And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:23-26, ESV).
It doesn't matter how long intercessory prayer takes its place in my morning routine. Spiritual disciplines are never really mastered but always either growing or decaying. Sometimes joy and the lightness of knowing I'm cooperating with God fills my prayers for others; at other times, it's all battle, and I don't always fight the good fight.
I expect this struggle is not exceptional but common, perhaps even normative, in the Christian life. David McIntyre in The Hidden Life of Prayer describes "the arduousness of prayer" better than I can:
the prince of the power of the air seems to bend all the force of his attack against the spirit of prayer. If he should prove victorious there, he has won the day. Sometimes we are conscious of a satanic impulse directed immediately against the life of prayer in our souls; sometimes we are led into "dry" and wilderness-experiences, and the face of God grows dark above us; sometimes, when we strive most earnestly to bring every thought and imagination under obedience to Christ, we seem to be given over to disorder and unrest; sometimes the inbred slothfulness of our nature lends itself to the evil one as an instrument by which he may turn our minds back from the exercise of prayer. Because of all these things, therefore, we must be diligent and resolved, watching as a sentry who remembers that the lives of men are lying at the hazard of his wakefulness, resourcefulness, and courage (Kindle location 56).
Do you know that feeling, when "all you can do is pray," and prayer is the hardest thing to do? And then when you finally slash your way through the obstacles, wielding "the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" (Eph. 6:17), it seems the harder you pray, the worse a situation becomes?
At such times I must remember that help for my loved ones lies not in my prayers but in the One to whom I pray. I must gratefully remember the Spirit who interprets my feeble groanings in accordance with the Father's will. I must remember that the opposition is real and intentional, and that the battle intensifies in proportion to the importance of the purpose. I must remember to pray even about my prayers and to lean into the Spirit of prayer to lead and strengthen.
Lord, teach us to pray. Grant us courage to put on Your whole armor to stand firm against the devil's schemes. Strengthen us with Your might to keep wrestling "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." In Your great mercy, grant that we would "be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Eph. 6:10-20). We lift these heart-groanings to You in the name of Jesus, our Master and Savior. Amen.