The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.
What We Don’t Know
A lot of us have heard this old saw, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” I gravely doubt this, however, and likewise doubt anyone believing it knows the first thing about life. (The same goes for “Ignorance is bliss.”) What we don’t know can hurt us, leaving us unprepared, uninformed, and unequipped to assess our circumstances accurately. After all, not knowing is what’s mainly responsible for every “Gotcha!” that comes our way.
Lack of knowledge makes us vulnerable to temptation and gets us lost. Proverbs 14.12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This happens by relying solely on our faculties to do what’s right. We simply don’t know enough about all the factors playing into our situation—the people, the timing, the environment, etc., that can jump the tracks without reason and warning, turning routine runs into calamitous collisions.
Choosing Not to Know
Now let’s add what we choose not to know and things get real interesting. We have all, to some extent, trained ourselves to stare reality in the face and not recognize it. In some cases, this is out-and-out denial—substituting a friendlier alternative for ugly truth. In others, it’s more like convenient omission; we edit out potential complications that might stymie our success. For example, I’m the world’s worst procrastinator. I know this. Yet somehow I prefer not knowing it. I pull more unnecessary all-nighters than anybody around—more than enough to teach me discipline in the future. But my issue isn’t learning to do better. It’s admitting I need to learn, a weakness I can’t (or choose not to) overcome.
Not knowing plus choosing not to know pocks our prayers with blanks, placing us at risk of asking for wrong solutions. If accurately positioning our requests were left to us, we’d have constant disasters on our hands, because prayer invokes a sacred, sacrosanct contract between God and us. In Psalm 95.15, He says: “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” We hear this message from cover to cover. Taken at face value, given our imperfect prayers, our lives no doubt would become a tangle of answers we don’t need and can’t use.
Thankfully, Paul says, the Holy Spirit comes to the rescue, filling in the blanks to ensure our prayers get valuable results. When the Spirit prays for us, it intercedes. It takes up the slack, corrects the translation, and accounts for all we can’t and won’t acknowledge. We don’t understand precisely how it works, but—in this case, and only this one—what we don’t know actually helps us.
Without jumping into all the theological discrepancies, Tibetan Buddhists have the right idea. They hang out prayer flags symbolizing general requests, believing the wind (a Christian symbol for the Holy Spirit) will catch their prayers and deliver them promptly and properly. In other words, they too believe the Spirit prays for them.