The Groaning Of The 
Why Does He Groan?

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 39b of 83

26Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

[In our previous article we saw that that the Holy Spirit groans by helping us in prayer when we know not how to pray. He does so by bringing to remembrance the Word of God and applying it to our soul. And He speaks for us when we find ourselves having no words to pray. In this second part of our study, we must consider why the Holy Spirit need to groan. –JJL]

2.  Why does the Comforter need to Groan?

26 …the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought

Why does the Comforter need to groan? A simple answer is: because of our infirmities! Because of our infirmities or weaknesses, we do not know how to pray, as we ought to.

Even Paul himself struggled in his prayer. This is why he says “our infirmities” and “we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Paul himself knew and experienced the same struggles, which we face in our prayers. He often did not know if the things he wished to pray for were in accordance to God’s will.

But how can this be? Paul was a man of great spiritual stature. He was an apostle who was greatly used by the LORD. He knew the Word of God intimately and He was on fire for God and for the lost because of the Word. How could it be that he did not know what to pray as he ought?

The answer must be that Paul, of course, knew what to pray for. He, no doubt, knew that we must pray that God will glorify Himself.

·  He knew that He must pray for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

·  He knew that he must pray for obedience amongst God’s people.

·  He knew that he must pray for a forgiving spirit.

·  He knew that he must pray for himself and the church that they will be kept from temptation.

·  Likewise he knew he must pray for peace in the church, and that the church will increase in the unity of faith and love, etc, etc.

However, it is quite a different thing when it comes to praying with regard to situation that providence leads him to. Paul like all of us struggled with many difficulties.

Notice how the word “infirmities” is in the plural. It is so in order to indicate how we struggle with many things. “For as” Calvin puts it, “experience shows, that except we are supported by God’s hands, we are soon overwhelmed by innumerable evils.”

Yes, the word of God teaches us what we should pray for. But how many of us are able to pray as we ought. Is it not true that our minds are often so disturbed and confused that we don’t know what to say when we approach God at the throne?

Are we not often at a wits end as to what is best for ourselves? Remember Paul’s experience: He had a thorn in the flesh. We do not know what it was, but he must have felt that it was hindering his service for the Lord. So he prayed that God would remove it.

Three times he prayed the same prayer. God did not answer his prayer, as he desired. In God’s mind, the removal of the thorn was not what was best for Him. The Holy Spirit finally brought him to see that. He said unto Him “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Only then did Paul ceased to pray that the thorn would be removed. Instead, he began rather to pray that the “the power of Christ [might] rest upon him.” He began to pray that God would glorify Himself through his weakness.

Have you not have the experience? You are troubled because of something that has happened, or you are troubled because of a certain sin in your life. You know you need to pray. You kneel down before the Lord to pray. But you don’t know what to say. You mind is crowded and dark, and everything seems to be entangled together so that you don’t know where to begin.

·  A beloved sister in Christ is very ill. She has stage four cancer. The doctor says she is beyond recovery. You are standing by her bedside. She is groaning in pain. How do you pray for her? Do you pray that she will get well soon? But providence seems to suggest that it is not His will to restore her. Do you pray that the Lord will end her suffering? But does that indicate a lack of faith?

·  A brother of yours is sitting for a professional exam. He asks you to pray with him that he will pass the exam. But you know that if he passes his exam, it will mean much greater responsibilities for him at work. You know that it will affect his family and church life. On the other hand, if he fails his exam, he might lose his job. How do you pray?

·  You had a misunderstanding with a good friend. You wish to seek reconciliation. You went to him and asked him if he has aught against you. But he says “no.” You feel that he is holding something against you because he has turned cold towards you. But you don’t know what it is. You can’t get someone to mediate because it may further complicate things. But if you leave the matter, you know that it will only get worst. How do you pray?

It is difficult to pray in such circumstances isn’t it? And these are just a few examples. You probably have many more examples. For so often we know not what to pray.

Some heathen philosophers, I understand, gave this as the very reason why we should not pray. If we do not know what is best, perhaps we should cease from praying.

And some theologians, such as Herman Hoeksema suggest that we should only pray general prayers. We should never pray specifically for anything.

Well, I am not sure. The Scripture contains prayers that are quite specific. Paul was very specific in praying for thorn in his flesh to be removed. Hannah was very specific in wanting a child.

But how we do pray when we do not know what is best for us? Shall we cease to pray? No, no.

Thank God we do not have to cease to pray. Thank God we do not have pray only in general terms for fear that God will not be pleased with our request. We have the Spirit indwelling us. And the Spirit helps our infirmities. He knows our pains. He knows our struggles. He is interceding for us. He will lead us to pray alright.

He groans to help our infirmities. The word rendered “helpeth” is a big word in the Greek. It literally means “to lay hold along with” or “to strive to obtain with others.” Put simply it means to share a burden.

Remember the occasion when Martha was busy preparing a meal for the Lord while Mary sat to listen to Him. Martha said: “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me” (Lk 10:40). The word “help” here is the same word as used in our text. Martha was urging the Lord to ask Mary to lend her a hand and to share her burden.

Likewise, the Holy Spirit helps our infirmity. That is to say, He is bearing a part of our burdens. He is, as it were, lifting up our hands as we pray.

Remember the incident recorded in Exodus 17 when the children of Israel were fighting against the Amalekites? Joshua led the army in the fight, but Moses went up to the top of a hill with the rod of God in his hand. And we are told: “When Moses held up his hand,… Israel prevailed: [but] when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed” (Ex 17:11).

But soon Moses’ hands became very heavy. You can imagine how he was struggling to hold up his hands, for once, he lowered them, the Amalekites appeared to be defeating the Israelites. What to do? Well, Aaron and Hur struck upon an idea. They put a rock under Moses so that he could sit down, then they stood one on each side of him and held his hands up until sunset. In this way the children of Israel prevailed against the Amalekites.

This picture is illustrative of what the Holy Spirit does for us. He helps us in our prayer.

·  When we are weary in prayer, then the Holy Spirit holds up our hands to share in our burden.

·  When we know not what to pray or how to pray, then the Holy Spirit upholds us and fills up what is lacking in our prayers.

·  When we pray in a way that is contrary to the mind of God, or to the secret will of God, then the Spirit intercede for us He prays for us, through us.

He intercedes for us in us as Christ our Lord intercede for us in heaven by the throne of God.

To borrow an illustration from William Hendriksen: Christ our Lord intercedes for us in the way that a loving father intercedes for his family as the head of household. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in a way that a mother will do as she kneels beside her sick child and prays for him and teaches him how to pray.

Paul has earlier spoken about how the Holy Spirit assures us of God’s fatherly love for us so that we can come unto God as a child unto his father. But now we are told that the Spirit does more than that, for He also teaches us how to pray and He prays for us. He who indwells us is making intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.


…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim