“…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). In this brief text, the Apostle Paul affords us insight into the mystery of the calculus of prayer. All true prayer begins with God; it is the prompting of the Spirit that allows our spiritual yearning to align with the will of God. The Spirit guides us to pray aright “because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
Over the years one of my favorite courses to teach is “Prayer in Christian Tradition,” an examination of the theology, forms, and practice of prayer. One of the first things I share with fellow learners is that we are always beginners in the “school of prayer,” according to Thomas Merton. Hence, the first lesson of prayer is to listen for the prayer that is already being prayed in us by the Spirit.
In former days among my kind of Baptists it was customary to hear hearty amens in services of worship, even during times of prayer. This has been replaced by what one of my professors termed the “holy groan.” It is the nearly imperceptible sighing of spirit that slips out when hearing of another’s need or concern. It is a holy expression, breathing empathy and bearing woe. It is the Spirit drawing members of the Body of Christ ever more closely together in prayer and purpose.
Prayer is a uniquely trinitarian practice. We pray to the Abba in the name of the Son through the power of the Spirit. Thankfully, such practice does not depend upon the perfection of our words.