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How the Holy Spirit helps you pray


Pete Greig is a pastor, author, and the principal founder of 24/7 Prayer, a movement which now operates in about half the countries on earth.  When asked why he and his small congregation south of London started the first 24/7 prayer room in 1999, he said it was because they figured prayer was important and “we were really, really bad at it.”

Like Pete, most people know prayer is important, which is why most people do it. Also, like Greig’s admission, most of us know that in spite of its popularity prayer is rarely easy. In other words, prayer is normal but it’s not natural. 

Actually, prayer isn’t supposed to be natural. Real prayer is supernatural. The problem is, we are more compatible with earth than we are with heaven. That’s one of the primary reasons why we need help. We need the Holy Spirit. Here are some practical ways the Holy Spirit helps you pray:

The Spirit prays for us

Paul mentions the Holy Spirit only four times from the beginning of the book of Romans through chapter 7. Then in a flurry, he mentions the Holy Spirit about 22 times in Romans 8. To put that in perspective, that single chapter contains almost 10 percent of all the references to the Spirit in the entire New Testament. Paul’s many instructions in chapter 8 about the Spirit’s ministry extends even to our prayer lives. 

In Romans 8:26, Paul confessed, on behalf of all believers, that we are spiritually impotent and ignorant regarding prayer – we are weak, and we lack understanding. He said, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Perhaps it is tempting to quit trying if the apostle Paul himself says he doesn’t know what to pray. We might think, “If Paul struggles, what hope is there for me?” Fortunately, Paul does not make himself the model for prayer. Instead, he says the Spirit “intercedes for us.” 

Obviously, if we do not understand how or what we should pray, God’s solution of sending the Holy Spirit of God to pray in us, through us, and on our behalf doesn’t make the process easier to comprehend! As the Whitworth University New Testament scholar Robert H. Mounce wrote in his commentary on Romans, “Prayer has always been one of the great mysteries of the spiritual life. We understand that God is listening, but we sense our inadequacy when it comes to knowing how to pray or exactly what we should pray for.” He went on to say, “When our lack of faith undermines certainty in prayer, the Spirit himself intercedes on our behalf.” 

Although we are unaware of it, this is a process that occurs frequently when we pray. In fact, the Greek verb translated “intercedes” is present tense, suggesting that the Spirit is currently praying on our behalf. 

Like a page we left long ago yet still running silently in the background of our computer, the Spirit is invisibly praying wordless prayers on our behalf at all times beyond our capacity to comprehend. 

In his book on prayer, J. I. Packer attempting to explain the unexplainable said, “God fixes our prayers on the way up. If He does not answer the prayer we made, He will answer the prayer we should have made. This is all anyone needs to know.”

We pray in the Spirit

Not only does the Spirit pray for us, we can also pray in the Spirit. There are places in the New Testament where we could wish for more clarification. The subject of “praying in the Spirit” is one of those conversations. Praying in the Spirit is encouraged but not defined in both Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20. 

Praying in the Spirit is personal because it is prayer “in” the Spirit. We should, therefore, pray to be filled with the Spirit so we can pray in the Spirit.  Praying in the Spirit is for all of us because the word “praying” is plural (Ephesians 6:18). Praying in the Spirit is not limited to any specific time or place, because we are to pray in the Spirit “at all times” (v. 18). In addition, praying in the Spirit cannot be limited to one kind of prayer; but, instead, it involves “all prayer and supplication” (v. 18).

While neither of the two prominent passages explain how we should pray in the Spirit, they both describe the circumstances that call for prayer in the Spirit. For instance, both Paul and Jude encourage praying in the Spirit during times of extreme conflict or spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18; Jude 17- 20). For Paul, praying in the Spirit is associated with the “whole armor of God” (6:11). For Jude, praying in the Spirit is necessary when contending “for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In both cases the context is one of contention and fighting battles. 

All of us face challenges, but the context of Paul and Jude teach that God’s people face spiritual conflicts unique to the Christian life. In order to fight successfully, therefore, we need to pray in the Holy Spirit for power. He prepares us for battle. Many of us may want to imagine that there is no battle in the Christian life; but if there isn’t, why did He give us so much armor? 

While explanations may be limited as to how we pray in the Spirit, the child of God intent on obeying and experiencing what God has provided can believe that God will lead us into the prayer life He wants for us. As Jack Taylor said, “There is only one alternative to praying in the Spirit and that is praying in the flesh, if that can be called praying at all.”

    About the Author

  • Kie Bowman

    Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas and the SBC National Director of Prayer.

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