Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

What does it mean to “Pray in the Spirit”?

“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 Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18

What does Paul mean when he says that we should pray “in the Spirit”?

First, we should not be surprised to see prayer connected with the work of the Spirit. The Spirit makes spiritual conversation possible and effective. The Spirit empowered the prophets to speak God’s words. He speaks through the Bible. He testifies to us about Jesus’ identity as God’s Son (John 15:26). The Spirit empowered the disciples to preach the gospel at Pentecost. So, if prayer is conversation with God, then it makes sense for the Holy Spirit to be involved.

Yet, it’s still unclear what it means to pray in the Spirit. After all, God speaks to us through the Spirit, but if we think of prayer primarily as us speaking to God (which Paul seems to do in the rest of the context of Eph 6:18) then what role does the Spirit play?

The most extensive teaching on the connection between prayer and the Spirit is found in Romans 8:26-27.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

The entire chapter of Romans 8 is about the work of the Spirit. We have been set free because of the “law of the Spirit” (8:1). Those who are set free live, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (8:4). They “have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (8:5). They are therefore “in the realm of the Spirit” and the Spirit lives in them, just as they belong to Christ (8:9).

This inner spiritual reality creates in us an obligation, to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (8:12).

The Spirit also brings about our adoption as children of God (8:14-15). The Spirit communicates this reality directly to our own spirit (8:16) so that by the Spirit we can come to God as our “Abba, Father” (8:15).

This glorious reality – our freedom, our adoption, our inner transformation – is set aside present suffering, and not only our own suffering, but the groaning of all of creation. Yet, since we know that we are God’s children, and therefore heirs of the promised glory, then we can continue to live with hope (8:18-25).

This is the context for the “weakness” Paul refers to in 8:26. In the midst of our present suffering, we do not even know what to pray for. Along with the rest of creation (8:22), we can only groan inwardly. Things aren’t right, and we’re stuck in the tension between suffering and hope. It’s here the Spirit steps in and enables our communication with God. We may not know what to say, but the Spirit is able to search our hearts and minds and intercede on our behalf (8:26-27).

This context of struggle and suffering in Romans 8 is not too far from the context of Ephesians 6. In Ephesians 6:10-17 Paul instructs his readers to prepare for spiritual battle in advance of a “day of evil” by putting on God’s armor. In Ephesians 6:19-20 he specifically asks the readers to pray for him in his own spiritual battle, that he will remain fearless even though he is in chains for the gospel.

And, when he asks them to pray, he asks them to pray “in the Spirit.” In light of Romans 8, what does he mean?

1.       Pray with a recognition of the indwelling Spirit. Seeing that the personal presence of God is with you as you pray should change your outlook, from simply reciting a list of requests to communing with the living God.

2.       Pray that the Spirit will search your heart and mind. You may not know what to pray. Ask God to bring the right things to mind and, when you can’t even do that, ask the Spirit to intercede on your behalf.

3.       Pray, confessing your sins and asking for a renewed Spirit. By the Spirit we put to death our sin and we do that through confession. One evidence of praying in the Spirit, then, is a recognition and hatred of our sin.

4.       Pray to your Abba. Through the Spirit we are adopted as God’s children. We approach our Abba with the same confidence and trust a young child approaches a good and generous parent.

5.       Pray with hope. Are you in a time of present suffering? Are you in the midst of a spiritual battle? The Spirit helps you know that your suffering is incomparable to your future glory, that your temporary defeat will be swallowed up in Christ’s ultimate victory.

What does it mean to “receive the Spirit”?

The last time I preached at my church I concluded the message with a call to be saved and, since I am now preaching through Acts I had fresh in my mind Peter’s call in Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Since my message was on Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1) more than on the Spirit coming at Pentecost (Acts 2) this call led one person, in a follow up conversation, to ask, “What does it mean to receive the Spirit?”

This is a great question. When Peter said this in Acts 2 he was speaking before a crowd that had just witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The crowd had just heard Peter and the disciples speaking in a multitude of languages/dialects (2:4) and they were amazed because they could each hear the disciples in their own language (2:6). Some in the crowd, reaching for a naturalist interpretation, thought that perhaps the disciples were drunk. Many, however, were drawn in to hear what the disciples had to say. This gave Peter the opportunity to give his first sermon and led to the sudden expansion of the church in Jerusalem.

The important thing to note here is that what the Holy Spirit enabled was clear and understandable communication of the good news of Jesus. While the miracle of Pentecost was attested to with physical manifestations (sound of a violent wind, appearance of tongues of fire) what amazed the crowds and led to their ultimate conversion was that the disciples were miraculously speaking and miraculously being understood.

There are, of course, many “signs” of the power of the Holy Spirit throughout the book of Acts but underlying all these signs is what these signs point to – the authority of the person of Jesus over both physical reality (healing, raising the dead) and spiritual reality (forgiveness of sins). Throughout Acts the Spirit consistently clearly communicates the truth of the gospel to both believers and unbelievers.

What about today? What does it mean to “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit?” Or, perhaps, “What is the role of the Holy Spirit?” I would submit that underlying role of the Spirit is the same as it was in Acts. The Holy Spirit enables clear and understandable communication of the good news of Jesus. I see this communication attested to in four ways in Scripture.

Clear communication to our consciences

First, it is the role of the Spirit to speak to our consciences. The Spirit can either speak a word of judgment or comfort, depending on our spiritual condition. It is the Holy Spirit that can use the Word to cut to our hearts. It is the Spirit that convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). It is also the Holy Spirit that is our Advocate (John 16:7) and can speak a word of assurance, reminding us of our new holy standing before God, as those sealed for the day of redemption.

Clear communication in our speech

Second, the Holy Spirit enables clear communication in our speech. This is seen in Acts as already stated but is also evident in 1 Corinthians 14. In this passage Paul is instructing the Corinthians not to get caught up in desiring the “flashy” gift of speaking in tongues. Instead he instructs them to seek the spiritual gifts which build up the church. These “edifying” gifts are marked out by their intelligibility, both to believers and unbelievers.

Paul states:

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Prophecy is given a more prominent place for Paul because it is understandable and “speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” Tongues are valuable within the church context only when they are interpreted. A cacophony of unintelligible tongues in worship, then, seems to be antithetical to the primary mode of operation for the Spirit.

Clear communication in our conduct

Third, the Spirit enables clear communication of our conduct. The Spirit enables our “walk” to match our “talk.” The “fruit” of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we are walk by the Spirit we demonstrate that we have been truly set free to obey the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that reality is a testament to the free justification that we have in Jesus (for more on this study the role of the Spirit in Galatians).

Clear communication in our community

Fourth, the Spirit enables clear communication in our community. This is perhaps nothing more than a natural result of the first three “empowering” aspects of the Spirit already stated, but it also goes one step further. It is the role of the Spirit to form and empower the church which confesses the name of Jesus. That church is given gifts which form not only Spirit-filled individuals but a Spirit-filled community which “grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.”

And this, I believe, is the mark of the Spirit in a church: clear gospel proclamation with palpable love to match. A man walked into our church recently and struck up a conversation with me. He stated that for him it was obvious which churches had the Spirit and which did not. From the context of the rest of the conversation I got the impression that he was talking about things like speaking in tongues, prophetic speech, and words of knowledge. In this regard I am cautiously open. I do not want to either put God in a box nor do I want to discount other people’s experiences. However, while the Spirit may manifest himself in those ways I think that the true marks of the Holy Spirit in a church are the clear and understandable communication of the gospel and the palpable love for neighbor present. How do you know if a church has the Spirit? Does it proclaim Jesus clearly in its speech? Do its actions and attitude within the body demonstrate a spirit of love and unity? Do its people love their neighbors? It is the role of the Spirit to form such a community.

Can you articulate what you believe? (Part 2)

Several weeks ago I asked the question “Can you articulate what you believe?” I then promised I would present a framework by which to answer that question within the week. I failed to do that but will spare you the excuses.

Since that time I did have the opportunity to pose this question to our youth group kids. I split them into small groups of 2-3 with one leader and had them attempt to articulate their core religious beliefs to each other in between two and four minutes. Some did well. Some struggled. One guy in my group did well, in part because he had a lot of practice sharing the gospel as a camp counselor. The moral of the story here? Practice helps. Overall, I was encouraged by the teenagers in our youth group.

What I ask others to do, I should attempt as well. First, an introduction:

One framework by which we can express our faith making the rounds in today is the so-called “meta narrative” (Story) of the Bible. In my opinion, this is one of the most helpful frameworks for understanding the big picture of the Bible, of the world, of ourselves, of God, and of God’s action in the world. This framework has four parts which are named different things by different people, and are understood a little differently by different strands of the Christian tradition. For the purposes of this blog series I will use the language of Creation, Rebellion, Rescue, and Re-creation.[1]

If asked today, “What are your religious beliefs?” I would probably talk through it using this framework. Ten years ago I probably would have used some more traditionally evangelistic, starting with our sin, moving to the cross, and then explaining how to be sure to go to heaven. I’m convinced that these traditional evangelistic methods of explaining our faith still have merit in a lot of circumstances. However, they aren’t really a robust picture of the totality of our religious beliefs. Below is my attempt to express my religious beliefs using the “meta narrative” framework. My goal is to make this expression succinct.

In the beginning, God created the Universe. He created Adam and Eve, placed them in the garden, and gave them dominion over the earth. Adam and Eve were in perfect relationship with each other, with the earth, and with God.

Adam and Eve, after being tempted by Satan, rebelled against God. In righteous judgment, God placed a curse on the earth. Every relationship was irrevocably broken – between Adam and Eve, between us and God, and between us and the earth. Sin and death entered the world.

Rebellion reigned and escalated. It has continued to do so. Today, are born with a sin nature and all agree with the sin of Adam and Eve in our thoughts and actions. This rebellion continues to break down our relationships with one another and with God. It brings death and judgment from God.

As rebellion increased, God’s grace increased. He gave us the promise of rescue. He chose Abraham and promised that through him all nations would be blessed. He rescued Israel out of Egypt and made it a nation. He set forth the promise of future, and ultimate rescue – the promise of a Messiah who would save his people from their sin.

That Messiah is Jesus. God sent Jesus, the eternal Son, fully God, who was present at creation, to become fully man. He came to earth as a baby, was tempted yet did not sin, suffered, and died on the cross. He died as our substitute. His death paid for our guilt. Jesus’ death was not the end. On the third day he conquered death.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and many others. He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirit and ascended into heaven where He is today having been given all power and authority.

Jesus is the head of the Church, all those who have put their faith in Him. The Holy Spirit empowers the Church to proclaim the good news of Jesus to all the earth.

We can become beneficiaries of the mercy offered to us in Jesus by repenting from our sin, turning to God, and putting our trust in him alone. In so doing our sins are forgiven, our guilt is taken away, we are adopted as sons and daughters, we are reconciled to the Father, we are made new, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are freed from the slavery of sin, we are united with Christ, we are made victorious, and we are redeemed, and we are imputed the righteousness of Christ. We are rescued. We have new identities, a new family, and a new purpose.

But, we still live in a world where rebellion seems to reign, even in our own hearts. We do not yet see all things the way they were supposed to be, or the way they will be. We are still subject to sin and death.

We look forward to another day, a day when God makes all things new, a day when sin and death are no more, a day with no more suffering or tears. This is the day of re-creation when God makes all things new.

So, how did I do? It’s hard to express Christian faith in about a single page. I was hoping for 400 words but still went over. Still, I’m not sure what I would cut out. I really didn’t want to miss the Trinity or the nature of atonement, or the church (things often missed). I didn’t use any language of the “Kingdom” which I sort of regret. Also, I didn’t mention baptism which is another thing I regret. Are there any glaring errors?

Sometime in the future (I won’t put a time frame on it this time so I don’t become a liar) I’m going to examine the consequences of leaving any one of the four elements out.

[1] I’m borrowing the language here from a colleague of mine: Jeremy Bouma.  An alternative is “Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.”