We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26
Do you have someone in your life that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time with or someone you just hit it off with from the start – spouse, longtime friend, twin sister, disco dance partner? Someone with whom you’ve developed a kind of “secret language”? You know – you finish each other’s sentences, have inside jokes that no one else thinks are funny (and that can’t be explained to an outsider), or you dissolve into hysterical laughter every time you both see a corndog?
I imagine that most people who have been on band trips, or were in sororities, or spent life somewhere besides alone on an iceberg have developed some sort of exclusive communication with someone else.
For instance, my family has a legendary story from one of our vacation trips that, 40 years later, still gets rehashed at least once a year. All one of us has to do is mention “Kiwanis Club Ice Cream” and we’ll spend the next 10 minutes retelling it and having a little family bonding moment all over again. By now, we all know our parts and can shorthand it pretty well:
“Daddy asked you what kind of ice cream you wanted…”
“And I was watching the Kiwanis Club meeting going on next door to the ice cream parlor…”
“So when I got to the counter I said ‘We’ll have two chocolates and a…what was it? A Kiwanis Club?’”
“When we got outside, Dorothy and Orville were laughing so hard they were doubled over the hood of the car…”
You had to be there.
When my friend George was still living, all I had to do was start singing “Okinawa” to the tune of “Oklahoma” and we would be done for the evening. It only took me singing that one word for us to relive the entire experience that time in the car when we almost had to pull over. (Makes me giggle thinking about it.)
I’m sure you have those same sorts of shared memories with people who know you well. They draw you closer, make you feel a part of something bigger than yourself, and serve as reminders that you’re with someone who knows you so well that you don’t have to start from the beginning every time – you can jump right in the middle with a cryptic word or phrase or look and suddenly everybody’s on the same page.
As a Christian, I have that same sort of exclusive communication with God through the Holy Spirit. After all, every day I feel part of something way bigger than myself; plus, He knows me so well that, when I pray, I don’t have to start from the beginning every time. (Me: Do you remember yesterday when I asked you…? God: Are you kidding me?) While He and I may not always be on the same page in every aspect of my life – totally my fault, not His – we definitely are when it comes to His knowing my every need and the desires of my heart.
I’ve talked a lot about my Prayer Time (capital “P,” capital “T”) here on “clay” – when I pray, how I pray, how God speaks to me, that sort of thing. But lately, I feel as though my experience with Him through prayer has gone through a sort of metamorphosis, transforming into this really sweet and amazing two-way communication, complete with what Paul talks about in Romans 8:26 when he says:
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Lately when I pray, I’ve had the distinct impression that, at times, the Holy Spirit is saying, “I’ve got this;” that He’s interceding for me “with groans that words cannot express.”
Those times, for example, when I’m having trouble syncing the desires of my heart with God’s desires for me; when my desire to be obedient and honor Him at any cost keeps butting its head against my desire to do it my way or even to do nothing at all. I don’t know how to say in prayer what I know God wants to hear and truly mean it, because I can’t seem to overcome my pride manifesting itself as fear rather than faith or self-consciousness rather than Christ-consciousness.
Or those times when God floods every fiber of my being with the incomprehensible fullness of His love and grace and mercy; when my vocabulary is woefully inadequate to conjure up appropriate words of gratitude; times when “thank you” just isn’t good enough.
It’s at those times I feel the Holy Spirit stepping in to express my true, deep-down “desired desires” to my Heavenly Father in that secret language He has cultivated with me over the past three years; a language I can only speak through Him.
So it would seem the “groans that words cannot express” are my groans, my aching feelings of inadequacy, my impossible-to-put-into-words overflowing wellspring of… of…
Can I get a groan? (Where’s the Holy Spirit when you need Him?) It’s humbling and overwhelming and transcendent, all at the same time.
It’s important to note that this “to the next level” prayer experience isn’t some sort of skill I cultivated – this is totally the doing of the Holy Spirit. It does take a lot of faith and trust and a true desire to know God intimately, though. Psalm 145:18 says:
The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
- When I come before the presence of the Lord and open my heart to Him…
- When I “be still and know” that He is God…
- When I “call on Him in truth”…
…regardless of my need, I know the Holy Spirit will intercede for me and say to me, “I’ve got this…”
…and fill in the gaps “with groans that words cannot express.”
Most gracious Heavenly Father, thank you for your Holy Spirit: encouraging, comforting – yes, even convicting – and enabling my desires to match your desires…
…even when there’s nothing good in me.