As I view the harrowing scenes in Ukraine I want to pray. But what do I pray for? How do I even begin? Paul says, “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (Romans 8:26-27). Paul does not offer a new technique to overcome my weakness in prayer. Nor does he tell me how to pray more intelligently.
No, he rather tells me that the Spirit is interceding in me with groans too deep for words. Earlier in the passage, Paul speaks graphically about the whole of Creation groaning for its future liberation from bondage into the freedom and glory of the children of God. Creation yearns to share in our future liberation. We too are groaning for that day of liberation. We are yearning deeply for our own freedom and the freedom of all creation. However, our groaning doesn’t come simply by observing the broken world around us. The groaning comes from the indwelling Spirit. For before we and creation groan the Spirit groans within us with sighs too deep for words. God is not “up there” detached for all the pain in Ukraine; he is in us groaning over the distress within his own creation.
As we view the scenes on T.V, we may wonder what we can pray for Ukraine. But instead of trying to form our own ideas about the best thing to pray, it might be better to simply groan. Those groans arise from human feelings for our fellow humans. However, we cannot separate our groaning from the groaning of the Spirit. He is distressed over the situation and he expresses his distress, through us, in sighs too deep for words.
We may want to find a list of items to pray for so that our prayers might be more “intelligent”. But then we are left simply bringing a list of our own observations and maybe with a sense of futility as we bring the list to God “up there”. It might be better to simply groan with the groaning of the Spirit. Our prayers will then be wordless, but more real as they move from the Spirit within us, through Jesus to the Father himself.