What Does it Mean to Pray in the Spirit
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (NIV).
As I read this, it dawned on me that I didn’t really know what “in the Spirit” really meant. The focus of this verse for me has always been on the phrase, “on all occasions” and not the phrase, “in the Spirit.” I asked the Lord to help me to understand this command in the Bible, so that I might live in light of His truth. Here are some of the thoughts that seem to resonate with Scripture.
First of all, maybe I can understand this by recognizing what it is not:
- It is not praying like the “hypocrites” i.e. religious leaders of Jesus’ day (Matthew 6:5-6). They prayed in the power of the self: They were proud, condescending, smug, and self-righteous. They prayed to be seen, not to connect with the Father in Heaven.
- It is not praying like the Gentiles (Matthew 6:7), who pray with meaningless repetition.
- It is not praying with a manipulative agenda in mind, trying to twist God’s arm to get Him to do what we want. This includes using spiritual disciplines (i.e., fasting) as a type of leveraging point to make God obligated to meet our requests in our timing and our way.
- It is not praying with a view of God that reduces Him to a formula or an object who exists solely to satisfy my desires and needs.
- It is not praying as if God needs me to come up with the answer to a problem (as if He doesn’t already have a solution). Praying without God’s omniscience in mind.
- It is not praying out of obligation or guilt, thinking that this is a good work that I must do in order to make God happy with me.
Maybe praying in the Spirit has something to do with the following mindsets that Scripture tells us are ours if we are in Christ:
- Relationality: To recognize who I am and my requests in light of my relationship with the Spirit, who helps me to cry out “Abba, Father!” There is a sense of intimacy and dependence on God as my provider. I go to Him needy child-like, dependent. I can trust God’s heart for he knows what I need even before I pray.
- Romans 8:15-17 NAS95 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
- Galatians 4:6-7 NAS95 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
- Matthew 6:8 NIV 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
- Cooperation: I ask the Spirit what He is praying for in my life and in the lives around me. What is His vision for the situation? How would He want me to pray? How would He want me to contribute to His redemptive plan?
- Romans 8:26-27 NAS95 26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
- Confidence: I approach the throne of Grace boldly, because I have been listening to God’s heart (through His Word) and can pray according to His will. This is not the arrogance of the Pharisees, but the assurance that the Spirit gives us that we are children of God and can participate with how He would move here on earth based on His value system.
- Ephesians 3:12 NIV 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
- Hebrews 4:16 NAS95 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
- John 15:7 NAS95 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
- Spirit-led Passion: I allow the Spirit’s fire to burn in my heart. When prompted to pray or move, I test to see if this is from the Spirit of God (based on Scripture). I do not quench or grieve the Spirit. Instead I seek the continual filling of the Spirit.
- Ephesians 5:18 NIV 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
- Ephesians 4:30 NIV 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:19 NIV 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.