In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Luke 22:42. In this verse, Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he is arrested. He prays, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” I love this verse because not only does it show Jesus’ humanity; he knows the suffering that lies before him, and displays a fear that is very real. At the same time, though, this verse is a model for prayer, because Jesus prays, “not my will but yours be done.” This is a very useful guide for us all, because whilst we can get so wrapped up in our own needs, ultimately we need to pray for God’s will to be done, both in our lives and in the world.
How do we know, though, what is God’s will? How can we pray if we don’t know what to pray for? Well, we can do what Jesus does in this verse from Luke; we can bring our requests to God, but affirm that ultimately we want what is in God’s will. Alternatively, we can use today’s verse from Romans as a guide. The Holy Spirit, which lives in us if we rare Christians, and comforts, counsels and guides as as we live out our present lives, will intercede on our behalf. We might not know what to pray for, but it is still important to spend time in prayer, to focus our thoughts quietly on God, and to allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and minds and to bring our innermost thoughts to God the Father.
For me, this is hugely comforting. Like man Christians, I find prayer difficult. I struggle to make time for prayer, and when I do I often can’t think what I should pray for. I think about all thing things that I ought to pray for – world peace, food for the hungry and so on – but so often get wrapped up in my own selfish thoughts. It’s reassuring, though, that I don’t need to use words to pray, because the Holy Spirit can pray for me, if I just stop and spend some time in quiet prayer.
If like me you struggle with prayer why not make a renewed effort to build a prayer time into your day? And if you can’t think of what to pray for just be still, quieten your mind, and let the Holy Spirit intercede on your behalf?