Pray in the Spirit

February 18, 2022 By David McConnell

20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Expand Passage …
Jude 20-21, ESV

Jude writes his short letter to the church, urging them to contend for the true gospel in light of false teachers who had slipped in among them; they were teaching in error that God’s gift of grace allows Christians to live in whatever lifestyle they choose. Jude refutes this teaching and in turn, encourages the believers to keep themselves – or abide in – the love of God. He presents two means that God has ordained for His people to draw close and live in His presence. First, believers should build themselves up in their faith. This is a call to have a plan—informed by scripture—for spiritual and doctrinal growth, and then to be intentional about working that plan. In context, we can be certain that this would involve continual confession of sin and seeking to follow after the commands, the character, and the works of Jesus. Secondly, to remain in God’s love, Jude says believers should pray in the Holy Spirit.

Prayer in Tongues

In many Christian traditions, praying in the Spirit is associated with prayers made in an unknown language or “tongues.” In the Bible, to pray in a tongue is to be spiritually gifted to offer prayers in either a human language that is foreign to the individual praying or in a completely unknown, Heavenly language. When a person prays in tongues (in private or corporately with an interpreter), certainly that would be a prayer in or by the Spirit. But I do not believe praying in tongues is what Jude is referring to in his letter. Rather, he is referencing a general way in which Christians should pray all the time, just as Paul encouraged the Ephesians to do (Ephesians 6:18). And since Paul also taught that not all Christians will pray in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30) we can conclude that praying in the Spirit is not just a special type of prayer that a few will do; it is the normative way in which all believers should pray.

Defining Prayer in the Spirit

So how do we define what Jude means by this phrase? I think it is important to look at similar language we find in the New Testament, such as in Romans 8:13, which says a believer must put sin to death “by the Spirit.” Here we see that the ultimate cause of victory over sin is God’s Spirit in the Christian. But the agent the Spirit uses to put this sin to death is the believer. The Spirit engages and empowers the conscious will and the work of a Christ-follower to actively kill their sin. This means that as the believer labors for godliness, they do so understanding that their efforts are being empowered by someone else; the reason they can overcome sin is the Spirit working in them.

I believe this is the exact same idea contained in the phrase, “Pray in the Spirit,” a way of praying that means the believer is not approaching God using only human faculties. They are not the source of inspiration or direction for their prayers; rather, they are being moved along and guided by the Spirit as they pray. And when they encounter a difficulty—such as boredom, lack of zeal, loss of words, or aimlessness—they do not give up or overcome that difficulty in their own power. Rather, the Christian can trust that the Spirit is able and willing to engage and empower their will and their efforts in prayer, equipping them with the affection, energy, direction, and words they need. So just as we put to death sin by the power of another, praying in the Spirit is a command to pray in the power of another.

How do we Pray?

So, if praying in the Spirit is the normative way that a believer should pray and a means by which you remain in God’s love, how do you practically do it? Here are 3 thoughts:

  1. Pray about praying. Confessing to God that you cannot pray as you ought and trusting that the Spirit will help you in your weakness (Romans 8:26) is a great start. Do not trust your flesh or your experience or your many words to pray well. And do not worry that your weakness, confusion, dullness, or lack of words is a hindrance you must overcome on your own. The Spirit will intercede for you, even if all you can do is groan. When you pray, begin by asking for God’s spirit to be with you; to give you the words and energy to pray, and to stir affections for God and others as you do.
  2.  Pray according to God’s word. We know that scripture says the Bible came to light as men wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So certainly, praying in the Spirit will involve praying according to the word He inspired. The Spirit breathes boldness and life into your prayers when you ask according to what is written in scripture; or when you in humility confess and believe with thanksgiving the promises you see in it. When you let God’s word inform your prayers, you are most assuredly praying in the Spirit.
  3. Do not Grieve or Quench the Spirit. You grieve the Spirit by willful disobedience to God (Ephesians 4:30), and you quench the Spirit by not embracing His work in your life or following His leading. For example, the Thessalonians were quenching the Spirit by despising the prophecies He empowered (1 Thess 5:19). Martin Lloyd Jones said that the quickest way for a believer to quench the Spirit in their prayer life was to ignore an impulse to pray. You might quench the Spirit by making little time for prayer or by ignoring an urging to pray for someone or something in the midst of your day. To help ensure praying in the Spirit is not hindered, a believer should repent of any known sin the LORD brings to mind and seek to follow the urges the Spirit gives to pray, privately and in public.

Prayer in the Spirit is vital for the Christian life. I hope this is the beginning of a journey for all of us to more deeply consider how to overcome weakness in prayer by the power of another—the Spirit of God, promised to all who belong to Christ.

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