The Spirit Who Leads, The Spirit Who Prays (Selected Scriptures)

Living in a fallen world, it’s not uncommon for people—even God’s people—to feel disoriented and isolated, overwhelmed by choices and trials, decisions and disappointments, insecurities and uncertainties, hurts, fears, and loses. Sometimes the cumulative fatigue of such experiences, the emotional taxation of helplessness, and the dramatic intensity of uncertainty rises to such a level that even God, the only one who can ultimately bring guidance and deliverance, seems out of reach.

It’s in these most dire circumstances that the Holy Spirit graciously ministers to those whom he indwells by showing them the way out of the darkness and by calling for help when they’re unable. It is when God’s children are at their most needy, most vulnerable, and most weak, that the Holy Spirit can lead the way and does help them pray.


Last month Global News reported the story of a teenager from British Columbia who got lost in the woods for over two days. She had been hiking with friends when they got separated, and though she tried to double-back and find them, she ended up alone.

Thinking back on the experience, the teen wrote this: “I tried to turn around, but I tripped and fell down until I reached a flatter part of the mountain. Scared and lonely, I curled into a ball, and I tried to stay as calm as possible. … All throughout the day, I saw a yellow helicopter fly over my head multiple times. I tried making noise, singing and even shaking nearby trees to grab their attention, but everything I tried failed.” She had no cell service so, she says, “I used my phone to make noise in hopes that a person might hear it. Sadly, my phone was dying, and it eventually dropped out of my pocket somewhere … .”

After spending two nights sleeping on rocks and two days wandering the mountain in search of help, disorientation began to set in—fatigue, dizziness, and hallucinations. Not knowing which way to go and not sure even how to call for help, this young girl remembers being “filled with hopelessness and fear.”

Few of us have ever been lost in the woods but more than a few of us have felt lost and isolated, overwhelmed by life’s choices and trials, decisions and disappointments, insecurities and uncertainties, hurts, fears, and loses. There are times in life when we feel lost in the woods, cell-phone dying, shadows-lengthening, and temperature-dropping. 

And, as believers, we know that it’s at these times we should call to God for help—signal him for Search and Rescue—but the fatigue and intensity of the situation seems to rob us of even that ability. “I don’t even know what to say or what to ask.” In these moment we can be “filled with hopelessness and fear,” wanting to “curl up in a ball and try to stay as calm as possible.”

Some here are recovering from such a time, others are enduring one, and still others are waiting for one. Some feel all three apply: “I just had one, I’m in one, and I’m sure one’s probably coming!”

Well, the Holy Spirit is here to help, and he does so by showing us the way out of the woods and by calling for help when we can’t. You see, when we are at our most needy—lost and weak—the Holy Spirit leads the way and the Holy Spirit helps us pray. These are the two precious works of the Spirit—his leading and his praying—that we’re going to study this morning.


Let’s begin with his leading work. Turn to Romans 8 and, when you get there, look at verse 14. Paul just states the reality: the Spirit of God leads the children of God. In fact, his leading evidences family identity.

Sons of God are led by the Spirit, they’re moved by him in the direction he would have them go. That’s how Paul uses the word in Romans 2 when he explains “that the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (2:4). It paves the way, it makes it possible, it empowers the journey. Likewise in 2 Timothy: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you” (4:11). “Lead Mark from where he now is to where I want him to be—here!”

So, the Holy Spirit that lives in every believer can lead every believer from where they are to where he wants them to be, guiding us and empowering us for that journey.

… toward godliness

The question is, where does the Spirit want believers to be? Let’s zoom out for the context of the statement (Rom 8:12–17). So, here, the Spirit’s leading is quite specific, it’s out of the dark woods of this fallen world and toward godliness. He leads the believer away from bondage and toward liberty, away from fear and toward assurance, away from death and toward life, away from the flesh and toward godliness.

God’s Spirit will never lead toward sin, disobedience, or compromise. When we go that route (and we do) it’s only because we have ignored or disobeyed the Spirit’s leading. He leads to godliness, a godliness consistent with what he’s already detailed in his word. 

Anyone claiming they’re being led by God to something inconsistent with the word of God is wrong. Best case, they’re confused; worst case, they’re hearing voices from the opposition. God’s word, written by God’s Spirit, was given to God’s people that they may be conformed to the image of God’s Son (see John 17:17).

While we may feel deep in the woods of depravity, surrounded by temptation and deception, God’s people are not hopeless because the Holy Compass who lives in us always points to the true north of godliness. We just have to listen and submit. We are never as lost as we may feel.

… toward usefulness

But godliness isn’t the only path down which the Spirit leads. He also leads toward usefulness. Listen to these verses from the book of Acts. 

[Acts 8:29] This isn’t a matter of godliness, but usefulness. God’s Spirit is leading—telling, really—one of his children to do something specific so as to accomplish his will.

[Acts 10:19–20] This is a triple-whammy. The Spirit tells Peter what’s going to happen, what he’s supposed to do, and what he already told others to do. He’s leading all over the place here, moving people to where he wants them to be.

[Acts 13:2–4] The Spirit identified, chose, and mobilized specific people for specific jobs. This isn’t just godliness, it’s the usefulness of godly people.

[Acts 16:6–8] Here we have the Spirit leading by closing doors. We’re not told how he closed them, just that he did. And, if you looked at a map of this journey you’d see the really left only one direction open for them to go, toward Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. One more … 

[Acts 20:22–23] The Spirit leads Paul into uncertainty and suffering. We shouldn’t mistake comfort and clarity as necessary evidence of the Spirit’s leading. Hardship isn’t proof we’re out of God’s will; sometimes he leads us into it.

So, you see, God’s Spirit can lead his people from where they are to where he wants them to be both in terms of godliness and in terms of usefulness—guiding his people behaviourally, geographically, and vocationally. I see no evidence in the Bible that he doesn’t still do that today, that we can’t anticipate it today, that we can’t ask for it today. 

“Spirit, lead me to godliness, guide me in my grief, shepherd me through pain, steer me in my job, help me parent well, usher me toward peace at home, assist me in my investment of resources; show me where to go, how to love, when to speak, who to correct. Spirit of God, lead me, a child of God, with power and clarity.”

I want to get really practical for a moment and offer some pastoral advice on how to discern the Spirit’s leading when you face tough decisions in life. I’m going to give you three questions to ask that, cumulatively, may provide confidence as we seek to follow.

Question #1: Do I have a growing conviction? Remember in Acts 20, Paul was “bound by the Spirit.” The Spirit told Philip and told Peter what to do. Do you have a growing conviction, one way or another? Has the Spirit laid a direction, a job, a person, a path on your heart?

Now, our convictions are fallible, but they likewise shouldn’t be ignored. If we’ve prayed for the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), asked God for the wisdom he’s promised to give (Jas 1:5), washed ourselves in the water of the word (Eph 5:26), and “are being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2), then God will shape our desires and convictions, “so that [we] may prove what the will of God is.” So, do I have a growing conviction?

Question #2: Is God opening doors? We saw this with Paul. He had some doors opened for him and, in other cases was forbidden by the Spirit and not permitted. Is God opening doors for you?

Again, this is not infallible. Sometimes we breakdown doors in our zeal and claim it was God. Sometimes we miss them all together. That’s why this question is coupled with the first one as well as this third one.

Question #3: What do the people of God say? Do the saints who know me well and who are filled with the same leading Spirit, agree with what I think the Lord is calling me to do, the decision I think he’s leading me to make? As Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counsellors there is victory.” What do the people of God say?

So, three quesiotns. Now, if I can only answer in the affirmative to two of the three, does that mean it isn’t God’s will? Not necessarily. But it may be wise to slow down. If, for example, I have a growing conviction and the people of God are affirming but doors are being slammed shut, perhaps I need to spend some more time in prayer. Or if doors are open and the people are in agreement but my conviction hasn’t yet caught up, again, pray. But if all three are in agreement, I think we can step forward in prayerful confidence and joyful obedience.

You may feel inundated with tough decisions and confusing happenings in life. This is evidence of your limits. But we serve a God without limits, a God who has saved us, indwelled us, and can leads us in the way he would have us go—toward godliness and toward usefulness. Know that, seek that, celebrate that, and submit to that.

The lost teenager in British Columbia had tried a number of ways to call for help: searching, singing, shaking trees. But the canopy was too thick and the forest too dense. As I said at the beginning, we can sometimes get to that same state of desperate loneliness, when it’s almost as though we’ve run out of the ways and means to call for the help we need.


This is why it’s so amazing that, not only does the Spirit lead us, but he also prays for us. He calls for help when we’re too weak, too tired, and too frustrated to do it ourselves. 

Back to Romans 8. [Rom 8:26] Notice that Paul does not say that the Spirit prays only when we feel weak. No, he’s always praying for us because, the truth is we’re always weak, we just sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we’re not. But there are times that our fragility and finitude shines through to the degree that we don’t even know what to pray, what we need, or what to ask for. 

It’s in these moments of humility that the Spirit comes to our rescue and sends up the signal flares to the Father. Creation groans under the curse of sin (Rom 8:22), believers groan to be liberated from the curse of sin (8:23), and the Holy Spirit groans as he deals with evidence of the curse of sin (8:26). The groaning is the music of liberation being anticipated.

[Rom 8:27] The Spirit knows our hearts better than we do, our needs better than we do, and he knows the will of God better than we do (because he is God). And with all of that intimate knowledge, the Holy Spirit brings our pain, our confusion, our fear, our neediness, our weakness … he brings it all into the presence of the Almighty. God’s Spirit prays for God’s children.

A 2020 survey reported that 62% of respondents were anxious. Two years ago half of Canadians reported that they “always or often felt lonely.” We live in a culture that is marked by fear, insecurity, and hopelessness.

That was sort of the state of his disciples when Jesus told them, [John 14:1–3, 16]. There was reason to be afraid—the disciples were lost in the woods. But, Jesus tells them not to stop being troubled. Why? Because God is going to send the ultimate Search and Rescue. 

Depending on your translation, the word Helper may be rendered Advocate or Comforter. Really, the best understanding of the Greek word is a combination of all of those things. The Spirit is the one who comes alongside otherwise anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed disciples and helps us, comforts us, advocates for us.

He saves us, keeps us, unifies us, reminds us, teaches us, and, as we saw today, he leads us in paths of righteousness and usefulness for his name’s sake and he prays for us always, even when we aren’t able. 

What a gift, the Holy Spirit is. Let’s thank God for him now.


Josiah Boyd

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