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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Speaking in Tongues

Don Stewart :: What Does It Mean to Pray in the Spirit?

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What Does It Mean to Pray in the Spirit?

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues – Question 12

The Bible says we are to “pray in the Spirit.” Paul wrote the following to the Ephesians.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV).

What does this mean? How does someone pray in the Spirit? Does this mean we are to pray by speaking in tongues?

There Are Different Views about What This Means

There are a number of views that Christians hold. Some feel that it means exclusively praying in tongues. Others believe it means praying by means of the Holy Spirit. There is a third view that says it can mean both. We can make the following observations.

Option 1: Praying in the Spirit Means Praying in Tongues

There is the point of view that Paul was referring to praying in tongues when he spoke of praying in the Spirit. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about praying in tongues he said that it is his spirit which prays.

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive (1 Corinthians 14:14 NRSV).

In the context of First Corinthians 14, Paul contrasts praying in tongues, or in the spirit, with praying with the mind. This is understood to mean that praying in the spirit is something that is foreign to praying with the understanding. It is a prayer to God that the mind cannot understand because it goes straight from the human spirit to God. Consequently, it refers to praying in tongues or using a tongue-language when praying.

Option 2: Praying with the Help of the Holy Spirit

A second view sees this as praying with the help of the Holy Spirit. The word translated “in” can mean “in,” “with,” or “by means of.” The above verse refers to our need of the Holy Spirit to help us with our prayers.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26 NRSV).

Often, we do not know how to pray or what we should pray for. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to help us.

The Apostle Paul may have been contrasting praying with the Spirit (tongues) as opposed to praying with the mind. We read further in this passage.

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.(1 Corinthians 14:14, 15 NIV).

Praying in the spirit has the idea of praying by means of the Holy Spirit as opposed to praying without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is that our prayers should be directed by the Spirit of God and not our own selfish motives.

Option 3: It Can Refer to Either Praying in Tongues or Praying with the Help of the Spirit

The third option says sees both as a possibility. Praying in the Spirit can be praying in tongues or it may refer to praying by means of the Holy Spirit. Only the context will determine which is correct.

Summary – Question 12
What Does It Mean to Pray in the Spirit?

The Bible commands believers to “pray in the Spirit.” There have been a couple of suggestions as to what this means. They are as follows.

There are those who believe that it refers to using the gift of tongues in a devotional manner. Praying in the Spirit is thus praying in tongues. When a person prays in the Spirit they pray directly to God without understanding what they are saying. This is what Paul encourages believers to do.

Others argue that praying “in the Spirit” means praying with, or, by means of, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps Christians by bringing to mind the things for which they should pray. This is because we do not know what to ask for or how to pray correctly. Therefore, it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to help believers to pray for the right things in the right way.

Some think it is possible that both ideas are under consideration here. The Holy Spirit does indeed teach us what to pray for and guides us in our prayers. Whether “praying in the Spirit,” is also a reference to speaking in tongues is something which is debated.

Does Speaking in Tongues Have a Devotional Purpose? ← Prior Section
Does Paul's Statement about "Inexpressible Groans" Refer to Praying in Tongues? Next Section →
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