We are thinking about five features of praying in the Spirit that Paul mentions in these verses and noted yesterday that the first feature is that such prayers will be scriptural. The second feature of praying in the Spirit is submissiveness to the sovereignty of God.
In the Bible, there are great promises concerning asking God to act on behalf of his people. It is possible for believers to focus only on the content of such promises and fail to take into account that God may choose, for his glory and their good, not to answer their prayer as they would wish. It is well-known that prayer can be answered by (1) yes, (2) by yes but not yet, (3) by yes but in a different way, and by (4) no.
Each of these types of answers is seen in Paul’s experience. The first aspect is seen, for example, in his prayer that the father of Publius be healed (Acts 28:8); the second is seen, for example, in the prayer of Paul for Israel to be converted (Rom 10:1); the third is seen, for example, in the way that Paul eventually reached Rome (Rom. 15:32); the fourth is seen in Paul’s request that the thorn in the flesh be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
Connected to this aspect of submission in prayer is the intercession of the Spirit that Paul mentions in Romans 8:26-27. In these verses, Paul informs his readers that they can never offer a prayer that is completely accurate because inevitably there are aspects connected to it of which they are ignorant. For example, a Christian concludes that the Lord has called him to full-time service as a missionary in a foreign land. He focuses on a particular country and prays about it, but eventually he finds himself in another country. What has happened? He prayed for preparation for one particular place, but his prayer was marked by ignorance about his future location; yet each time he prayed for preparation, the Spirit was interceding that he be prepared for work in the country that God had planned for him. The four possible ways of receiving answers to prayer that are mentioned in the preceding paragraph occur because of the intercession of the Spirit as well as by the Father’s sovereignty and the Son’s mediation.