I have always known that prayer is powerful— as believers in Christ, it is a calling. It is a privilege! We have the ability, through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, to boldly approach the throne of God and commune with him!
Scriptures are filled with examples of saints faithful in prayer. Jesus models how to pray. We are not only instructed to pray, but encouraged to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Our Source of Confidence
If I am completely honest, prayer is something that has felt daunting to me. I have often become discouraged because my prayer life is not what I want it to be. I get distracted. I don’t always know what to pray for. Sometimes it feels like a chore. Often I feel guilty because I know prayer is a beautiful gift we have, and it is a calling. I want to have intimacy with my God, but my own imperfection discourages me. I often let my discouragement paralyze me, which inhibits me from growing in prayer.
1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”.
We are told that we can have confidence in approaching God. But then we read that if we ask anything according to God’s will he will hear us. How are we able to have this confidence? We don’t have the ability to know the mind of God and to determine what he has in store for us. This concept has held me back from praying boldly. I have wondered if what I am praying for is truly from God. If it’s not, then how can I have confidence before His throne?
Romans 8:26-27 speaks to these questions:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The idea in this verse is that the Spirit takes part in our responsibility. It is as though he bears the burden alongside us. It does not say that he takes our responsibility upon himself, but rather works with us, helping us in our weakness. This idea of weakness is not just that we don’t know what to pray, or that we have an inability to know the will of God. Rather, weakness is referring to the complete corruption which the believer is yet subject to, thus affecting our ability to pray effectively. In our flesh, even under the blood of Jesus, our weakness prevents us from being able to communicate perfectly. But the Spirit partners with us, so that we are not left alone in our flesh.
Our Faithful Confidant
We don’t always know our needs, but the Spirit does. We don’t know the depths of our souls the way God does. We don’t always know the needs of others. We certainly don’t know God’s will surrounding these things. However, this verse tells us that the Spirit intercedes on our behalf. The Spirit searches our hearts, and He knows us intimately. His groanings are perfectly in line with the will of God the Father.
God absolutely could transform us so that we are able to pray as we ought to. Commentator James Dunn says, “This is precisely the wonder and poignancy of the eschatological tension: the Spirit does not eliminate or transform believers’ total inability to maintain proper dialogue between God and man; rather the Spirit works in and through that inability”. Through our inability, we become co-participators in the work of the Spirit to go before the throne in prayer. Scripture does not tell us that through Jesus’ blood, we now have the ability to have a perfect prayer life. Instead, through Jesus we can boldly approach the throne, and we are invited into participating with the Spirit.
We may stumble and fumble in our prayers. But praise be to God that we have the gift of the Spirit whom we are able to depend on! We are able to be participants with him in praying to our Father.
When we have confidence in what the Spirit is doing, we can have freedom in prayer. In fact, we should take steps to be faithful in prayer, presenting our requests before our Lord who hears (Philippians 4:6). However, we should not use our confidence in the Spirit’s work to allow us to become lazy. Instead, we should ask the Lord to realign our hearts toward what He desires. And we can trust that the Spirit is working on our behalf.
It is my prayer that you and I will find freedom in knowing that our prayer lives don’t have to be perfect, but that we will be faithful in pursuing growth in it. In the end, the more time we spend with our Father, the more our hearts and minds will be reoriented towards him. And may that be the desires of our hearts.
Expositor’s Bible Commentary
Word Biblical Commentary