Praying in the Spirit

But how?

Ephesians 6:18–20 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

This passage spawns one of the classic Bible questions. How do you pray in the Spirit? It’s a classic because it isn’t easy to describe.

But it is easy to describe what it’s not. If you know exactly what you want to say and then you say it, that’s not praying in the spirit. That’s just you praying.

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26 (NIV)

This is a portrait of the spirit stepping in when we’re stuck. So is praying in the spirit being stuck?

It could be, but Romans 8:26 is broader. It says, “weakness,” not, “stuck.” Praying in the spirit is the opposite of taking command and saying some well-crafted prayer. It’s being weak and letting the spirit drive. God knows our needs better than we do.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:8b (NIV)

So, it makes sense to be flexible and humble while praying, letting unexpected things happen.

And we’re supposed to do this on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. That is, pray in the Spirit all the time. That means making this kind of prayer your norm.

With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Then Paul boldly asks for prayer for himself.

He needs it.

Unpredictable prayer is exciting. We think we “know” what we need, but we’re often wrong. We should on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests allow our prayers to be redirected by the Holy Spirit.

This happens (at least to me) more often with desperate prayers. I plead and scream but end up realizing that my prayers have shifted. I look back thinking, “How’d that happen?” But of course, I know.

I doubt it’s the desperation that causes the Holy Spirit to take over. I think it’s that desperate prayers are longer. Short prayers don’t leave room for much action. Long prayers are different.

Always keep on praying.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.