3 Ways to Pray in the Spirit

Romans 8:26-27 might be the most comforting passage in Scripture. It reads,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

This is so comforting because, more often than not, prayer is a frustrating endeavor for me. I vacillate between not knowing what to pray, battling wandering thoughts, and not having words for the deep needs of my soul.

So naturally, Colin Smith’s new booklet on prayer, Praying in the Spirit, caught my attention. This short book of only 15 pages is a Mary Poppins’ bag of wisdom. Though not a comprehensive study of prayer, it is brimming with big truth and solid teaching. Smith sets out to teach us to pray in the Holy Spirit and, in doing so, answers many of the issues that hinder the work of prayer in our lives.

In an effort to not copy down the full text of the book for you (because it is all so good), I’ve sifted out four summarizing ideas that will hopefully encourage you to check out Praying in the Spirit.

Pray like the Spirit to pray in the Spirit.
Smith begins to reorient us to prayer by reminding us that Scripture is “directly breathed out by the Spirit of God” (6). Big chunks of the Bible are prayers, namely the Psalms, so why not use them to shape our prayers? He says,

As you learn to form your prayers from the Bible, you will be praying in the Spirit because you are praying in a way that reflects the heart and mind of God. (6)

After including some examples, Smith adds that using Scripture to pray has three key benefits that address three big prayer problems. It keeps our prayers from becoming “dull and repetitive,” as well as “self-centered” (7). And it enables us to pray confidently, knowing that we are asking “in line with the mind and heart of God” (7).

Don’t let yourself get in the way.
Prayer is like a narrow path, with two ditches, one on either side. One ditch is called pride, and the other is called despair. Both are equally dangerous, and the way to avoid them is to get your eyes off yourself. (7)

Goodness, that’s helpful. Smith cautions us to focus on God rather than our successes or failures in prayer (6-8). To that end, he also encourages us to maintain the posture of a servant, remembering that we come to God to receive direction, not to give it (8).

Transform your “what ifs.”
For some of us, worry is our downfall in prayer. Since worry-doused prayers are not reflective of the heart or mind of God, Smith offers a new perspective. He suggests that we switch from “the ‘what ifs’ of worry to the ‘what ifs’ of faith” (11). We’re to think on what God has already done for us and let that inform our thoughts of the future.

Instead of negative “what ifs” about potential harm, we should be offering “what ifs” of thanksgiving in prayer. “What if God were not with me? What if Christ had not died for me?” (11). Smith affirms that “confidence in what Christ has already done builds expectation of what he will do” (12).

Affirm and ask.
“We move forward as we grow in asking for what we need and affirming what God has done” (12). Smith views asking and affirming as key components to prayer. He cautions against only asking or only affirming, warning that the former will lead to defeat and the latter will lead to denial. But using both in equal measure will lead to deliverance (12). Spirit-led prayer is characterized by faith in both the good that God has done, and the good that he is able to do.

In On Writing Well, William Zinsser advised, “Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.” That is precisely what Smith has done with Praying in the Spirit. He has taken a corner of the extensive subject of prayer and unfolded it to cover a whole area of discipleship.

Prayer directly affects our understanding of the gospel and vice versa. In Praying in the Spirit, Smith reminds us that one of Christ’s gifts to us through salvation is the indwelling of his Spirit. His Spirit is the heart and mind of God, so it only makes sense for us to learn to align our prayers accordingly.

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