“Pray in the Spirit”? – What does that mean?

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul wrote, “Pray at all times in the Spirit,” which, by his own definition in Romans 8:5 means “in accordance with the Spirit,” which in turn means having “our minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

To pray in the Spirit, according to Paul then, means, “praying with our minds tuned to the Spirit’s desires.” And we can do that because the Spirit is constantly communicating with our minds the things that God wants us to know, think and live by, verse 16. To have the Spirit of God living in us means a steady trickle of God’s mind and heart seeping into our minds and hearts, so that what God finds when “he searches our hearts” is “the mind of the Spirit,” verse 27. And if at times we’re not in tune with the mind and desires of the Spirit “the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” verse 26, by reaching down into our inner being and tuning our thoughts to his.

That’s why Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16 that God would “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” because the Spirit can get right down to what makes us tick, to the engine that drives us, to the “real us” – much of which we probably have no idea exists. No wonder we have trouble praying and need the Spirit’s help, because it’s only by the Spirit that all those hidden thoughts and yearnings tucked away in the depths of our inner being can be brought to the surface.

A large part of praying in the Spirit, then, is simply realizing what the Spirit is up to in our inner being. The Spirit is gradually transforming us into the likeness of Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18, which, Paul tells us, involves the Spirit doing a lot of digging away inside us “putting to death the misdeeds of our bodies,” Romans 8:13, much like getting at the guts of a seized engine and clearing out all the gunk to get it running smoothly again.

Jude picks up on that thought too, in Jude 20. He contrasts those with the Spirit to those who “follow their own ungodly desires and natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit,” verses 18-19 . Those without the Spirit are still clogged up like a seized motor by the accumulated gunk of acting purely on instinct and wrong desires.

But those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” Romans 8:23, are having the core of their inner being steadily cleaned up by the Spirit, so that our prayers to God and our relationships with each other are running ever more smoothly “in accordance with the Spirit,” and in tune with “what the Spirit desires.”

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