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 with groans that words cannot express.
Jesus seemed to love awkward conversations. In John’s gospel Nicodemus opens up his Jesus interview with a big compliment – still a popular tactic today. He starts with “We know You’re kind of a big deal,” right out of Carnegie’s playbook. But Jesus does not attempt to “win friends or influence people.” Instead He answers with “You can’t see God’s work unless you’re into His new obstetrics.” You can imagine Nicodemus practically pulling his hair out. It sounds like a response out of left field, like two different conversations are happening. Because of how awkward the convo is, some interpreters read the Nicodemus story and say it’s just a cut and paste job. They imagine some ancient editor had a bunch of conversational snippets he heard and then did a hack job editing them. They don’t think John is reporting to us a real conversation. They’re wrong. Such folks don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. They don’t get it.
When I read how the Holy Spirit groans, I feel I understand. The convo in prayer I’m having with God isn’t necessarily the same convo the Spirit’s having. For instance, we’re praying stuff like “I need a car, a new job, keep my parents happy, healing for my aunt’s cancer, sorry about spending the tithe, don’t let my kids get hurt, etc.” All the while the Spirit’s saying things like “May this child live in Me, help her look constantly at the Son, may he know what “it is finished” means when Jesus said it, may she run from lust like she’s running from gunfire, give him power to forgive those folks who blew off his party, fill her with love for the kids when they don’t call, may he never fall away, etc.” Paul is telling us those conversations never ever miss each other. My prayers may bump around and buzz like a fat summer fly in the living room, but God never fails to neatly and easily snatch them in love, like He’s the karate kid with eternal chopsticks. Just like that!
Jesus and the Holy Spirit simply cut to the quick. Right for the jugular. No funny business and no messing around. I don’t have to go to God and be clever, I don’t have to even be right, I just have to go. When I run out of words – when my uncontrolled emotions, wandering thoughts, and outright panic get to the end of language, that’s when He’s just starting. And neither my ignorance nor my stupidity, however great they are, have ever confused my Father. Not once. He is that good of a listener. Pray to Him now, and do not fear what bewilders you about your future, your heart, our times, or San Francisco. He is not bewildered. He is not unsure about your desires. That’s as bad as flat earth nonsense – irrational and foolish. Ask! Plead! Show up at His throne awkwardly stumbling and mumbling, and let the Holy Spirit groan on. As one great preacher said, “God can pick sense out of confused prayer.” I can give the sure testimony, He has done that for me all my life – you didn’t think all those many answers I’ve gotten were because I’m clever and know just what to say, do you? That’s not why at all. Praise Him! Amen!