The Spirit’s Groans

When people consider coming to our church, some phone first with a question or two.The number one question is, “What time is your service?”  Very seldom are there any questions about doctrinal issues. However, there are a few who base their first attendance on very specific issues.

One group’s number one question is: “What translation of the Bible do you use?” This is always a question coming from the ones who believe the King James Version is the only proper translation to use. A fundamental Baptist church in Ft. Worth posted on their church sign: “The King James Version – The Only Inspired Word of God, The Bible God Reads.” I’m sorry, but that is wrong on so many levels that I don’t think I need to explain.

Another group will ask, “What is your position on TULIP?” [1]  I respond that I love flowers and enjoy the Pella Tulip Festival. Seriously, though, this question comes from the Five-Point Calvinists, and if you really press me, I’m only up to 3½ points.

Other questions are far less frequent. I was once asked if we had any images of Jesus in our church. I said “No,” until I remembered the stained glass image that was behind the pulpit representing Christ’s teaching of the Soils. Positions on end-time doctrine occasionally surface, to which I respond, “I’m a pan-millennialist. It will all pan out in the end.” I can say with confidence that Christ will return bodily, and gather His followers to enjoy eternity in the presence of God. Everything leading up to that event is subject to great debate and for anyone to say their position is the correct one is divisive.

Some ask, “What do you believe about speaking in tongues?” My response for the first-time questioner as it relates to church gatherings is that we practice Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 14 – that is, tongues are discouraged.

9Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

All spiritual gifts are to benefit others, not just ourselves. Thus, Paul says that the gift of tongues should be used only if the words are able to be interpreted, for the purpose of building up the church. Interestingly, in all my years of ministry no one has ever said to me, “I have the gift of interpretation.” And because Paul is addressing a problem in the church at Corinth, he (who had the gift of tongues) said he would rather speak five intelligible words in order to instruct the church than 10,000 words in a tongue.

While I do not fall into the camp that says the gift of tongues is no longer operational today, I do believe that the contemporary expression of tongues which I have observed does not fall in line with the New Testament manifestation. In Acts 2, the crowd in Jerusalem heard the apostles speaking in their own languages. These were known languages and a means of communicating to Jewish pilgrims from other countries. In the two other occasions in Acts where tongues are mentioned, it appeared at the outset of conversion, it was spontaneous and it was intelligible. When tongues are characterized today as a gift that can be learned/taught, a gift to be sought above all others and proof of one’s spiritual development, it is taken out of the realm of the spiritual and becomes a sign of carnality.

Regarding our study in Romans, Paul says that the Spirit:  “…helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26, NIV). Some make the case that the Spirit’s groans are a “spiritual prayer language” practiced by believers. However, the word “groans” refers to “intense, yet inaudible, sighing.” Ray Stedman is one among many, who makes a good case for why this verse is not an example of speaking in tongues:

I have always been amazed at people who emphasize the gift of tongues and take this verse as proof that the Spirit prays in tongues through us. This verse could not mean that. Paul tells us that this praying of the Spirit is done with groans which words cannot express. Now, tongues are words, words of other languages. If this referred to the gift of tongues, it would merely be putting into other languages the feelings of our heart. But this passage has nothing to do with that. This describes the groans of the Spirit within, so deep and so impossible to verbalize that we cannot say anything at all. We just feel deeply. The apostle says that when that happens, it is the Spirit of God who is praying. The Spirit is putting our prayer into a form which God the Father, who searches the heart, understands. The Spirit is asking for something concerning the situation that we are trying to pray about. [2]

Putting aside the issue of tongues, we can still see in this passage (Romans 8:26) the incredible ministry of the Spirit. What a wonderful assurance it is to know that even in our times of groaning there is the close identification and help of the Paraclete – the Intercessor – who prays for us when we don’t even know how to pray. What a blessing it is to know that not only does the Spirit intercede, but Christ, being at the right hand of the Father, does so as well (Romans 8:34). With that kind of power and insight helping us in our prayers, we can expect that God “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, NASB).

Your Response:

  • What is it that you consider of primary importance when visiting a church?
  • Have there been times in which you did not know how to pray but sensed a peace as the Spirit took over?
  • Do you have an understanding of your own spiritual gift and how the Spirit operates through you to edify (build up) the church? We’ll consider this more in Romans 12, but resources are available through our church if you need some direction in this area. Contact us.


1. For those unfamiliar with the five points of Calvinism, they are:

  1. Total depravity
  2. Unconditional election
  3. Limited atonement
  4. Irresistible grace
  5. Perseverance of the saints

2. Ray Stedman, Sermon: The Agony and the Ecstacy at

2 thoughts on “The Spirit’s Groans

  1. I like your comment on speaking in tongues.. Also Pauls states that if you do speak in tongues that you do so with 2 others and that one can interpet it


  2. I’ve just been reading your articles on your blog, and have been enjoying them. Just wanted to say that I got a kick out of – and agree with – your “pan-millennial” view. It will all pan out in the end, lol. Well said.


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