a series of essays on the Spirit-filled life
by Del McKenzie
Putting prayer and the Holy Spirit in the same phrase is to combine two of the large topics of the Bible. Volumes have been written on both of them and neither has been fully studied or presented. But the two go together and it does us well to think often and deeply about what it means to "pray in the Spirit" - Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20. One of the big reasons to get filled and stay filled with the Spirit is so we can pray as we should. An almost universal cry of Christ-followers is that they could pray more and better. There is recognition on the part of all earnest Christians that prayer is to have a major place in their lives but often the confession of failure to pray even as they think they should.
One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to equip and enable us to pray. We can expect Him to do that. We can ask and trust Him for it. He is pleased when we ask and will work in, on, for and around us to bring about improved prayer in the life of the person who sincerely and humbly seeks it.
What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? There have been answers to that question which must be rejected. One is that it is to pray in tongues. That cannot be supported by Scripture - I Corinthians 14:14-15. Prayer in tongues is legitimate but it does not follow that all praying in the Spirit must be in tongues. All praying should and can be praying in the Spirit. Neither is praying in the Spirit some ecstatic state reserved only for a few mystically inclined people. It is the privilege of all who have the Holy Spirit in them through the new birth.
To pray in the Spirit is to be motivated by Him to pray. Prayer can come from various other motivations such as greed, fear, desperation, a desire to impress other people, etc. True motivation for prayer seems to be for the glory of God and out of love for Him. The Holy Spirit can and does provide this motivation for those who are filled with Him. Who of us prays as much as we should? Who is always praying? How much do we deny other things so that we can concentrate on prayer? When the Holy Spirit is in control there will be vibrant and growing prayer. He is the Spirit of grace and supplication. - Zechariah 12:10. He calls out "Abba, Father" - Galatians 4:6. He is an interceder who prays for us with groans that words cannot express - Romans 8:26. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit that a Spirit-filled person can certainly expect is that He will develop in us an attitude of prayer. If we walk with Him He will always be leading us further into prayer.
Praying in the Spirit is also to be enabled by the Spirit to pray. What keeps people who have something of a desire to pray from doing it? Human effort will never be capable of overcoming the obstacles to prayer. The devil certainly objects to it and will use all of his schemes to keep us from it. He can and will arrange circumstances that cause us to focus on something less valuable. Our sinful nature is a major obstacle to prayer. We can yield to the many ways of pampering it by things like sleeping, eating, playing, working and many more. The world around us would squeeze us into its mold which does not include true prayer to the true God. It would squeeze us into materialism, hedonism, humanism and other mentalities that oppose prayer. How do we overcome these obstacles? Self-sufficiency is not the answer and may, indeed, be the greatest obstacle to prayer. Prayer is a great evidence of trust and reliance on God. The failure to pray is to trust in ourselves or something else. Obstacles to prayer are overcome by the enabling of the Holy Spirit and the more we learn to pray in His enabling the better prayer will be in our lives. We can know that we are praying in the Spirit when there is a supernatural ability to put prayer as a high priority. There is a power and ability to pray that goes beyond what is natural to us. We can ask and expect the Holy Spirit to do this for us.
Praying in the Spirit is also to be directed by Him. There are many things to pray about and many good ones. How do we choose which to concentrate on? Is it whatever comes to mind? Is it prayer lists that we have developed? We certainly need direction in what gets our praying and how much time and effort are given. And then there is the question of what kind of praying we should do. Ephesians 6:18 instructs us to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayer. There are many kinds of prayer to choose from. Do we rely on our own ability to make the choice? The Holy Spirit is able and desiring to guide us into what to pray for and how to do it. We are not left to our own wisdom and intuition. Jesus instructed us in the Sermon on the Mount to not have empty repetition in our praying. It can be nothing more than babbling. When we are filled with the Spirit, when He is in control of our minds, He will direct us. We can pray in the Spirit, within His guidance. It is God's provision.
Praying in the Spirit is also to be energized by Him. In James 5 we read about Elijah praying earnestly. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane it was with such intensity that He sweat as it were great drops of blood. In Romans 8 we read that the Holy Spirit prays with such passion that there are groans that can't be put into words. That can be in contrast to praying that is simply repeating words with no emotion and no real energy. How do we get such a burdened heart? It comes from praying in the Spirit. The Scriptures speak often of God's people being sincere in their following of Him. That sincerity shows up in how we pray. The filling of the Holy Spirit results in a deep intensity in prayer that is not manufactured or humanly generated. All of us can be like Elijah but not by simply trying harder. It is a supernatural work of grace and God has provided the Holy Spirit so that we can pray in Him.
Do you have a desire to pray more and better? You can pray in the Spirit. It comes out of a relationship with Him that is available to all God's children who will be filled with Him. It is one of His ministries that He longs to do in us. May we seek Him for it and allow Him to do it in us.