11th October 2017

Praying In The Spirit

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do
not know how to pray as we ought, but the very Spirit
intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
~ Romans 8:26 ~
I was in my mid-twenties when I first felt compelled to
pray. At that time I was obsessed with climbing. It was
early January and I was clinging to a frozen waterfall.
Daylight was fading, my strength was failing, and on the
final vertical sweep of ice, I became as frozen as the icy
cascade itself. Exhausted, petrified, contemplating the
horrific consequences of the bone-shattering plunge that
now seemed inevitable, I began to pray. As I cried out to
God for help, as I implored him to guide each swing of
my ice axes, I picked and kicked my way up that final
wall with flawless precision and assertive strength that I
knew were beyond my own capacities to marshal.
But how does that unique and personal incident relate to
‘praying in the Spirit’? For many, the phrase ‘praying in
the Spirit’ evokes imaginings of experiences reserved for
the most pious and earnest of saints – a state of being
attainable only through hours of intense application and
focused exertion. However, the wonderful and releasing
truth is that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, longs
to motivate, inspire and guide us in prayer.
Prayer is not just a discipline, an exercise intended for
strengthening spiritual muscle. It is first and foremost a
gift of grace, an undeserved and sometimes unrequested
gift of communication. When words will not come, when
we have no idea how to pray, when we feel unable to
muster God-ward thoughts, the Spirit ‘intercedes’,
intervenes on our behalf, becomes our intermediary, and
does that which we are unable to do. While some have understood
‘praying in the Spirit’ as
referring to the language used (i.e. a special prayer
language or ‘praying in tongues’), it also includes all
prayer arising from the Spirit’s presence and assistance.
The Holy Spirit is, after all, our ‘helper’ or ‘advocate’,
the One sent to teach us (John 14:26). It is the Spirit
who stirs within us the desire to pray and encourages us
to pray in certain ways. When we are tongue-tied or
when adequate language eludes us, the Helper prays on
our behalf.
While my experience on the frozen waterfall was of
God’s gracious intervention despite my lack of faith,
it is clear from Paul’s letters that ‘prayer in the Spirit’
is something to be consciously chosen and carefully
cultivated. Indeed, it is to become so integral to our
experience that we pray in the Spirit ‘at all times’ and
‘in every prayer and supplication’ (Ephesians 6:18).
Now that is quite a state of affairs to aspire to: that all
our prayers are prompted and animated by the Spirit.
But Paul is never one to dilute the demands of Christian
apprenticeship. Neither, however, is he in the habit of
leading believers into discouragement by suggesting that
Spirit-inspired prayer can be conjured up by individual
effort. Rather, Paul encourages all to aspire to a more
‘authentic’ (i.e. of undisputed origin, genuine) experience
of prayer by being awake to the Spirit’s ever-willing-tohelp
presence. Having urged his readers to ‘Pray in the
Spirit at all times’, he spells out the practical means:
‘To that end keep alert’ (Ephesians 6:18).
Being alert begins with being awake to God’s presence:
‘The Lord is near to all who call on Him’ (Psalm
145:18). It is one thing to accept God’s omnipresence,
another to allow it to transform our lives moment by
moment. When we recognise that ‘In Him we live and
move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28), we realise that
the presence of God’s Spirit is the most fundamental and
important aspect of every moment. That recognition transforms the here
and now from mundane moment into
‘holy ground’. To be alert is to be conscious of God’s
presence, to welcome it, to be open to the Spirit’s
working, deliberately unguarded.
For many people, acts of praise, worship and adoration
are powerful means of fostering this awareness. The
acrostic ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving
and Supplication) is useful in saving our praying from
descent into a mere recitation of wish lists. Some of us
are especially aware of God’s presence when immersed
in nature; others are prompted most readily by cerebral
reflection or in confronting the needs of others or in a
host of other ways. We are each different and the Lord
speaks to us in our mother tongue, guiding, inspiring
and encouraging us in ways that only our Creator knows
are most helpful for us. Knowing us perfectly, longing
for genuine and honest communication, we can be
assured that our Helper delights to lead us into ‘praying
in the Spirit’.

Together We Pray
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