Psalm 88:2, Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry!
Sometimes we know exactly what to say when we pray. We’ll ask God to protect someone we love, heal their illness, protection for ourselves, to look over our financial situation, whatever it may be. Other times, we may be at a loss for words. When this happens, fear not, for the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t have the words. “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” (Romans 8:26).
Charismatic Christians think Paul is talking about speaking in tongues/languages here, but if he were he would’ve used the word γλῶσσα (glōssa) like all the other times he’s specifically talking about them instead of στεναγμός (stenagmós), which means “groaning”—an “expression of a feeling of oppression” (Danker, 327). “Too deep for words” comes from the Greek word ἀλάλητος (aláletos), which means “inexpressible,” or “beyond words” (Danker, 15). So, Paul is talking of when we are so stressed or oppressed that there are no words to express ourselves to God. If we have no words to express ourselves before God, it certainly does not make sense that we would suddenly speak in tongues. When we feel so oppressed by stress, worry, or even evil spirits that we cannot even begin with words to express ourselves to God, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf and prays for us. This means that Christ Himself prays on our behalf. “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). (See also 1 John 2:1).
So never fret; God hears you. God always hears you because Christ is our Mediator in Heaven. In spite of the lack of Scriptural evidence, Catholics pray to saints as if they have the power to do anything. Not only is this unscriptural, but it’s also as if Jesus isn’t enough—as if His omnipresence and omniscience are not enough for Him to be our intercessor before God. Jesus is enough. The Scriptures speak of Him as our only mediator. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Since Christ is our only mediator before God, what good can dead saints do for us? Nothing whatsoever.
Christ intercedes for all of us, and when we lack the words to pray we can trust that the Holy Spirit uses the words we do not have. Christ knows what we need; our needs are not a mystery to Him (see Luke 12:22-31). He doesn’t need any help from the saints; He created the world, so He can certainly take care of our daily needs.
When you’re not sure how to pray, try using this simple acronym:
Begin with praising God with thanksgiving—thanking Him for whatever He’s given you or done for you, whatever you can think of. Then repent of any sins that may be on your mind. If you can’t remember any, ask that He forgive the sins you fail to call to mind or fail to recognise, for as a miserable sinner you fail to recall all your transgressions against Him. Then ask whatever Your needs are; He hears you. And yield to His will. Ask that His will be done rather than yours. If this acronym doesn’t work, then trust that the Holy Spirit knows what your groaning is that are too deep for words, for we are more important than the sparrows (Luke 12:7) and He knows the things we need.
Danker, Frederick William. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.