Praying in the Spirit

by Terri Copeland Pearsons

Recently my husband, Pastor George Pearsons, preached a series in our church titled, God Has a Plan for Your Life. (He also wrote an article by the same title in the June Believer’s Voice of Victory magazine.)

Most of us have heard before that God has a plan for us. But when Pastor George called attention to it from the Word of God for several weeks, our faith that God does have a plan began to grow and the anxiety level over our lives began to decrease! So often we are under such pressure as we face life’s decisions. It is good to be confident that God has these decisions already made.
The following is the outline he used for those messages:

  1. God has a plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11, New International Version).
  2. I receive God’s plan by faith—nothing wavering—sight unseen (James 1:5-8).
  3. God’s plan will come out of the realm of the spirit— not the natural (I Corinthians 2:9-10).
  4. I have the ability to hear God’s plan (Psalms 85:8).
  5. I am obedient to God’s plan. Whatever He tells me to do, I will do! (Isaiah 1:19).

As we covered Point 3, “God’s plan will come out of the realm of the spirit—not the natural,” I could almost hear people thinking, Well, how do I get it “out of the spirit” into the natural realm so that I can act on it?
Sometimes when people hear the word spirit, they panic. The very word conveys an image of vague uncertainties. But the spirit realm is not vague or uncertain. It has perfect, even scientific order. Our natural world is a reflection of the spiritual realm. It functions whether you understand it or not. But, it can be explored and its principles revealed. “Yet to us God has unveiled and revealed them by and through His Spirit, for the [Holy] Spirit searches diligently, exploring and examining everything, even sounding the profound and bottomless things of God [the divine counsels and things hidden and beyond man’s scrutiny]” (I Corinthians 2:9-10, The Amplified Bible).

The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom and it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you that kingdom
(Luke 12:32). He will teach you all about it.

Pray in the Spirit

Since the Word of God is God revealing the things of the Spirit to us, we must look there first to understand all spiritual things. Clearly God has revealed the part of His plan that covers all of us in His Word. You must begin there with what He has already said and the parameters He has given for a successful life. But the specifics of His plan must come through prayer. Frankly, without prayer, we can even become unclear how to apply what God has already revealed to us through His Word.

To learn more about the kind of prayer that will take you from where you are now to where you want to be (squarely in the center of God’s plan for your life) let’s take a close look at one of the foundational verses about prayer, Ephesians 6:18, The Amplified Bible:

Pray at all times (on every occasion, in every season) in the Spirit, with all [manner of] prayer and entreaty. To that end keep alert and watch with strong purpose and perseverance, interceding in behalf of all the saints (God’s consecrated people).

As I’ve already said, prayer is primary and essential to finding that exact plan of God that is waiting for you in the Spirit. It is our entrance into God’s courts and our communion and connection with Him. It’s more than a plan that we desire. We want Him.

Charismatics and Pentecostals use the phrase “praying in the spirit” in reference to praying in tongues. It certainly would include that. But if that is all Paul is referring to, then all other prayers from pulpit to table side are invalid because He said, “Pray at all times and with all manner of prayer in the spirit.”

Actually, praying in the spirit, in its most basic definition, is praying from your heart. It doesn’t take much Bible study to see that man is spirit (also called your heart), soul (the mind, will and emotions) and body. Proverbs 20:27 says the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly. It is in your spirit that God talks to you. In your heart, with your heart. God doesn’t want head prayers that have no heart. Why? Because your heart is you. Your mind only belongs to you. Your heart is where faith is produced. In fact, all the forces of life flow out of your heart, not your head.

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:20). Your heart is where God meets you.

Pray With All Manner of Prayer

There are many different kinds of prayer (such as prayers of faith, of agreement, of dedication, of petition, of intercession, etc.) not to mention the tongues of men (unlearned by my mind) and the tongues of angels. Plus, I’ve counted close to 30 different scriptural ways the Spirit expresses Himself in prayer. And the combination of possibilities is fathomless! No wonder He is able to do exceeding abundantly more than we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)! Clearly, our prayer lives should never be dull or dry. They should be adventures in God. Because we have the Word of God, we don’t have to wonder what the manners of prayer are. And because we have the Holy Spirit sent to lead us, we are not left alone to discover which manner is the right one for each prayer. “So, too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought” (Romans 8:26, The Amplified Bible).

Thank God for the Spirit of Truth!

Prayer can be learned. In fact it must be. The disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” And He did. Although I feel as though I know so little, I have learned some things I can share with you that will help your understanding. However, remember, prayer is not by formula or head knowledge; it is by the Spirit, from the heart!

For if I pray in an [unknown] tongue, my spirit (by the Holy Spirit within me) prays, but my mind is unproductive [it bears no fruit and helps nobody]. Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding (I Corinthians 14:14-15, The Amplified Bible).

There are two basic categories for all Spirit-led prayer: With the mind engaged and helping, and with the mind disengaged and unfruitful. We’ve already discovered that all prayer is out of your spirit.

Romans 8:5 tells us to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. That means our heads should take orders from our hearts! Your head is designed by God to hear from your heart.

Mind-engaged prayers are the ones we quote from Scripture, the prayers we pray over our meals or the prayers we teach our children. Our opening service prayers and most corporate prayers are mind-engaged. By this we pray the prayers Paul prayed, we make our confessions of faith before the Lord, and we come in agreement together. The danger of this kind of praying is the mind being so confident of what it knows that it loses its grip on the leading of the Spirit. That results in the mind of the flesh, which is hostile to or acting independent of God. And you never want to find you’re praying independent of God. It’s a waste of time, not to mention dull, dry and dead.

The second category is without the mind engaged. This would include praying in tongues. In fact, tongues is the most frequent expression of this kind of praying. The Bible speaks of diverse (different) kinds of tongues. It is no wonder that Paul proclaimed, “I thank God I pray in tongues more than ye all” (I Corinthians 14:18)!

I am so glad that there is prayer beyond our mind. Why? It only knows what it’s been told! How limiting! It is limited to what has been input through the less-than-perfect five senses. It can only suppose the future and can only touch one issue at a time. But not so when your spirit, by the Holy Spirit, prays. It is prayer as deep and wide as the Spirit of God Himself. It surpasses time, distance and all natural borders. It knows no limitations other than it is confined to the power at work in you (Ephesians 3:20), or in other words, the development and working of your faith. Actually, no prayer reaches beyond faith. Thankfully, God’s faith is at work with ours along with the faith of other believers. We are never alone.

The scope of this kind of prayer goes even beyond tongues. There is a place of praying in the spirit in your known language where words flow out of your heart and then across your lips, bypassing your mind. This praying reaches deep into the heart of a person for expression, worship and revelation and is spoken in words the mind is enlightened by. What glories there are in our fellowship with God!

Watch With Strong Purpose

There’s much to be said about “watching” and “purpose,” but I want to leave you with one of its most important meanings.

Watch as you pray, every time you pray, for the leading of the Spirit. When you are praying those learned prayers over your meals or over your tithe, watch to see what the Spirit is saying. He could lead you to not eat what you’re praying over! He could lead you to pray for someone who desperately needs your prayers or in any one of a thousand different directions. We must always be conscious of our total weakness to pray effectively apart from Him. Pray the Word, but watch Him for what Word to pray. Purpose to stay connected to your heart and let life flow from it through every prayer you pray.

There you will find the will of God revealed to you. There He will speak to you. There you will find Him.