The Intercession of the Holy spirit

Bible Study with Jairus – Romans 8

Defining the Groaning of the Spirit

Romans 8 is a very familiar chapter for Christians. Many are familiar with verses such as, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set youfree in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (ESV, Romans 8:2) and “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (ESV, Romans 8:6). These verses are often quoted by Christians when they are talking about their spiritual experiences. But the focus of our Bible study this time was the meaning of the verse that talks about “the Spirit’s groaning” (8:26).

Let’s take a look at the verses in Romans 8:26-28 first.

8:26 (ESV) 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. 

8:27 (ESV) And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, becausethe Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

8:28 (ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Different Interpretations

What does the groaning of the Holy Spirit mean in these verses? The original Greek is word is στεναγμός (stenagmos), which translates to groaning. It is not controversial if you take it literally, but in terms of spiritual experience, there are different interpretations.

The Local Church Movement’s explanation is closer to the literal translation. The teaching I received in the Local Church Movement said that sometimes, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings when we are struggling in the flesh and cannot overcome a struggle. We can also pray through groanings. We can pray prayers such as, “Oh, God, I can’t overcome this weakness, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Please help me. Oh, how I wish I wasn’t like this!”

There was a period during my spiritual journey when I was disappointed with some of my fleshy behaviors, so I often prayed with groanings, asking the Holy Spirit to help me overcome these difficulties. I found it very useful, and God listened to my prayers and helped me overcome these weaknesses.

But when I went to study in the Pentecostal Movement later, the explanation I heard was quite different. One explanation was that the unspeakable groanings here could be applied to praying in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14 – “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” (ESV, 1 Corinthians 14:2). So when a believer is praying in tongues, the Holy Spirit will intercede for them with groanings. These charismatic teachers explained that God asked us to intercede for all people (1 Timothy 2:1) and also to pray for the enemy (Matthew 5:44).  However, many times we cannot overcome our mind and emotional constraints, so we intercede less for our enemies and the people we don’t know. But when we are praying in tongues, the Holy Spirit can intercede for us with unspeakable groanings, thus taking the role of interceding for all people and those in the body of Christ.

Perspectives from Different Backgrounds

I heard Kenneth E. Hagin, a pastor of the faith movement in the United States, telling the following story many times. The story was about an American missionary to Africa who encountered a tribe that kidnapped a family’s daughter under his care. This missionary decided to rescue the child personally. When he got there, he gave the tribal chief a gift, and the tribal chief promised to release the child to him. But when he was on his way back with the child, the tribal chief set up an ambush. The tribal chief wanted to kill the missionary and capture the girl again. In this moment of danger, the missionary suddenly saw the indigenous people who had been attacking him begin to kneel in front of him. It turned out that these indigenous people had seen huge angels protecting the missionary and the girl, which scared them. At the exact same time, this was happening, some Christian friends of the missionary in the United States couldn’t sleep at night. They felt a heavy burden in the spirit to pray, but they didn’t know why or how to pray, so they knelt down and prayed in tongues. They prayed until early morning before the burden was released, and they could go back to sleep. When the missionary returned from Africa, and they talked about these things, they realized that the time these intercessors were called to pray was the exact time the missionary encountered danger in Africa. The Holy Spirit had moved these intercessors to pray for the missionary when he encountered danger, and it miraculously freed him and the child from danger.

Andrew Wommack, a pastor with an American Baptist background, shared a similar experience. When I had just left the Local Church Movement to study the teachings of the Pentecostal Movement, I listened to a lot of his preaching. Because his journey began in the Baptist church, and they are extremely opposed to praying in tongues, how he experienced a breakthrough and started praying in tongues helped me a lot. The teaching of the Local Church Movement is also against speaking in tongues, so I experienced the same breakthrough and started praying in tongues. Andrew Wommack talked about an experience in which his son had a car accident. Before he knew about it, he felt a heavy burden in his spirit to pray, but he did not know why or how to pray. He and his wife began to pray in tongues until the burden of prayer was released. He later learned that they felt burdened to pray at the exact same time that his son had a car accident. Because of their prayers and God’s protection, their son was safe and sound, although his car was completely totaled. He also shared another example where a person accidentally fell off a cliff. His relatives felt burdened to pray and didn’t know what happened, so they just prayed in tongues. Later, the person who fell off the cliff was also miraculously saved.

When we pray in tongues, we often intercede for others. We may not fully know ourselves, but the Holy Spirit fully knows us. We also may not fully know God’s will for us, but the Holy Spirit knows God’s will for us. Therefore, when we are praying in tongues, the Holy Spirit often intercedes for us according to God’s will for us.

Personal Example of Divine Help

I also have many examples of receiving divine help when I prayed in tongues. One example was the topic for a “history essay” on my recent doctoral dissertation. The topic of my doctoral dissertation is “Comparing the practice of prophecy in the Local Church Movement and the Charismatics.” My general argument is that the practice of prophecy and PSRP (Pray-reading, Study, Recite, Prophesying) in the Local Church Movement is very helpful for believers to create a solid foundation with the Bible. Through this, they can experience transformation by the Word, which is valuable, and the Pentecostal Movement and other churches would benefit from it. Although there are false prophecies that are put into practice in the Pentecostal Movement, there are also many true prophecies. Once these miraculous revelations from God are released, they will greatly encourage the faith of many brothers and sisters. These revelations would also benefit the Local Church Movement and other evangelical churches. One chapter of the doctoral dissertation must be a history essay. I had to write about a character or a movement from 100 years ago that was related to the topic that I’ll be writing in my dissertation. What historical figure or movement from 100 years ago could be related to both the Local Church Movement and the Pentecostal Movement?

When I started, I thought of writing about Hudson Taylor. He was a historical figure that lived over 100 years ago, and he was a missionary to China. It is said that he saw a vision of countless Chinese people lining up to go to hell on the coast of England. This vision wasn’t closely related to the Pentecostal Movement’s emphasis on prophetic visions and dreams, and it had nothing to do with the history of the Local Church Movement. My mind was not sharp enough, and I felt slow on the draw. I really couldn’t think of a better person or a suitable topic, so I decided to pray in tongues and ask the Holy Spirit to help me. I went out and prayed in tongues for an hour, and when I came back, I suddenly received inspiration. I started thinking of a comment related to John Nelson Darby that I had read after I left the Local Church Movement. The Holy Spirit often speaks to us by reminding us of things that we have seen. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would remind his disciples what the Lord has said to them (John 14:26).

I had read a comment that had to do with the Brethren Movement led by Darby, which took place around 1820. At that time, manifestations of Pentecostalism happened in the said movement. There were Pentecostal manifestations such as praying in tongues, healing, and prophesying that occurred in some meetings. But because Darby and some leaders believed that gifts belonged only to the apostolic age, they negate the birth of these Pentecostal Movements. Although the Pentecostal Movement was rekindled in the “Holiness Movement” (a denomination influenced by John Wesley) in the United States around 1900, God’s will was for the Pentecostal Movement to emerge early in the Brethren Movement. However, because of the suppression of Darby and others, this birth was killed.

The Local Church Movement highly praises Darby and his teaching. But in the teaching I received in the Local Church Movement, I had never heard about this Charismatic manifestation regarding Darby and the brethren. I checked Darby’s biography and the history of the Plymouth Brothers, and this manifestation was indeed there.

Therefore, I chose Darby and the Plymouth Movement as the topic of my history essay. I examined how Darby was saved, how he served as a pastor in the Anglican Church, and how he saw the corruption of the Anglican Church. Because of the corruption, he broke ties with institutionalized Christianity and the influence of the world and embarked on a path of pursuing holiness. Under his influence, a large number of wealthy Brethren members donated their property and embarked on the path of willingness to serve God in poverty. This occurred to such an extent that a local theater shut down where the revival took place. The theater owner didn’t even blame them. He instead joined them in their path of devotion to God.

I also thought about how Brother Watchman Nee of the Local Church Movement highly praised Darby’s books “Synopsis of The Books of The Bible” and recommended them to Witness Lee. Witness Lee was deeply influenced by Darby and later by Cyrus I. Scofield’s correspondence course, which shaped his theology. A story that caused Witness Lee to have great admiration for Darby was about a time when Darby, who was 84 and had never been married, was staying in a small inn alone and prayed, “Lord, I still love you.” Witness Lee used Darby as an example to encourage the brothers and sisters in the Local Church Movement to learn from Darby’s spirit of loving and sacrificing to the Lord. This story about Darby and Witness Lee’s prayers based on it were all composed as songs, and the poems written by Darby were widely sung in the Local Church Movement. The spirit and the dedication of Darby and the Plymouth Brethren to seek holiness and truth deeply influenced the Local Church Movement.

After looking back through the history of these events, I reviewed the details of the manifestations of the Pentecostal Movement among the Plymouth Brethren. I quoted how Darby believed that the gifts belonged only to the Apostolic Age and not in today’s era, which killed the birth of the Pentecostal Movement. I have no historical evidence to prove that the attitude of the Local Church Movement towards the Pentecostal Movement was influenced by Darby. But for various reasons, the Local Church Movement refuses to have any interaction with the Pentecostal Movement after several encounters with it. One of their main reasons for not wanting to interact is that they believe the Pentecostal Movement overemphasizes pursuing gifts, which they believe can affect Christians’ pursuit of a deeper spiritual life.

After submitting my history essay, my DMin (Doctor of Ministry) advisor read it and said that his background was with the Wesleyan Church, and he didn’t know that much about Darby’s history. Although he believed that John Wesley was more influential and had a greater impact on the later rise of the Pentecostal Movement, he was still impressed with me for linking the Local Church Movement to the Charismatic Movement in my dissertation and found it deeply inspirational. In addition, he said that my history essay was also connected with the arguments of my overall thesis. My argument is that if we can learn to put the prophecies and PSRP of the Local Church Movement into practice, it will help fellow believers pursue holiness and spiritual maturity. In addition, if we can also pursue the prophecies and gifts of the Pentecostal Movement, it will help the church make better use of God’s gifts when ministering to people. In the end, holiness and power and the Word and the Spirit will converge. The church will be full of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, bringing greater revival to the church.

The theme and completion of this history essay were completely inspired by the Holy Spirit after I went out and prayed in tongues for an hour because I had no idea what to write about that day. Looking at the few examples above, the Spirit’s groaning being interpreted as prayer in tongues cannot be completely far-fetched.

Situations that Hinder the Holy Spirit’s Leading

During our study, we were inspired by the Holy Spirit in a different aspect, which is also very consistent with my personal spiritual experience. The Holy Spirit lives in us and often inspires and leads us. But there are two situations where the Holy Spirit cannot lead us. The first is when we are not obedient. The Holy Spirit may have inspired us many times, but because of our disobedience, the Holy Spirit has no way to get through to us. Therefore, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf to Jesus and our Heavenly Father with unspeakable groanings, asking the Heavenly Father to arrange the environment and difficulties around us to allow us to learn to obey through the environment.

This secret is revealed in verses 8:27-28 (ESV), “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. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Here, the “one who searches the heart” is the Lord or the Father, because the Lord searches all hearts. The Father knows the groanings of the Holy Spirit within us because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will. It is like the Holy Spirit saying to Jesus and the Heavenly Father: “As you can see, I have been moving him to repent, but he never listens. What should we do? Maybe we should arrange some difficulties for him? People just don’t repent if they are not disciplined. It seems that a little discipline is needed for the stubborn people.” The Father understands the Holy Spirit, so He arranges environments (that He allows) to lead us into repentance. Many times, people only draw near to God when they need to be saved or to be set free from a certain sin or weakness. This is something common to many Christians. A woman in our Bible study very much agreed with this statement because her own experience also proved that she could not obey when God did not use discipline. It wasn’t until later, when God arranged a difficult environment, that she drew near to God. I also have many experiences similar to these and have experienced God changing the environment around me, so I am very familiar with this subject.

Verse 28 specifically states that all things work together for good for those who love God. God hears the intercession of the Holy Spirit and arranges difficulties in the environment not to harm us, but for our own good (ESV, Hebrews 12:10). When we encounter difficulties, we often doubt God’s love for us. However, Romans 8:28 states that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (ESV, Romans 8:31-39). These verses are closely related to the intercession of the Holy Spirit that was mentioned above.

Now that we have discussed the first situation, which dealt with us not obeying God’s inspiration and leading, we can move on to the second. The second situation is that our minds may not understand God’s leading and inspiration. I also have many experiences with this. Around 2015, God had been leading me to leave the Local Church Movement to study the Pentecostal Movement in preparation for the convergence in the future. Later the Lord appeared to me in a dream, and He also talked about this convergence. However, my mind at the time couldn’t understand God’s leading. My Christian experience and theology were completely shaped by the teachings of the Local Church Movement. If I went to the Pentecostal Movement to study, I would be considered an apostate. I was full of fear and uncertainty. And I had not dared to take this step. Therefore, the Holy Spirit interceded for me with unspeakable groanings. The Heavenly Father then arranged an environment for me. My wife was infertile for ten years, and people from the Local Church Movement could not help us solve this problem. Because of this, the Holy Spirit inspired me to look for people in the Pentecostal Movement with the gift of prophecy and the gift of healing to pray for us and help us. Though it was a slow process, I gradually opened my eyes and realized there was a lot of abundance outside the Local Church Movement. I also found that there were many areas in the Pentecostal Movement being stigmatized, and the Pentecostal Movement actually had many truths and true gifts.

When I asked for prayer and help in the Local Church Movement, we did not receive healing. Our various attempts through IVF and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments also failed. In the end, God Himself spoke to me and told us the child’s gender and specific time of birth through prophetic prophecies. Finally, my wife became pregnant, and we received a miracle baby. God had spoken to me and tried to lead me many times, but because I was slow on the draw and unable to break from traditional teachings, I did not understand and couldn’t follow His leading. Therefore, the Holy Spirit interceded with groanings to our Heavenly Father to arrange various environments for me. In a way, I could say that He forced me to leave the Local Church Movement to go learn the truths and gifts in the Pentecostal Movement.

From the examples I shared above, and from my personal experiences, you can see that the Holy Spirit sometimes talks with the Father and the Lord Jesus through unspeakable groanings. In verse 27, where it says, (ESV), “he who searches hearts,” it is talking about God the Father Himself. When the Father hears the groaning of the Holy Spirit within us, He will arrange environments for us and discipline us. Knowing this, you should understand that if you obey or understand and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, you will have fewer environmental difficulties in your life. Every difficulty is specially permitted by God and the Heavenly Father to help you learn a specific lesson and become spiritually mature. You can never go wrong by listening to God.

I hope these words bless you. I pray that you can obey and understand the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life. If you are facing a certain difficulty, I also pray that you are able to see the will of Heavenly Father for you.