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.
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!
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!
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!
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.