Our prayer lives can be transformed from dry and functional to vibrant and full of God’s presence. This is called prayer in the Spirit and enables us to give articulation in prayer to the deep cries of our hearts.
Understanding What Is Meant
Some of the time, prayer can feel like a struggle. Words do not flow and it feels difficult to connect with God. Martyn Lloyd Jones acknowledges this, as he says, “We all know what it is to feel deadness in prayer, difficulty in prayer, to be tongue-tied with nothing to say, as it were, having to force ourselves to try.”
Other times, prayer is very different to this. There is a tangible sense of God’s presence and the prayer feels like genuine communion with him. The words come easily, and God’s voice is clear. It is as though we are no longer battling in prayer on our own but are being carried along by God himself. This is what is meant by ‘praying in the Spirit’ (see also Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20).
In these verses, Paul highlights two ways the Holy Spirit transforms our struggling prayer lives. Firstly, he ‘helps us in our weakness’. Though we might not know what to say, the Spirit can give us words to pray (sometimes in our own languages, and other times in tongues or in ‘groanings too deep for words’). He helps us to articulate the prayers of our hearts and he enables us to draw into the very presence of God as we pray.
Secondly, the Spirit himself intercedes for us. The Spirit knows our deepest needs and pleads the case for us before God. Later in the chapter (v34) we are also told that Christ intercedes for us. What an encouragement for us to pray in the Spirit as we realise that we have both the Spirit and the Son making intercession for us!
Like many of the topics in this series, prayer in the Spirit is a collaborative work between us and God. While it is never automatic, there are things that we can do in our prayer lives to facilitate prayer in the Spirit:
- Unhurried Prayer – Too often we try to squeeze prayer into particular gaps in our schedule, or tick off items on a prayer list and then stop. Taking unhurried time before God allows space for the Spirit to work and to help us encounter God’s presence. .
- Worshipful Prayer – There is nothing wrong with bringing our requests to God, but prayer is about much more than this – it is about relationship with God! As we pray worshipfully, expressing our praise and love of God, we are drawing near to him; and James says that as we draw near to God, he draws near to us! Worshipful prayer is often the launch-pad for prayer in the Spirit.
- ‘Pray Until You Pray’ – Often the problem can be that we are waiting for something to happen before we start praying. The best way is to start praying, and pray whatever we have, all the while looking for the Spirit to draw alongside us in our prayer and help us in our weakness.