Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs [and expressions] too deep for words. -Rom 8:26
I like this Scripture verse because it is so accurate about our prayer life. Take any night of the week. It’s late. You’re tired. Hours of busy-work still stand between you and bedtime. At this hour you hardly remember the New Year’s prayer routine you resolved to keep a few weeks ago. Because of fatigue, frustration, or boredom, there may be literally no words to express how you can or ought to pray right now.
Sometimes we don’t know how to pray as we ought. And other times we just don’t want to pray as we ought. Maybe we thought we’d pray a lot more and watch a lot less Netflix, and now we’re disappointed that we don’t see the changes that we want in our life.
And when prayer is difficult, it’s easy to think God is distant. If God is as close as he feels, then he can seem pretty distant when we are frustrated or tired. Plus, the fact that God both transcends all our knowledge of him and our ability to imagine him doesn’t make prayer seem any easier on our end.
But prayer is only this difficult if it’s a one-way street. Maybe we don’t know how to pray, or maybe we lack the perfect desire to pray. The good news is that this doesn’t mean we’re alone in our reaching out for God. Prior to any desire on our part to pray, God’s already given us an advocate. We have the one who searches everything. We have the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words—who searches even the depths of God (1 Cor 2:10).
The Spirit goes to the depths that we cannot get to on our own. He is the Divine Counselor that brings us to divine things. The Holy Spirit helps us recognize our place before God and moves us to ask for the divine help of grace. God’s gift of love goes deep, and the Spirit who is love itself reaches us in our depths. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication” (Ps 130:1-2). This is the prayer of one who recognizes his lowly place and his need for divine mercy.
Prayer in the Spirit opens us up to an awareness of God’s infinite grace. Jesus tells us “He who believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:39). Take him up on this offer and pray to receive the Holy Spirit who flows in and out of your heart in prayer.
When we pray in the Spirit we live what it means to be sons and daughters of God. Those led by the Spirit of God are called sons of God (Rom 8:14). Because we are sons and daughters and not servants we don’t need to be afraid. We can approach God in our fatigue, frustration, or boredom and speak honestly with him. That’s actually what God is hoping you’ll do. He wants to talk to you just as you are. This is why we rightly call God “Our Father” when we pray. So speak to God as the loving Father he is, who wants to bring you closer to him than you can ever realize.
In praying to Jesus our words don’t have to be perfect, nor are they really even necessary. In church or at home, in fatigue or boredom, in words or silence, pray to Jesus. Ask him for the Holy Spirit who speaks on your behalf for what you need, with sighs and expressions too deep for words.
Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Sunset at Sea