thankfully, the Bible does take into account our humanity and the way that impacts on our prayer life. And God has given us His Spirit to help us precisely because we still live in mortal bodies in a fallen world.
In Romans 8.26, Paul says that the Spirit helps us, not in spite of our weakness, but because of our weakness. Our weakness is a combination of living in human bodies in a fallen world and not knowing what to pray for. That’s why we need the Spirit’s help.
The word helps is the same word as is used in Luke 10.40 when Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. She was seeking her sister’s assistance. The Spirit assists us.
The Spirit helps us by giving us a language of prayer. The words wordless groans have been interpreted in various ways. Some maintain that it is the Spirit who does the groaning. Some say it is a reference to speaking in tongues. Some say that the Spirit transforms our groans into the language of prayer.
I don’t think we can say that the Spirit does the praying for us, so that we don’t have to pray. It’s more a case that He helps us in prayer by praying through us. He prays through us in wordless groans. (This could I believe refer to speaking in tongues as an aspect of this kind of praying. I don’t have space to set out the reasons here. Leave a message if you want to know my thoughts on this!)
Groaning is not an unknown form of prayer. When Jesus healed the deaf and dumb man, as recorded in Mark 7, verse 34 says that He sighed. The word translated sighed is the same as the word translated groans in Romans 8.26.
Interestingly in Acts 7.34 we are told that God heard the groaning of the Israelites when they were in slavery in Egypt. And we know what happened there!
The Spirit takes what most would consider the language of pain and transforms it into the language of prayer.
It might seem at first glance that this kind of praying is praying in its weakest form. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. It is through this kind of praying that we are able to pray for the church in accordance with God’s will. This kind of Holy Spirit empowered praying enables us to pray effectively because it enables us to pray in God’s will.
How do we pray like this? We simply open our hearts to God and let the Spirit take what is within us and turn it into effective prayer. Perhaps our weakness isn’t such a big deal after all.