I don’t know of any subject that has caused more perplexity for more Christians than the subject of prayer, unless perhaps it is the matter of knowing God’s will, and of course, the two are related. They are related in these verses we are studying as well as in other places. But we have help in this are area, the help of the Holy Spirit, which is great indeed. It is what Romans 8:26 and 27 are about.
These verses begin with the phrase “in the same way.” This is a connecting phrase which links the apostles teaching about prayer in verses 26-27 to his teaching about prayer in verses 15-17. The earlier passage taught that the Holy Spirit enables us to pray, assuring us that we truly are God’s children and encouraging us to cry out “Abba, Father.” That teaching was followed by an extensive digression dealing with the sufferings endured in this life before we come into God’s presence. But then, having dealt with sufferings, Paul returns once more to the Spirit’s work in enabling us to pray, adding that the Spirit also “helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). In other words, Paul returns to the subject of assurance, which is the chapter’s main theme. The point of these two verses is that the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer is another way we can know that we are God’s children and that nothing will ever separate us from His love.
Romans 8:26 and 27 imply or explicitly teach many lessons about prayer. They constitute something of a prayer primer for Christians. (1) We are supposed to pray. Regardless of the problems we may have with prayer – and we are reminded that the saints have all had problems with prayer at times – we are nevertheless supposed to pray. In fact the Word of God commands us to pray. We are told to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 4:17). Anything God tells us to do is for our good, and we are poorer if we fail to do it. (2) Do not expect prayer to be easy. Nothing with the Christian life is easy, and prayer is no exception. You don’t have to feel good about it, although you will in most cases. You don’t even have to see results. What’s important is that you keep on, keeping on. (3) Realize what you are doing when you pray. We are addressing ourselves to the great sovereign God of the universe and are presenting our adoration, confessions, thanksgivings and supplications to Him. He is hearing these prayers and responding to them consistently, perfectly, and wisely out of His own inexhaustible abundance. Does prayer get God to change His mind? No, it doesn’t. Does prayer change things? Yes, because God has ordained that it should be this way (see Matt. 7:7-8 and James 4:2). (4) Be encouraged by these verses. It’s true we don’t know what to pray for, but the Holy Spirit does, and the Holy Spirit has been given to us by God to assist precisely in this area, as well as in other ways. With this help we will make progress (something to always remember is; without Him we can’t, without us He won’t).
We now come to the second subject that causes Christians to become perplexed, and that is “in accordance to God’s will” (v. 27). The first and very obvious thing this verse does is to reinforce the idea of God’s sovereign or hidden will – hidden, that is, from us. The existence of this sovereign or hidden will is evident from verse 27 and its context in two ways. First, the verse is talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in praying with us in situations in which we don’t know what to pray for. It tells us that the Holy Spirit does know what to pray for and that the Spirit’s prayers, quite obviously and naturally, are according to God’s will. This teaches that there is a divine will and that it is hidden in these instances. The second way the existence of God’s sovereign or hidden will is evident is in the fact that the phrase we are studying has a parallel in verse 28. So what the Holy Spirit is praying for, among others, are “things” in which God is working for the good of those who love Him. These “things” are the events of life, which God controls for our good but which are unknown to us, at least until they happen.
We are free to make decisions with what light and wisdom we possess. Nevertheless, we can know that God does have a perfect will for us, that the Holy Spirit is praying for us in accordance with that will, and that this will of God for us will be done – because God has decreed it and because the Holy Spirit is praying for us in this area. This should be an encouragement to everyone.
Here are six points to remember regarding the subject of knowing God’s will. (1) There is a perfect will of God for all people and all events and therefore there is also a perfect will of God for each individual believer. This is of great importance for us to know that God has a plan for our lives and is directing us in it, particularly when we don’t know what it is. It means that we can trust Him and go forward confidently, even when we seem to be walking in the dark, as we often are. (2) The most important parts of the plan of God for our individual lives are revealed in general but morally comprehensive terms in the Bible. Romans 8 contains some expressions of this plan, namely that we might be delivered from God’s judgment upon us for our sin and from sin’s power and instead be made increasingly like Jesus Christ (vv. 29-30). (3) As concerns the parts of God’s will for our individual lives that are not revealed in the Bible, it is impossible for us to know them by any amount of merely human seeking. This does not mean that God cannot reveal these parts of His will to us or does not in some cases. But it does mean that the only way we can know these hidden parts of God’s will is if He reveals them to us and that, if they are not revealed to us in general moral categories in the Bible, their discovery is beyond our ability. We will not find the answer to our questions about the will of God in these areas by reading signs, following hunches, bargaining with God, or by any other similar folly.
(4) We need to realize that for the most part we do not need to know the will of God in hidden areas, because the Holy Spirit knows it and is praying for us in these areas in accordance with God’s will. This is what our text is chiefly saying, and it should be a great encouragement to us. (5) Since we do not generally know God’s will for our lives in areas not covered by the Bible’s moral directives (and do not need to know it), we must learn to make the widest decisions possible, knowing that God has given us freedom to do so. Planning is proper, though we must recognize that God can alter circumstances and thus force a re-direction of our plans. Whatever happens, we need to be submissive to the will of God in advance and as it unfolds before us. (6) In spite of these careful remarks regarding the believer’s normative guidance, God is not in a box, and as a result He can (and from time to time does) reveal His will to individuals in special ways. There are too many Christians who rightly attest to such leading to deny it. However, we cannot demand it. We also recognize that much of what passes for special guidance is self-deception and must therefore be on guard against it. But we should also recognize that it can occur and be careful not to question it too rigorously in others – and if God guides us in this way, we must be quick to respond.
Romans 8:26-27 Reflection Questions:
Verse 27 calls God a “Searcher of Hearts.” In the context of 8:26-30, what does this powerful but mysterious name imply?
What is He searching for?
In verses 18-27 we see that the world is in pain, groaning in the birth pangs of new creation. We see too that the church shares this pain, groaning in our longing for our own redeemed bodies, suffering in the tension between the “already” of possessing the first fruits of the Spirit and the “not yet” of our present moral existence. The church is not to be separated from the pain of the world; now we discover that God Himself does not stand apart from the pain both of the world and the church, but comes to dwell in the middle of it in the person and power of the Spirit. How does the knowledge that this kind of intercession is happening in us between God and the Spirit affect your perspective on life and the world?