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26. Prayer in the Spirit

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And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Paul talks about spiritual warfare in this final section of Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:10-17, he details the believer’s need to be filled with the power of God, and also to put on the full armor of God in order to stand against the attacks of the devil. The armor of God represents attitudes and actions that believers must practice to win on the spiritual battlefield. It includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the footwear of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. No Christian soldier can win without them; however, even these are not enough. We must pray in the Spirit.

We can see Paul’s emphasis on the importance of prayer in two ways. First, he writes more about prayer than about any other piece of armor. He uses three verses to teach on prayer in the Spirit. Also, praying in the Spirit is the seventh piece of armor. In Scripture, seven is the number of completion. This means that one can be suited up with every other piece of armor and yet still lose the battle. Praying in the Spirit is a necessity.

Prayer is the energy and atmosphere in which we wage war. Believers must live in prayer at all times in order to win this spiritual battle. It is how we are strengthened in the power of God, and it is how we put on the full armor (cf. Eph 6:10-11). 

I think we can discern the importance of prayer by considering the battle between Israel and Amalek in Exodus 17. Joshua led Israel’s army into battle, but they only won while Moses prayed. When Moses became tired of lifting his hands in prayer, Israel began to lose. And this is true for us as well. We can read the Word, preach, evangelize, and live a moral life, but if we are not praying, we will be defeated.

Similarly, when Peter was going to be tempted by Satan right before Christ’s death, the Lord told him that he needed to pray in order not to fall into temptation (Matt 26:41). Peter fell asleep and therefore did not stand in the evil day. We are often like this as well. We sleep when we should be praying. We fight when we should be waiting on the Lord. Prayer is essential. “Edward Payson said: ‘Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to minister. Pray, therefore, my dear brother, pray, pray, pray.’”1

Again, Paul doesn’t call us to just any type of prayer, but specifically prayer in the Spirit. What is prayer in the Spirit? Praying in the Spirit does not refer to speaking in tongues or any other charismatic experience. It simply means to pray according to God’s Word and according to his promptings. Jude also commands us to do this in Jude 1:20. He says, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”

As we consider praying in the Spirit, we must ask, “What are the characteristics of this type of prayer?” It is important to know the answer so we can tell if we are indeed praying in the Spirit.

In this study, we will consider the characteristics of praying in the Spirit as seen in Ephesians 6:18-20. We will give more attention to this piece of armor than the others, even as Paul does.

Big Question: What are some aspects of prayer in the Spirit?

Prayer in the Spirit Is Constant

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests… (Ephesians 6:18)

Paul says that in this spiritual war, we must pray on “all occasions”—we must live in constant prayer. This is how the early church prayed right before Pentecost. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” The 120 remaining followers of Christ met daily and devoted themselves to constant prayer. This was necessary for God to use them to turn the world upside down, as seen throughout the book of Acts. Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray continually,” which can also be translated, “Pray without ceasing.”

Interpretation Question: How do we pray without ceasing—on all occasions?

Does “pray without ceasing” mean we need to have a running dialogue with the Lord throughout the day? Not necessarily. Steve Cole shares helpful insight about the phrase “without ceasing”:

The Greek word translated without ceasing was used of a hacking cough and of repeated military assaults. Someone with a hacking cough does not cough every second, but rather he coughs repeatedly and often. He never goes very long without coughing. In the case of repeated military assaults, the army makes an assault then regroups and attacks again and again until it conquers the city. In the same way, we should pray often and repeatedly until we gain the thing for which we are praying.2

“Prayer is not so much the articulation of words as the posture of the heart.”3 John MacArthur adds:

To pray at all times is to live in continual God consciousness, where everything we see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to our heavenly Father. To obey this exhortation means that, when we are tempted, we hold the temptation before God and ask for His help. When we experience something good and beautiful, we immediately thank the Lord for it. When we see evil around us, we pray that God will make it right and be willing to be used of Him to that end. When we meet someone who does not know Christ, we pray for God to draw that person to Himself and to use us to be a faithful witness. When we encounter trouble, we turn to God as our Deliverer. In other words, our life becomes a continually ascending prayer, a perpetual communing with our heavenly Father.4

If we are going to win this spiritual battle, we must learn how to pray without ceasing. We must return to it throughout the day like a hacking cough, and like an army launching continual military assaults. We must train ourselves to live in God’s presence—bringing every thought and concern before the Lord. This is necessary in our spiritual battle.

Are you practicing prayer on all occasions?

Application Question: How do you aim to pray on all occasions? Are there any insights or disciplines that help you in this endeavor? How is God calling you to grow in constant prayer?

Prayer in the Spirit Is Varied

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests… (Ephesians 6:18)

Praying in the Spirit includes “all kinds of prayers and requests.” “Prayers” is a general term for various types of prayer, and “requests” are a specific type of prayer. Sadly, most Christians use only one type of prayer—requests or petitions. They only come to God to ask for things. However, when the Spirit of God leads our prayer, he leads us into various types of prayer such as thanksgiving and worship, intercession, confession, lament, and corporate prayer, among others. All these types of prayer have the power to defeat the enemy.

When Israel shouted in worship while standing outside Jericho, the walls fell down (Joshua 6). When Jehoshaphat and the army worshiped while being attacked, God defeated the enemy (2 Chr 20). Many times when we are tempted to complain and worry, the Spirit of God calls us to praise in faith and God defeats our enemies.

In addition, the practice of corporate prayer carries much power. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus teaches that corporate prayer carries tremendous power, and that when it occurs, God is with us in a special way. Similarly, James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Some Christians never access this type of prayer because they never share their burdens with others or carry others’ burdens; therefore, they lack power. There are some things God does only when his people pray together.

When the Spirit of God is leading prayer, he leads us to pray in a variety of ways. A good picture of this is seen in the Lord’s Prayer, which Christ gave as a pattern. Consider the following types of prayer:

  • “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9) calls us to worship.
  • “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) calls us to pray for missions, evangelism, and discipleship.
  • “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), calls us to pray for our personal needs and those of others.
  • “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12), calls us to confess our sins and those of others.
  • “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13) calls us to pray for spiritual protection from temptation and the devil.
  • It is a good practice to pray often through the Lord’s Prayer.

Application Question: What type(s) of prayer are you most prone to pray? How is God calling you to vary your prayers?

Prayer in the Spirit Is Watchful

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18)

Another aspect of praying in the Spirit is being watchful. Paul says, “With this in mind, be alert.” This is military terminology. It pictures a soldier on duty watching for signs of either infiltration by the enemy or advancement by his fellow soldiers. As Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Our enemy is like a prowling lion; therefore, we must always be alert. Christ warned his disciples right before he went to the cross in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” He called for the disciples to pray so they wouldn’t fall into the temptation of the “evil day.” He called them to be aware of what the enemy was doing around them.

Application Question: How can Christian soldiers practice being alert in their prayer lives?

1. Christian soldiers practice being alert both by using their natural senses (like their eyes and ears), and by listening to the Spirit’s promptings in order to discern the work of the evil one.

Is someone being unfaithful to the church or small group? Let us pray for God to draw them back. Is there discord in the body of Christ? Let us pray for unity. Is someone discouraged? Let us pray for joy.

What difficulties or attacks of the enemy are happening around you? How is God calling you to intercede?

2, Christian soldiers practice being alert by using their natural senses and listening to the Spirit’s promptings to intercede on behalf of what God is doing.

We must understand that we are not just watching our enemy, but also our God. Is God changing somebody’s heart? Let us give thanks and pray. Is he stirring a revival? Let us praise and intercede.

What is God doing around you? How is he calling you to intercede?

Application Question: What types of distractions commonly keep us from being spiritually alert? Are there any other practices that help with being spiritually alert?

Prayer in the Spirit Is Persevering

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

Paul says that we must “always keep on praying.” Prayer in the flesh is often short-lived, but Spirit-led prayer is persevering. This is especially important in spiritual warfare, because many of our blessings and victories come only through persevering prayer. Consider what Christ teaches in Luke 11:9-13:

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (v. 9) can be translated literally, “Ask and keep asking, seek and keep seeking, knock and keep knocking.” Christ says there must be perseverance in prayer to receive God’s blessing. In addition, consider the promise in verse 13, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” In the Greek, “the” does not precede “Holy Spirit”—it can be translated literally “give Holy Spirit.” Many scholars say that when the article is missing, this term does not refer to the person of the Spirit, but rather the ministries of the Spirit.5

When you pray with perseverance, God will give you the strength you need, the wisdom and power to conquer habitual sins, and everything else you need to live a godly life. Don’t give up! Spirit-led prayer perseveres.

Persevering prayer is also needed because of the spiritual forces we are fighting against. In Daniel 10:10-14, Daniel petitioned God for three weeks and then an angel appeared. The angel said that God had sent him with a response when Daniel first began to pray, but he was caught up in a war with the spiritual forces over Persia. While Daniel continued to pray, the angel Michael came to set the other angel free so he could answer Daniel’s request. Yes, persevering prayer is needed because of the spiritual war we are engaged in. We must persevere in prayer for the salvation of a relative, revival in a church or a nation, and any other good work. We must pray at least until God removes the burden of prayer, as he did with Paul when he prayed for healing (2 Cor 12:8-9).

Are you persevering in prayer?

Application Question: Are there any answers to prayer you received after a long season of praying? If so, what were they? What are some things that you are still praying for?

Prayer in the Spirit Is Universal

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:18)

Prayer in the Spirit is also universal—we pray “for all saints.” I have often been taught to pray specifically and this is correct, but it is also important to pray generally. We are in this war with millions of other Christians we do not know. Does this lack of knowledge mean that we should not pray for them? Absolutely not! We must intercede according to the knowledge we have.

We intercede for the Christians in our church, our nation, and all the nations of the earth. We should remember both persecuted Christians and those living at ease (a temptation in itself). We must especially pray for our spiritual leaders such as missionaries, pastors, and teachers.

I once heard a story about the president of Taylor University in Indiana. While on a flight, he was seated next to a lady who was clearly fasting and praying—every time the food came, she refused it. As he watched her he became very convicted of his own need to pray, so he decided to ask if she was a Christian. However, when asked, the lady responded, “Why no! I am a Satanist, and I’m praying for Christian leaders throughout the world to fall into sin, to turn away from God, and for others to follow them.” This is sobering! Certainly, it should encourage us to continually lift up our Christian leaders throughout the world, as they are the target of special attacks by the enemy.

This is a real war, and we are not in it by ourselves. Therefore, we must continually intercede for other believers.

Application Question: How can we be more faithful in praying for all saints?

  1. Keep a prayer list. A list helps us pray faithfully for people we know, and it can also remind us to pray in general for believers in various parts of society and the world.
  2. Use a prayer method—like the “Five-Finger Prayer.”

Here is a description of it from a Daily Bread devotional:

  • “When you fold your hands, the thumb is nearest you. So begin by praying for those closest to you—your loved ones (Philippians 1:3-5).
  • The index finger is the pointer. Pray for those who teach—Bible teachers and preachers, and those who teach children (1 Thessalonians 5:25).
  • The next finger is the tallest. It reminds you to pray for those in authority over you—national and local leaders, and your supervisor at work (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
  • The fourth finger is usually the weakest. Pray for those who are in trouble or who are suffering (James 5:13-16).
  • Then comes your little finger. It reminds you of your smallness in relation to God’s greatness. Ask Him to supply your needs (Philippians 4:6, 19).”6
  • Prayer in the Spirit is universal—for all saints.

Application Question: Are there any other concepts or disciplines that help you faithfully intercede for others?

Prayer in the Spirit Is Gospel-Centered and Bible-Centered

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:19-20)

Finally, prayer in the Spirit is always consumed with the spread of the gospel and God’s Word. While Paul was in prison, he didn’t ask the believers to pray for his release. Led by the Spirit, he sought prayer for God to give him the words to preach and the courage to preach them fearlessly. He essentially asked for prayer over the content of the message and the manner it was presented.

Interpretation Question: Why does Paul mention his need to be fearless in preaching twice in his prayer request?

The fact that he mentions the need for boldness (or to be “fearless”) twice shows us his own struggle to preach God’s Word faithfully. Such preaching could lead to his death or a longer prison term.

However, this does not just show Paul’s great need for boldness in preaching, but also the church’s. Most Christians struggle with fear in sharing God’s Word. They feel inadequate. They fear the response of people. They fear persecution, for example, in the form of job loss. And therefore most remain quiet. This is also true for preachers. Often there is hesitation to preach the full counsel of God, especially in an age where his Word is widely rejected.

However, like Paul, when we are led by the Spirit, he leads us to pray about the proclamation of the Word (cf. Col 4:3-4, 2 Thess 3:1). We should pray for believers to properly interpret and understand God’s Word, and for them to share it in their churches and workplaces, and with their families. In addition, we should pray for the gospel to be received. When this happens, the enemy is defeated as people are translated from darkness to light and set free from strongholds.

The Holy Spirit is the author of the Word of God, as Scripture was inspired by him (cf. 2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, he continually encourages people to pray over the Word of God and for it to be shared. Let us continually call on the Holy Spirit to empower his people to share his Word with boldness, for God’s kingdom to be built, and for the evil one’s kingdom to be destroyed.

Lord, spread your Word throughout the world, bring glory to yourself, and destroy the evil one and all his forces! In Jesus name, we pray.

Application Questions: Do you struggle with boldness when witnessing? Why or why not? How can we overcome our fear in speaking for God? Why is it so important to pray for the preaching of the Word of God?

Conclusion

Before we close, let’s consider some words on prayer from John Piper’s book, Desiring God:

Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, “Hey, let’s go today!” You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation you will probably stay home and watch TV! The natural unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer you must plan to see it.

Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: Let us take time this very day to rethink our priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you. Don’t be tyrannized by the press of busy days. We all need mid-course corrections. Make this a day of turning to prayer — for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.7

How can we pray in the Spirit in order to stand in this spiritual war?

  1. Prayer in the Spirit Is Constant
  2. Prayer in the Spirit Is Varied
  3. Prayer in the Spirit Is Watchful
  4. Prayer in the Spirit Is Persevering
  5. Prayer in the Spirit Is Universal
  6. Prayer in the Spirit Is Gospel-Centered and Bible-Centered

Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.


1 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (pp. 247–250). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Accessed 11/28/2015 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-62-how-fight-god-ephesians-618-20

3 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 251). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 380). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1413). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

6 Accessed 11/28/2015 from http://odb.org/2005/06/02/five-finger-prayers/

7 John Piper, Desiring God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), pp. 150, 151.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Prayer

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