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January 2016

Praying in the Spirit

Praying in the Holy Spirit 2

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(This is the fourth [and probably last] installment in the prayer series. Here are the links to the first, second, and third posts.)

What does the phrase, “praying in the Spirit” mean? I hesitated writing this post because I couldn’t come up with a tidy answer. I talked to the Lord about it (you could say I prayed about prayer!) but nothing came to me. Yet, God began to deal with my question by answering some prayers. In doing so, He shed light on what the Bible teaches about this blessing.

I’ll explain by interpreting “praying in the Spirit” three different ways and will illustrate each with an account of how the Lord answered such prayers. I don’t present these as inflexible categories but rather as something for you to ponder.

Mind

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul directs Christians to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” I suspect that the apostle has in mind here intelligent prayer. That is to say, he’s probably referring to communicating with God in one’s native language.

For most Pentecostals and charismatics, the term “praying in the Spirit” is synonymous with speaking in tongues. But I have a hard time imagining Paul insisting that Christians pray in tongues constantly. Rather, I get the impression that he’s reminding believers to pray about any and every situation they face. Nothing’s beyond the Lord’s ability to hear and answer.

At the worship service last Sunday, my wife and I prayed with some congregation members for a lady undergoing a test for cancer. An intimidating request, but we prayed in faith. Only a few days later, they emailed me that her test showed no cancer; this sister in Christ was clear! Praise God!

Does this qualify as praying in the Spirit? I’d like to think so. I believe that the Holy Spirit helped us intercede for a godly lady and I give Him credit for the fantastic results!

Heart

Now consider praying in tongues. In 1 Corinthians 14:14-15, Paul seems to identify praying in tongues with praying in the Spirit. As you talk to God in a language you don’t know, your mind may not be engaged but your spirit is active. You have a direct line to the heart of God (see 1 Corinthians 14:2).

Years ago, when I was driving back home from a day of seminary classes, I decided to pray in tongues as a way to make productive use of my long commute (about an hour). After a few minutes, I felt my prayer intensify, as though the Holy Spirit were compelling my speech.

When I arrived at the house, my roommate told me that a friend of ours had called to let us know that his mother had passed away. I’m convinced that I prayed for my friend during that entire drive home. My mind may not have understood what was going on, but my spirit, under the authority of the Holy Spirit, interceded for a hurting soul. That’s the love of Jesus in action!

Gut

Finally, praying in the Spirit doesn’t even require words. According to Romans 8:26, the Spirit Himself prays on our behalf with “wordless groans.”

I’m about to switch health insurance plans, and if you’ve ever done that, you know how complicated things can get. I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic, so occasionally I have to order supplies for my insulin pump. In the past, I’ve had little trouble placing an order over the phone and getting the supplies shipped to my house within a week.

But not this time. Because it was the beginning of the year, the customer service rep explained, insurance companies had a backlog of requests to process. It would take between 8-14 business days just to get the approval from insurance before the supplies could be mailed out.

I didn’t argue with the representative. Instead, I fell silent, and uttered a brief groan under my breath. Not in despair; more like an attempt to surrender the matter to Jesus. What else could I do?

That was the end of it, or so I thought. Except that, only a couple of days later, I received an email telling me that the supplies had been shipped out. I got them yesterday! Somehow, God cut through the red tape and gave me what I needed when I needed it. And all I’d done was sigh!

Summary

To pray in the Spirit means that He guides your communication with the Father. It’s not confined to any one form of expression. Praying in the Spirit includes English (or whatever your native language happens to be), tongues, and even groans.

When you’re praying in the Spirit, He watches over, influences, and directs your prayers. But you’re not passive. You don’t have to sit back and watch what happens. Be active. Put yourself into your prayers; invest them with your mind, your heart, and your gut. Don’t hold back! When you do, you’ll discover that you’re being guided by the Spirit. You’re not praying alone even if you’re by yourself. Christ is with you.

It’s not neat, but it’s relational and real. If you follow Jesus as His disciple, He will teach you about prayer. He will equip you to pray under the authority and with the full force of the Holy Spirit. And that can make all the difference in this world.

What has God taught you about praying in the Spirit? I’d like to hear your experiences.

 

How Long?

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(This is the third post in a series on prayer. For the first, go here; for the second, here.)

Some phrases stick with you. Years ago, I wrote a paper about Psalm 13 for an Old Testament class. I still remember feeling the psalmist David’s heavy heart as four times in the opening verses he calls out, “How long?” Stressed about enemies and God’s supposed indifference, he wondered when (or if) the Lord would come through for him. With one eye on God and another on the clock, David poured out his anxiety.

That simple question got into my head, so even now, when I hear it, I recall that psalm.

Since Psalm 13 is a prayer, you could apply the the question, “how long?” to prayer itself. How long should you pray about a matter? Should you beseech God a long time or only briefly? And should you address Him repeatedly about an issue or is once enough?

Here are four possibilities.

  1. Long

Some people have trouble with prayer because they don’t know what to say. The idea of talking to God stumps them because it feels like it’s a one-way conversation. What do you say? What’s proper and what’s out of bounds? And praying in public? Leading a group of people? Not me!

But others don’t hold back. They tell God everything that’s on their mind. The Bible records several lengthy prayers, including those spoken by Nehemiah and Daniel. The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is a prayerful meditation on the value of Scripture. Finally, Jesus prayed all night before He chose His 12 apostles the following morning. And His prayer shortly before His arrest took up an entire chapter.

So lengthy prayers pass biblical muster.

  1. Short

But perhaps long prayers are unnecessary. Maybe you should just get right to the point. Avoid prattle. That’s what Solomon recommends. God is an awesome king, so keep your head and your word count down.

When he heard about the shabby conditions of the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah prayed promptly but succinctly. And later, when his boss, the emperor of Persia, asked him what he wanted to do about it, Nehemiah had time only for a quick “God, help me!” under his breath.

Even the most famous prayer in the Bible,  the Lord’s Prayer, is only seven verses long. It’s not too difficult to repeat. (I just timed myself and it took me 21 seconds!)

To thank His Father, Christ needed only two sentences. And Jesus’ confidence in God was so great that His brief prayer before raising Lazarus was for the benefit of the audience rather than for Himself.

  1. Once

God know what you need, so you don’t have to ramble. In fact, you need only mention your request a single time. As Jesus explains, by your faith in God, you’ve already received your answer. In fact, I’ve heard some pastors claim that if you pray about a problem more than once, you’re not trusting God. Your words might appear faithful but your heart harbors unbelief.

Really? I understand their logic, but it seems harsh, doesn’t it? I guess I’m guilty! You, too?

  1. Often

Nothing exceeds the reach of prayer. You can intercede for anybody and pray about any situation at any time. That’s Paul’s admonition about Spirit-anointed prayer.

And Jesus illustrates frequent prayer with His parable of the persistent widow. This poor woman, with little social support and no political power, sought justice from a reluctant judge. She badgered him until he caved. She wouldn’t quit. Her weapon was repetition and with it, she won her case.

Choices

So which option is right? Which should you choose? Perhaps it just depends. Certain situations require lots of prayer; other circumstances call for a quick response.

But I suggest an alternative. Rather than choosing from among these four, combine them. Put them in a blender and mix them up. What do you get? “Always!”

Pray always. That’s what Jesus wants you to do. Paul, too. Prayer never stops because it serves as the communicative dimension of your relationship with God that never ceases.

And as long as you care about the needs of other people, you have to pray constantly. Paul never gave up interceding for his churches.

How long should you pray? Always – long prayers, short cries, one-time petitions, repeated requests. When you commit to being a disciple, you discover that prayer is much more than a petition, a request, or even an expression of gratitude. It’s a lifestyle, an ongoing relationship. It’s the verbalization of your relationship with Jesus.

How long? Always!

with Bob Condly

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