The scriptures, in many places, instruct Christians to pray in the Spirit. Ephesians 6:18, for instance, Paul encourages Christians to always pray in the Spirit. Then, in Jude 20, Christians are urged to build themselves up in the faith through praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is indeed very crucial for all Christians to understand. So how do we pray in the Spirit, and how is it beneficial to us as individuals and for the kingdom of God?
Is Praying in the Spirit Equivalent to Speaking in Tongues?
There is an automatic assumption by many Christians that when Paul says we’re to pray in the Spirit, it implies praying in tongues. It is essential to authenticate this assertion with the help of the scriptures. Ephesians 6:18 commands us to put on the whole armor of God to withstand the evil days we will face (Ephesians 6:11,13). In this portion of Scripture, the armor of God is broken down into the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of truth–the Word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17). What exactly do all of these pieces of the armor of God represent? How does it help us in our struggle against the rulers, authors, and cosmic powers representing the evil spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12)? The armor of God represents Jesus. Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), he is our truth (John 14:6), he is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), he is the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2), he is our savior (Titus 2:13, Luke 2:11), and he is the Word (John 1:1, 14). This is why Paul says in Ephesians 6:10 to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” To fight the schemes of the evil one, we must put on Jesus. Putting on Jesus means having his righteousness, truth, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word through his life, death, and resurrection. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is also known as the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). So, to pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18) goes hand in hand with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Also, in Ephesians 6:17, Paul says to take up the “sword of the Spirit” in the battle against the evil one. What does this mean? The “sword” is the word of God. It is the only weapon listed in the armor of God that can injure the lies of the evil one. Consider what Romans 8:13 says, “By the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body.” What weapon puts to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13)? The answer would most likely be the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The Word of God is our only weapon against the evil one and the flesh. The Holy Spirit empowers us to apply and believe the truths therein. With this in mind, we can safely say that praying Scripture, especially gospel truths, is what Paul means by praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). So praying in the Spirit, considering the context of Ephesians, is not praying in tongues. It is praying in accordance with the truths of the gospel.
Praying Gospel Truths
When you look at Paul’s prayers in the book of Ephesians, you see that he is praying with respect to gospel truths, an example of what it means to pray in the Spirit. Ephesians 1:15-23 and Ephesians 3:14-21 portray samples of Paul’s prayers. Paul prays for the readers of the book of Ephesians to be given a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation (Ephesians 1:17) to know the hope of the gospel (Ephesians 1:18). Paul prays that the Ephesians would understand the hope of the gospel that came through the power of God working through Jesus when he raised him from the dead and set him at his right hand, high above the evil forces of this world (Ephesians 1:19-21). In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays for the Ephesians to be strengthened through the Spirit, grounded in faith, and understand the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:16-19). As Paul prays in Ephesians 3:14, he says, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father.” “For this reason” (Ephesians 3:14) is based on what he said in Ephesians 3:1-13. In Ephesians 3:1-13 Paul says that he was made a minister of the gospel to preach its unsearchable riches to the Gentiles. The love of Christ in Ephesians 3:16-19 points to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These two examples of Paul praying in Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21) are examples of what it means to pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). Praying in the Spirit is praying in agreement with the Holy Spirit’s work, which is to apply the gospel to our lives and leading us to walk in the newness of life. The Spirit of God also washes, regenerates, and renews us (Titus 3:5). Before believing in the gospel, we were foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and measures, passing our days in malice, envy, and hatred (Titus 3:3). However, God, in his goodness, saved us through the power of the gospel and now, his Spirit works in us to apply the gospel to our lives (Titus 3:3-6, Romans 8:3-16, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Are you Praying in the Spirit?
Praying in the Spirit will look like asking the Lord to help you, others, or even the church to live out the gospel by applying it in daily life. An example of this would be praying Romans 5:1-5 to remind you of the hope in the gospel despite the discouragement you may feel. When tempted to sin, pray verses like 2 Peter 1:3-4 to remind you that the gospel gives you all you need to live a godly life. Pray through gospel-centered identity verses when you struggle with who you are. Some of these verses, such as Romans 4:25, 5:9, will remind us that in Christ we’re justified, ransomed (Mark 10:45), redeemed (1 Peter 1:18-19), reconciled (Colossians 1:22), saints (Hebrews 10:10-14, 13:12), and pure (Titus 2:11-14). That is praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is also helpful whenever we have negative thoughts about life. Pray through verses like Romans 8:31-39 to remind yourself that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.
We must be more intentional to pray in the Spirit rather than constantly rebuking the devil or decreeing and declaring blessings over our lives. Let us not be cheated that we’re battling the devil by throwing him into hell in our prayers or decreeing blessings and breakthroughs. Such are not prayers in the Spirit. Prayers that are not about growing strong in Jesus are in vain. You may be aggressive and pray all night for deliverance from the “curses” in your life, but you’re not praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit will sound more like Ephesians 1:15-23 and Ephesians 3:14-21 as one asks for more understanding, hope, and strength from the gospel. Praying in the Spirit will help us to flee from the evil one because as we pray, we will draw near to God and resist the devil while staying firm in our faith (1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7-8).
Praying in the Spirit builds us up in the faith because it keeps us grounded in gospel truths (Jude 20). Praying in the Spirit should, therefore, be done “at all times” (Ephesians 6:18). It should be done with all perseverance, for all Christians, and for the bold progress of the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-20). You may be a prayer warrior and attend all-night prayer services, but the truth is, not having a solid understanding of the gospel will make you a weak soldier in the battle against the enemy’s lies. The sword of the Spirit in the saint’s gospel-centered prayers is the only true weapon against our arch-enemy, the devil. Seek God and ask him for wisdom to pray in the Spirit at all times, even as we grow in the knowledge of the gospel-laden Word of God.