I heard a pastor praying over members of his congregation using a strange babbling speech. He claimed he was praying in a mysterious prayer language which made him an intermediary to God for his congregation and gave him a "direct line" to God. He pointed to Romans 8:26 to justify his practice. It sounded like nonsense to me. Is this biblical?
The practice you witnessed in the church was unbiblical and not of God. The pastor and the congregation were deceived by the enemy and were likewise leading others astray. The pastor's claim to be serving as God's intermediary or intercessor is particularly disturbing.
Believers must guard against prioritizing personal experiences over objective biblical truth. When our experiences contradict scripture’s teaching (e.g., when we witness people babbling and claiming it is the gift of tongues), we must deny the experience, since it is not of God. Those who wish to maintain unbiblical practices will either distort scripture to force it into agreement with their practices or else they will ignore scripture altogether.
In this case, the pastor appears to be twisting scripture to justify his unbiblical teaching. Paul never taught that praying in tongues is babbling or that it serves as a “hotline” to God. All prayer is offered as real human language and is equally capable of reaching the Lord, as He promises to hear the prayers of His children at all times:
God hears all prayers from believers equally, therefore no “special” form a prayer exists. By inserting himself between the church and Christ, this pastor was repeating the Nicolaitan heresy Jesus mentions in Revelation (see Rev 2:6).
Those who maintain that their repetitive babbling or moaning sounds are actually a special “prayer language” will usually cite Romans 8:26 to support their belief, though when they do, they grossly misinterpret the scripture. When we read Romans 8:26 in context, we find Paul was teaching on something entirely different in that passage:
It’s necessary to read Romans 8:26 in its complete context to properly interpret its meaning. In Romans 8 Paul is wrapping up his eight chapters explaining the way of salvation by faith in Christ. At this point in the text, Paul explains God has assigned us a new spirit by faith in Christ yet He expects us to live on earth for time in our sinful body. During this time, we will know suffering and struggle against sin even as we await our glorified body.
In this passage Paul explains that we are not alone in our struggle against sin and in our desire for freedom. The whole creation itself is “groaning” for freedom from sin, because the entire Creation is under the same curse.
In v.20 Paul says the creation was unwillingly subjected to this “futility,” which is a reference to God's curse on the ground in Genesis 3:17 as a result of Man’s sin. Adam’s choice brought the entire Creation under condemnation, yet God's curse included a hopeful purpose. Paul says we were subjected to a curse of physical death so that ultimately we may receive something better. Specifically, Paul says we await the "redemption of the body" in v.23 referring to our resurrection into a new, eternal body to replace our current dying body.
In v. 23 Paul says we have already received a down payment on that new body in the form of "the first fruits of the Spirit," referring to the indwelling of God’s Spirit in our current body at the moment of our faith. The Spirit works to bear spiritual fruit in each of us, which is a taste of the perfection to come in the new body. The Spirit's work in us is our evidence that the Lord will keep His promise to give us a new body.
In v.24 Paul says "in hope" we have been saved, meaning by our faith in Christ we have reason to hope in our new body. Hope in this sense doesn't mean an unfilled desire. Rather, it means a certain expectation yet one that has not come to pass. A Christian's hopeful expectation is to one day be set free from sin's penalty of corruption and death, so we eagerly await the day we receive our glorified bodies.
A hope means a confidence in an unseen future outcome, therefore we cannot say we "hope" for something that has already arrived (v.24). Instead, we must live with perseverance by faith contending with the trials and difficulties that come from living in a sinful body.
Turning to v.26 Paul begins with the phrase “in the same way” to draw a comparison between the two roles of the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit gives us reason to hope in the future arrival of the new body, because He is proof to us that the Lord intends to keep His promises. Secondly (i.e., in the same way), the Spirit helps us in our present weaknesses. While we await the new body, we must contend with the sin of ou flesh, and the Spirit helps us in that fight.
The Spirit's ministry in us includes making appeals on our behalf with "groanings too deep for words." Paul uses the word “groanings” here again as a reference back to his earlier use of the same word in v.22. In v.22 Paul used the word to emphasize the weighty burden that the Creation bears under the curse. The curse God delivered on the earth placed all Creation in a state of decay, corruption and death, and therefore the world is “groaning” under the weight of this death sentence, like slaves groaning under the burden of their captivity.
In v.26 Paul uses the same word again to emphasize the burden we experience contending with the weaknesses of our sinful body. Our spiritual weaknesses are so profound that we often lack the ability even to know how to communicate our needs before God. Like slaves who can't understand how to find their own freedom, believers often don’t know how to seek for freedom from our own sin.
Nevertheless, the Spirit knows our spiritual deficits and the opportunities for relief our Father is prepared to grant us. Therefore, we can take additional hope knowing the Spirit in us will intercede on our behalf even when we don’t know what or how to pray, and Paul calls these Spirit intercessions "groanings too deep for words." The Greek word translated "deep" in v.26 is alaletos, which literally translated means "inexpressible." In other words, Paul is teaching that Spirit communicates directly to the Father on our behalf in ways outside human speech.
If the Spirit's groanings are outside human speech, then Paul cannot be advocating for any type of utterance prayer, whether babbling or "groaning" or any other sound made by the human mouth. The Spirit's intercession is beyond the abilities of the human mouth, Paul says in v.26. It is a purely spiritual form of communication between two members of the Godhead.
Rather than endorsing the practice of "babbling prayer," Romans 8:26 actually precludes such nonsense, so when someone babbles or groans in "prayer" claiming the behavior is in accordance with Paul's teaching in Romans 8:26, the person is merely operating in the flesh (not by the Spirit), and in the process they are demonstrating their ignorance of scripture.