Questions and Answers
Q: I hear people say “you have to pray in the spirit”, exactly what is that? I mean anything we pray are we not praying in the spirit?
The phrase ‘praying in the Holy Spirit’ is found twice within the Scriptures. First, it is found in Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” The context surrounding this command to ‘pray in the Spirit’ concerns the “whole armor of God” provided for the saints. The saints are instructed to put on the whole armor of God and to pray and be watchful because of the spiritual war in which we are all engaged. This sounds much like the command the Lord Jesus gave to His disciples in Gethsemane; “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak”, Matthew 26:41. The saint’s regenerated spirit is desirous to resist the enemy, the devil. To successfully accomplish this, one must ‘watch’; to be on guard and resist the temptation of the devil, James 4:7. The power to do this comes in answer to submissive prayer allowing the Holy Spirit control of our lives, Galatians 5:16. There can be no righteous walk apart from the control of the Holy Spirit. There will be no victory over self, sin, and Satan apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Saints must pray in the Spirit.
The second location of this phrase is Jude 20, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.” Looking again at the context of Scripture, we find this verse is in conclusion of a discourse concerning the existence and danger of apostasy(1) and the threat of undisciplined and unsuspecting saints falling prey to ungodly evils of this world. The prevention lies in the saint’s growing in their faith, “building up on your most holy faith”. This results from the appropriating study of the entirety of Scripture. The illumination to the truths of God’s Word comes only from the Holy Spirit. ‘Praying in the Spirit’ provides the ability to keep oneself in the love of God.
So what is it to pray in the Spirit? The key is found in Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” This passage suggests the following truths: we need help in our weakness, we do not know how to rightly pray, the Holy Spirit is the one who assists us in prayer, He is the one who is praying, He knows our hearts, He knows the mind and will of God, the Holy Spirit always prays according to the will of God—not according to the will of man. This verse is also found within the context of God exhorting the saint to resist the evil lures of this world and the tendencies of the flesh to revert back into the ‘old way’ of life. The Lord commands the saints of God to live “spiritually minded” and not “carnally minded”, Romans 8:5-9, 12-17. When a child of God becomes bombarded and overwhelmed with the ungodly allurements of the world and sin, the Holy Spirit comes to his aide in intercessory prayer.
Some may relate ‘praying in the Spirit’ with speaking or praying in ‘tongues.’ This has nothing to do with speaking or praying in tongues or in another ‘heavenly’ language. If the biblical gift of tongues were still available today (I do not believe this gift is) it is a gift not available to all. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians clearly teaches that not everyone has or receives the same gifts. But praying in the Spirit is not one of the spiritual gifts listed, but an intervention by the indwelling Spirit of God in prayer on behalf of the saint.
‘Prayer in the Spirit’ is all inclusive of all saints. Prayer in the Spirit is much deeper than a verbalized and non-understandable prayer. This prayer may not even be verbalized. This flows from the depths of one’s spirit as a cry of desperation for help from God to resist the carnal temptations. Praying in the Spirit has everything to do with complete submission to the control of God in our lives and application of and obedience to His Word. As the child of God submerges himself in the Word of God and submits to the control of the Holy Spirit, his prayers are presented to the Father according to His will, enabling him to live righteously and resist Satan and temptation. “Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him”, 1 John 5:14-15. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit”, Romans 8:1. When we live according to the Spirit of God, we live a life pleasing to our heavenly Father.
(1) Apostasy: S. Maxwell Coder defines apostasy as: “An apostate has received light, but not life. He may have received, in some degree, the written word; but he has not received the Living Word, the Son of God.”