The Praying and Crying Spirit
The Holy Spirit also prays. In this article we read three texts about the praying and calling Spirit. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:6: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” And the Spirit cries: Abba! Father! That is what the Spirit cries out in the hearts of the believers. Next to this, consider Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
The Spirit cries this in our hearts and we cry it through the Spirit. Thus, the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. The Spirit himself is God’s seal on the adoption of children, and the adoption has as foundation the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross at Golgotha. God has sent his Son to free us from the regime of law and of sin, that we might obtain the right of sons (and daughters) (Gal. 4:5). God sent his Son and when the Son had accomplished his work, God poured out the Spirit of his Son! God is the outpouring God! And the Spirit is sent directly into our hearts. That is the experience and celebration of Pentecost. The Spirit calls and then prompts us to call. “Abba, Father.” The word “call/cry” as the form of praying presupposes a situation of distress. Our body has not yet been redeemed.
There are lots of hassles and tears. Doubts. Attacks. As well, often a backsliding and tendency to sin in our heart. Who dares to believe that he and she are a child of God? Child of God on worthy grounds? But the Spirit overcomes the barriers and objections. The Spirit persists and carries on. He cries it out in me, “Abba, Father!” He causes us to adopt what Christ has taught us: “Our Father in heaven.” This cry of the Spirit is there amid all our distress. In all our weakness. We take on this cry with all our heart, and they are rich moments of prayer. Nothing but worship. Astonishment. “O Father, how holy, wonderful, and great is your love. Have mercy on me, O God and Father. Pour out your love into our hearts.”
The calling Spirit directs us to the salvation from God in Jesus Christ. He directs us to God, who will deliver. He directs us to the great future. When the Spirit cries and when we cry with the Spirit, there is always an orientation to the future. That's what you read in Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” That is the bride’s call to the bridegroom. “Come.” The bride, that is the church, calls for the fullness of love. She wants to be united with her beloved. It is the Spirit who calls before us and prompts the bride’s call and keeps it firm.
In this the Holy Spirit has a lot of work. For the bride wanes in her love. The world is often so beautiful. Many times the bride is quite well off in this world. And she forgets the ardent love of her coming groom. Terrible. But then there is the Spirit. He defines the bride, by means of the bridegroom’s Word, at the coming of Christ. And then the church is ashamed that she did not expect her Lord and Savior more ardently. That she did not strive more earnestly to live a sanctified life in love, awaiting her bridegroom. Thank the Holy Ghost, with a shameful heart because of our weak expectation, that he will keep the great end-goal in sight and keep it awake in the hearts. Also in this text there is the combined crying by the Spirit and the church. Whatever the Spirit cries, the believer takes over. There is no other way.
And when the believer calls, because the Spirit teaches and prompts him, the Spirit gives his divine approval. He testifies with our spirit and confirms what we cry. The Spirit works the calling of the believer, keeps it going, and confirms it.
Oh, the weakness! Our praying and crying is always a prayer and cry in our weakness. This is stated in a third text, Romans 8:26. In this text, we read about the sighing Spirit, the pleading Spirit, the Spirit who intercedes for us. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” “Likewise.” In the preceding verses it deals with the sighing of creation (verses 19-22), and about the sighing of the believers (verses 23-25). Precisely because the believers have received the Holy Spirit as the first gift of eternal salvation, they sigh by themselves. They do not yet share in the full salvation. Sighing is wishing for, strongly desiring, a crying for. The sighing of the believers is expressed in their prayers.
The Spirit feeds and strengthens hope. God's children in this life are blessed in hope. They do not rise above this hope. They would like more, but that is not possible. We hope but we sigh at the same time. We stumble in our weakness. We do not know what to pray appropriately. We really do not know. Paul does not say that only sometimes we do not know how to pray. That is also true, but then we are talking about something other than what Paul writes in Romans 8:26. If only we could pray as is proper. There is a strong desire to pray that way, at least at the “best prayer times.” But our weakness is always present. Proper prayer is in line with the plea for God's will (verse 27). The Spirit knows to plead for God’s will for the saints. God wants his saints to receive eternal life in His glory. But what we experience can be very different. What we experience can seem in direct contradiction to ultimately sharing in the eternal joy in fellowship with God. Things seem to work in opposition rather than in cooperation.
There may be times when we sink into the depths. You almost start to despair. “Lord, what do you want now? What is your purpose, your will for my life? Do I belong?”.
But the Spirit Pleads!
We need prayer assistance. The assistance of a divine Prayer. There is the intercession by the Lord Jesus Christ himself (see Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), but there is also the powerful and effective prayer help of the Holy Ghost. “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Spirit pleads. The verb that Paul uses means pleading for the benefit of. The pleading of the Spirit is reckoned to us. It is for our benefit, so to speak. But it also has the meaning of pleading on behalf of. It is not our prayer, it is the Holy Spirit’s own prayer, his personal pleading.
He pleads with unspeakable groanings. That has nothing to do with speaking in tongues. These are the sighs of the Spirit! These sighs are different from the words spoken on earth; also of a different order than the words of prayer that believers speak. The sighings/groanings of the Spirit are not possible for us to utter nor to copy. They are sighings of a heavenly order.
Yet there is a connection with our heart. That is what Paul says in verse 27, “And he who searches hearts…” That is God himself. The Father. He is the judge of our heart. God searches our hearts. Do you ever stop to think about this? God searches your heart! What a frightening idea. All the filth and uncleanness lie open before God. He ought to turn away from us, and yet with such a heart we pray. We make big and strong statements about praying from our hearts. What is a prayer that happens without the heart? That is not praying. Nevertheless, we must not speak too much about praying from our heart. For that is not why our prayer is sanctified and acceptable to God. God does not accept our prayers because we pray with the heart. Of course, it is still important, but not in the first place the reason why God hears our prayers.
The Spirit unites with the praying heart. He takes on the prayer, as it were, and brings it to a level where it belongs, where it becomes a prayer to be heard, a prayer in accordance with the will of God. And if God searches our hearts while we are praying, God knows the intention of the Spirit. He hears the Spirit pleading for the saints. For the praying and thanking saints. The plea of the Spirit is in accordance with God's own will for the saints. The saints must and will be saved! For this the Father is indispensable, for this the Son is indispensable, for this the Holy Spirit is indispensable. The Spirit, praying with groanings too deep for words, is necessary for our salvation! And the Spirit does it. He perseveres in it. But there must be praying hearts. In other words, and that indeed sounds like a call and warning: prayer help from the Holy Spirit does not benefit those who do not pray!
In this respect, just as with the intercession by Christ: we do not share in Christ's intercession if we do not go to God through him (Heb. 7:25).
But whoever prays to God in weakness may know of the prayer help of the Spirit. That is why the prayers of the believers are effective and powerful. Power is being granted. Divine power. The Spirit prays according to the will of God for saints. And therefore, Paul can say in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Paul knows that. He is certain of it. Certain because of God's eternal purpose, certain because of the pleading of the Spirit with unspeakable sighs. This last aspect is part of that certainty!
So, we can continue to pray using common human words. Those words also know the sighing of our hearts. Oh when? When will the full salvation come? We still must die. There is the suffering of the present time. There are the sins and also the tears about the sins. There is self-displeasure.
But the Spirit is the crying and praying Spirit. The suffering of the present time does not measure up to the glory that will be revealed to us. The believer may be assured of that. And who is a believer? The person who prays. Who keeps praying. Who calls and sighs and through it all, who loves God. And that person will experience much joy and gratitude. And express his gratitude in adoration!
This article was translated by John Vanderstoep.