In Ephesians 6, Paul says to pray in the Spirit. What does that mean? In a Pentecostal environment, many would say that this means speaking in tongues. But if you are not in a Pentecostal environment, then praying in the Spirit probably means something entirely different.
The point is this, it doesn’t matter whether you pray in tongues or not. In either case, praying in the Spirit should be understood as praying in the power of the Spirit, by the leading of the Spirit, and according to His will. What that means is, we should pray from the heart, what we believe the Lord is laying on our hearts. It isn’t so much about getting the words right, or whether or not we have our eyes closed or our hands folded. It’s about getting our hearts right and in line with his Spirit.
I often search for words when I pray. You know, the greatest challenge I have in preaching is getting the words right. You’ll notice I often trip over my tongue sometimes. And not only that, I sit at my computer, and as a former full-time newspaper writer, and as someone who has a novel yet-to-be published, I’ve spent countless hours laboring over the words and the sentences and getting the words on my computer screen just right. For my sermons, I do that. I use a thesaurus and re-read my sermon points and polish my sentences so that each phrase is just so. Then, when it comes time to preach, if you haven’t noticed, I often try to say everything word for word just as I wrote it.
My public speaking and preaching teacher would deduct points if he knew I did that. Why? Because verbal communication needs to come from the heart. How would it feel if your child constantly spoke to you by recitation?
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said: 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
But like I said, what do we do if we just don’t have the words to say? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or how to say it. With my introverted brain, it happens all the time. My mind goes blank. How do I convey this, how do I say it? Jesus goes on in this passage next by teaching us how to pray. He gives us The Lord’s Prayer.
But sometimes, The Lord’s Prayer just doesn’t cut it. I know, it sounds blasphemous to say that. Sometimes, you have needs and emotions and concerns that are just not found in The Lord’s Prayer. Our needs are sometimes too personal. And sometimes so personal and so desperate, we just don’t have the words and we don’t even know where to begin.
So Paul, the same man who told the Ephesians to pray in the Spirit, encouraged the Romans with a similar passage. He said: 26 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.27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Matthew Henry said, “It is not the rhetoric and eloquence, but the faith and fervency, of our prayers, that the Spirit works, as an intercessor, in us.” He went on to say “nothing is more comfortable than that God searches the heart, for then he will hear and answer those desires which we want words to express. He knows what we have need of before we ask, Matt. 6:8. He knows what is the mind of his own Spirit in us. And, as he always hears the Son interceding for us, so he always hears the Spirit interceding in us, because his intercession is according to the will of God.”
The Spirit of God is not going to disobey or be off track to the mind or the will of God. They are one.
So when our prayers are led by the Spirit, how can our prayers be off, even if we don’t have the words? How can we be praying for the wrong thing? How can our prayers not be heard and not be answered?
And when we pray in the Spirit, our hearts will also hear the Spirit speaking back to us.
Isaiah said: “21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
A few months ago, there was a big controversy over our vice president Mike Pence saying that he hears the voice of God. It was mocked by a TV talk show personality. But when we’re in prayer, we can hear the voice of God. Not audibly in our physical ears, but by our spirit. Jim Bauman was just talking with me about that a few weeks ago regarding one of his poems he wrote.
So with this encouragement, we looked at how to pray, next week, we’ll look at what we should pray for.