Praying in the Spirit
Bible Reading: Jude 1:20-21; Ephesians 6:18
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20).
“Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18).
The admonition to pray in the Spirit is a reminder to us of what Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Devotion to prayer is not for us a religious duty in which we begrudgingly endeavor to do our best, but a Spirit-borne privilege in which we are Spirit-led and empowered to worship God in all the various facets of prayer. In his book, True Praying in the Holy Spirit, G. H. C. Macgregor explained, “The first work of the Spirit as the Spirit of supplication is to fill us with the desire for prayer…He brings us into and keeps us in a frame of mind in which prayer is not only possible but delightful.…He fills the heart so full of desire that we are driven to prayer for relief.”
Likewise, William Gurnall, spoke of this work of the Spirit in his Christian Classic, The Christian in Complete Armor, “The Spirit must groan, and then the soul will groan. He helps us to these sighs and groans which turn the sails of prayer. He dissolves the heart and then it [i.e., prayer] bursts out of the heart by groans of the lips by heavenly rhetoric, out of the eyes as from a floodgate with tears.”
Who can pray in the Spirit? Only those who are born again! And here it’s good to remind us of some foundational truths. The Holy Spirit is a divine person. Jesus called Him the Helper, for He was sent to come alongside us to help us (John 14:15-17). Every born-again believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God–and is incredibly blessed this way! The Holy Spirit is our worship leader (Philippians 3:3), and only by Him can we worship God in Spirit and truth (John 4:23). Who can pray in the Spirit? Only those who are being led by and yielded to the Spirit. Scripture gives four commands regarding our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Positively we are to be “filled with the Spirit” and “walk by the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-20; Galatians 5:16; 22-23). Spirit-led worship and Spirit-borne Christlike virtues are the fruit of such a walk. Negatively, we are to “not quench” and “not grieve” the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). We grieve or quench the Spirit when we engage in practices that resist Him in the good work He is doing in us.
The call to a life characterized by devotion to prayer is a call to be yielded to, and led and empowered by, the Spirit of God. The lack of desire for prayer is indicative, to some extent, of something amiss in our relationship to the Spirit who indwells us. The remedy to that problem lies not in trying harder in our own self effort to do better but getting to the root of the problem. The good news is that God’s grace and mercy knows no bounds. There is always room to confess one’s sins and look to God for cleansing, renewal and heart-change!
All that being said, it’s also good to remind us of the Spirit’s helpful role in our weakness with respect to our praying, 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 8:26-27). In our prayers we’ve the absolute best of prayer partners! Have you ever been in a situation where you had no idea of how or what to pray? What should you request? What is the right thing to be done? How will God best be glorified in the matter? The Holy Spirit is not bound by our ignorance or weakness, for He intercedes for us “according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27)! He is well able to translate the most poorly expressed of prayers into that which is acceptable before God. We need Him! And we need Him to lead us in our prayers!
S. D. Gordon, “There is one who is the Master Intercessor. He understands prayer perfectly. He is the Spirit of prayer…Let Him teach you.”
SPIRIT OF GOD, DESCEND UPON MY HEART
Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart,
wean it from sin, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are,
and make me love you as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no opening skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.
Did you not bid us love you, God and King,
love you with all our heart and strength and mind?
I see the cross there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek you and O let me find!
Teach me to feel that you are always nigh;
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
teach me the patience of unceasing prayer.
Teach me to love you as your angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame:
the fullness of the heaven-descended Dove;
my heart an altar, and your love the flame.