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How to Pray in the Spirit

How to Pray in the Spirit
image courtesy of Jesus Culture

One of the steps of the last post was to pray in the Spirit. While it fit naturally into that post, I’m aware there are many misconceptions and controversy on this topic. I don’t want to add any division, but I did feel it necessary to at least explain what I mean more thoroughly.

What is the Controversy?

Praying in the Spirit has been a hot topic because for some it is a sign of greater maturity in Christ – for some it is even a sign that someone has the Holy Spirit. This doctrine comes from an interpretation of Acts where people displayed similar signs once they received the Holy Spirit.

Here are four of my principles when considering this debate:

    1. We are not to compare ourselves to others (2 Corinthians 10:12-13).
    2. The Holy Spirit is given to every believer (Ephesians 1:13-14).
    3. Many godly leaders never promoted praying in the Spirit: Billy Graham and Bill Bright.
      While other godly leaders did: Martin Luther, Dwight Moody, and John Wesley.
    4. God is looking for hearts inclined to Him. This is more important than doing right steps (Psalm 51:17).

I pray in the Spirit more than any of you – Paul  (1 Corinthians 14:18)

Because of the controversy, many churches, ministries, and Christians either shy away from the topic or push it to a time that has passed. Paul, however, steps into the firestorm and declares its importance to him and others. Even though he knew the Scripture so well that most of the New Testament was entrusted to him to write, he declared that praying in the Spirit was edifying to him and others (1 Corinthians 14:4-5).

What Praying in the Spirit IS NOT

1. A sign to determine whether you have the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a gift to all who put their trust in Jesus. Praying in the Spirit doesn’t guarantee that you are listening to the Spirit’s direction or following Him. It is also not a magical incantation that makes you a super Christian. Even thought Jesus’ yoke is easy, we still need to die to ourselves, whether you pray in the Spirit or not.

2. Dwelling on God’s goodness.
Because of lack of teaching on the subject, some believe that it is dwelling on God’s goodness which then releases the Holy Spirit’s desires for you. Dwelling on God’s goodness is amazing and beneficial to all believers, but it is not the same as praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit has a spoken element.

3. The gift of tongues.
The gift of tongues is speaking in a real language unknown to the speaker. It is assumed it would be interpreted. The gift of tongues is a sign for unbelievers but praying in the Spirit edifies yourself (1 Corinthians 14:22 & 14:4). They may somehow be related, but if you put this criteria on your ability to pray in the Spirit, you will hinder the freedom God has placed on it.

What praying in the Spirit IS

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. 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. – Romans 8:26-27

For each person it will sound differently, and like anything with God it takes faith. You will not know what you are saying. You may feel ridiculous, but that happens when you try something new. Just keep checking your heart. Are you doing it for Jesus? Do you feel closer to Him? More in love with others? For me, once convinced this was from God, I prayed to have the ability. Afterwards, as I spoke, I chose to trust it was from God as an act of faith.

Normal prayer is through our understanding using words we can comprehend. We engage the mind and make our requests known. Prayer in the Spirit bypasses the mind and engages our spirit. We may or may not know what we are praying for. As we pray in the Spirit, we do not limit our prayers to our understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15). Both ways of prayer are important. Don’t let the controversy surrounding this topic keep you from a tool God has given you to help your Christian walk.

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. – Ephesians 6:18

  • Let me state again that this post is not intended to stir up debate. If you enjoy that type of mental exercise, there are many other sites that are maintained for that purpose. If you have a legitimate question, please post it below and I will do my best to answer it.
  • I have found praying in the Spirit to be a helpful tool to my growth in Christ. I particularly enjoy singing in the Spirit in the privacy of my car.

Related Post

10 Responses to “How to Pray in the Spirit”

  1. Bunnyb1802 says:

    I fist spoke in tongues when I was 15. I believed & I didn’t mind feeling foolish at first.

    Then I got older, stopped going to church for a while & became cynical.

    When I came back to church, I refused to speak in tongues as I believed I had deceived myself in my youthful enthusiasm. I was jaded in my view of tongues, having seen it abused for people’s own aggrandisement.

    Years later, I felt the challenge from God to reclaim the gift and I did. I am so sorry now that I refused a gift for so long because I doubted.

    This post is excellent. I should have studies the Word before throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

    Thank you for this clear setting out of the gift.

  2. Adam says:

    Do you feel as though praying in the spirit and speaking in tongues are the same?
    I personally speak in tongues but feel that praying in the spirit is different (although it may include tongues)

    • Dear Adam,

      This is a great question that I only have opinions on. People seem to use the terminology interchangeably, so for many it is the same. I know there is a usage difference between praying in the Spirit and speaking in tongues, which I mentioned in the post. Speaking in tongues have the intent on being interpreted and are a sign to unbelievers. Praying in the Spirit is for the edification of the pray-er. It releases things of the spirit into the natural. I have found that I more commonly have new insights and quicker understanding after praying in the Spirit.

      In all practical purposes (in what it sounds like and how it feels when using the gift) they both might be the same, but used at different times and different ways. I like to communicate them as if they are different because they have different uses and the gift of tongues can put too much of a performance on praying in the Spirit that it could keep believers from partaking in the gift.

      That’s my understanding. How do you feel about it?

  3. Adam says:

    Thanks for the quick response!

    I guess the reasoning behind asking the question that I did was because I noticed how you were referring to both tongues and praying in the spirit in the context of 1cor 14. You also did specifically say that praying in the spirit isn’t necessarily limited to tongues. So mainly I was seeking clarification.

    Personally I have lots of friends who use the terms interchangeably. I’ve stopped doing that recently because I believe that tongues itself is a very limited way to view praying in the spirit. I believe that praying in the spirit is simply, being in the spirit and praying.. In the beginning of revelations John said he was “in the spirit on the Lords day” then he wrote a sweet book about going to heaven!

    I think what you said about praying in the spirit looking different for all people is very important because we all may have different understandings of what being in the spirit looks like. The Ephesians verse says “pray in the spirit… With all kinds of prayers…” so not limited to tongues, but not excluding either. I’m more of a seer so I often pray more based off visions and ‘senses’.

    Great article! I hope Jesus uses you to break down many many walls!
    Thanks!

    • Dear Adam,

      Thanks for giving your thoughts on the subject. I absolutely believe that pray can take so many different forms. Our whole lives are to be offerings of prayer. That means sleeping can be a form of prayer! How awesome is that?!!! As we keep our minds and hearts on things above, we are going to stay very close to God’s heart of prayer.

      Blessings.

  4. Timothy says:

    Thanks for teaching on praying in the Spirit. I love praising God in words, giving Him thanks to Him, declaring aloud whatever He said in the bible about my situation – calling those things be not as though they were. Then I would praise Him in the Spirit, till joy & peace floods & guard my heart or spirit man. Guess what happens? God’s presence would come upon me, and I would recieve a miracle in my situation within days. Praising God in the Spirit in spite of negative circumstances, declaring His words aloud really works! PTL forever for His faithfulness.

    • Dear Timothy,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with praying in the Spirit. Not everyone will notice such a direct outcome to their prayers, but to paraphrase one prayer quote: “I don’t believe in luck, but I find that I am luckier after having prayed.” Maybe another way of saying it is, “the eyes of faith are more apted to God’s answers to prayers.”
      Blessings,
      Kevin

  5. Pat says:

    I find it hard to pray in the spirit or speak in tongues. How can I achieve this.

    • Dear Pat,
      This will be different for each person. For me I had an intellectual barrier to overcome. Even when I believed it was true and something from God, I had more faith in my ability to get it wrong than on God to give it to me. One of the things I mentioned in the post that was extremely helpful to me was that I had to realize it was from faith. Once I started what may or may not have been praying in the Spirit, I chose to believe it was from God. In reality I didn’t know. What I did know was that I was trying to move towards God, God wanted me to have this gift, and I felt closer to Jesus while doing it. Once I gave up on having to do it perfectly and started to just enjoy being with God, I started to also enjoy the process more. Over time I started to see more “evidence” that these prayers were of the Spirit, but I still focus on the faith aspect of it. “For it is impossible to please God without faith.” Pat, I hope this helps you. It may also help to find someone who can be with you as you walk through this process.

      God wants you to have all His gifts. Keep pressing in.

      Blessings,
      Kevin

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