26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Verses 26 and 27 demonstrate that believers have a resource in suffering and “groaning” (vv.18.23).
The link word “likewise” harks back to our hope of the preceding verses. Groaning is a valid part of the Christian life; even the Holy Spirit Himself groans on our behalf. His empathy with us gives us hope. He sustains us with that hope. Hope is what helps us withstand suffering (vv. 24-25). This is another ground of encouragement.
the Spirit also helps [keeps on helping] in our weaknesses.
The Greek word for “weakness” may include weakness of body, spirit, or emotions. However, the weakness here is weakness of understanding the will of God in prayer. Also, God wants to demonstrate Himself to us in our weakness. He did that with Paul:
2 Co 12: 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
“Helps” is an intense compound word (made up of with, in the place of, receive) with the idea of someone helping someone else carrying a heavy load. The “with” indicates reciprocal relationship between the believer and the Spirit. “In place of” means that He takes up our cause. And “receive” carries the idea that He welcomes the responsibility to help the Christian. The idea then is to give assistance by sharing a load. The Holy Spirit comes to the aid of believers in prayer by coming alongside them to help carry a burden of prayer.
The Holy Spirit does not carry the entire burden but enough of it to help the believer along the way. He assists our fumbling prayer life and shares or shoulders our burden to pray in the will of God.
For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought [as is proper],
Christians do not know how or what to pray properly at times. That is their particular weakness—ignorance of what to pray about. The issue here is dependence on the Spirit, not selfish asking. There are times when believers cannot formulate the will of God properly, so the Holy Spirit does that for us. He helps us orient to the plan and purpose of God.
1 Jn 5: 14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
The Holy Spirit knows how to interpret our prayers.
There are times when we do not know how to pray for a person with serious illness. Asking for the right request is the problem. We know that God hears us, but we do not know how to pray about His will. We often pray for healing and then add “if it is your will.” That is an indication of not knowing what to pray for as we ought. Sometimes many people pray for that person but with no sense of an answer.
The issue here is not sin. Sin can become a barrier to answered prayer (Ps 66:18), but the problem here is our lack of knowledge in understanding the will of God in prayer.
Notwithstanding what difficulties we might have in praying, God expects us to pray. We cannot neglect to speak to the God of the Universe and beyond.