What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? For many decades, those who consider themselves Pentecostals have been teaching that it means that one has to pray in an unknown tongue to pray in the spirit. They usually refer to 1 Corinthians 14:14 to back it up.
There’s a huge problem with that idea. It leads to the assumption that those who have the gift of tongues are superior to all saints, that only tongues-speakers can communicate on a deeper level with the Lord, and that idea is the opposite of what 1 Corinthians 14 actually teaches regarding tongues. In that chapter, Paul teaches that all spiritual gifts should be used in a manner to benefit the whole congregation, including the unsaved who may be in their midst. Even when prayers were uttered in the congregation, he encouraged that praying with the spirit should be done in a manner so that everyone (including the one uttering prayers) had understanding in order for people to express agreement with an “Amen” and be edified (1 Corinthians 14:13-19).
Therefore, praying in the spirit is broader than just praying in tongues, although it includes that and also includes situations where the “Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” (Romans 8:26).
To understand what praying in the spirit actually is, one must understand what it means to be “in the spirit.” Here’s a sample of what the Bible says about it:
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Romans 8
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Galatians 5 (this chapter then goes on to mention the fruit of the Spirit, which tells us if we are really “in the Spirit.”)
Being “in the Spirit” means that glorifying and pleasing God through the Lord Jesus Christ is our goal. Praying in the Spirit then simply means we pray and worship in a way that meets that goal as the Spirit leads our spirit, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. What Paul warned about in Galatians 5:15 above, James also warned about in James 4:1-3 when the church he wrote to was caught up in prayers of the flesh, which are in opposition to prayers in the Spirit and stir up strife in the church.
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints… Ephesians 6:8
Harry A. Gaylord