Prayer is difficult for me because most of the time I do not like the answer. Even still I know God knows better than me and I have on many occasions been driven to my face on the floor before Him in anguish, pain, frustration, desire, and anger. Prayer in those moments has been raw and mostly wordless. Paul describes the prayers of the Holy Spirit on our behalf as groanings. Prayer for me at its most powerful moments might be described that way.
26 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. 27 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. Romans 8:26-27 ESV
The only other time this word for groanings is used in the New Testament is in Acts when Stephen who is about to be martyred is recounting the Jewish history to his accusers. Stephen says that God sent Moses to free the people after He heard their groanings within the bonds of slavery.
34 I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’ Acts 7:34 ESV
We are simple people limited in time space to right now. Our vision is limited our knowledge is limited. How do I know what to pray for? How could I know what is right for me? When Israel prayed to God it was from desire deep within them to be free. God answered that through Moses but I guarantee none were praying for Moses to rescue them. So it is with us. How many times has God provided an answer that was not the way one would have solved the problem? The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf and prays for us what we would want to pray for and about if we knew it.
Additionally notice the end of the verse in Romans “according to the will of God”. The Holy Spirit is not praying our will with a groaning. The Holy Spirit is praying for what we should be praying according to God’s will for us. The Holy Spirit is not groaning that I win the lottery because that is what I desperately want. A pastor of my youth once said that prayer is not the time that you change God’s mind but the time God changes yours. The more time you spend in prayer the more the mind of God through the Holy Spirit is revealed to you. Prayer results in a longing to be with God. Prayer before God shapes the person praying in the image of Christ. Prayer opens our eyes to the eternal perspective that this life is not our home. Our hope and expectations look to more than a job, spouse, kids, and money because we start to see the world through the eyes of God Himself.
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:22-23 ESV
As we pray we start to groan with all of Creation with the realization that this world is temporary and there is a desire and anticipation for something better and more wonderful. The Holy Spirit aligns the heart with a desire for God and the things that are important to Him. The Holy Spirit testifies that we are children of God to whom we can cry out Father!
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:14-16 ESV
It is this groaning that leads people to become radical for God. The kind of people who quit jobs and move family to the ends of the earth. The kind of people who put family above worldly success. The kind of people who have love and compassion for the unlovable. Prayer of this kind is a dangerous thing that will make one ruined for ordinary self-absorbed living.