4 – Pray in the Spirit

Romans 8:26 (ERV)
We don’t know how to pray as we should,
but the Spirit himself speaks to God for us.




What role does the Holy Spirit take in your prayers?



  • Not much, “holy roller” just isn’t my style
  • The Spirit is the power behind my prayers
  • When all else fails, I look to the Spirit
  • Father, Son, Spirit—what’s the difference?

Scripture connects the Spirit and prayer. Let’s take a look.


The word “Spirit” comes from the Greek pneuma, meaning breath or wind (in medicine “pneumo” relates to the lungs). The Holy Spirit is God’s breath in you. When you breathe a prayer to God, that’s the Holy Spirit in you. When God whispers the answer, that’s the Spirit breathing into your heart.


In lesson one, when we said, “teach us to pray,” we were looking to Jesus for the answer. And Jesus tells us that our help comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.

John 14:26
But the Helper will teach you everything and cause you to remember all that I told you. This Helper is the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name.

This verse shows us the Trinity: Father, Son, Spirit. One God. Some people have trouble with the concept. It confuses them.

“When is it God the Father?”
“When is it God the Son or God the Spirit?”
“What if I get it wrong?”

Don’t worry about getting it wrong. It’s the holy version of you the mother, you the daughter, you the employee. You have different roles, but it’s still you. Father, Son, Spirit: different roles, still one God.

The Spirit has an essential role when it comes to prayer.

Jude 1:20
But you, dear friends, use your most holy faith to build yourselves up even stronger. Pray with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Strong faith includes powerful prayer. We don’t do it on our own. The Spirit teaches us, and the Spirit helps us.

Romans 8:26-27
We are very weak, but the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself speaks to God for us. He begs God for us, speaking to him with feelings too deep for words. God already knows our deepest thoughts. And he understands what the Spirit is saying, because the Spirit speaks for his people in the way that agrees with what God wants. 


“‘He’ the Holy Spirit in you, ‘makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God’ (Romans 8:27). And God searches your heart, not to know what your conscious prayers are, but to find out what the prayer of the Holy Spirit is.”
Oswald Champers (1874-1917)
“The Unrivaled Power of Prayer” (Nov. 8)
My Utmost for His Highest, published 1934


The Spirit is the Helper. You are the helpee. You don’t have to understand how it works. The Spirit knows, and that is enough to start.

What all does the Spirit know?

The Spirit knows your unique personality. The Spirit knows what brings you joy and what weighs on your heart. The Spirit knows what the world needs. The Spirit knows the eternal plan for your life and your prayers.

You’ve probably heard Steven Covey’s, “Begin with the end in mind.” The Spirit’s work in you begins with eternity in mind. The Spirit takes your here-and-now conscious prayers and transforms them into world-changing prayers that change you too.



The Spirit slips behind the wheel of your prayers, and you move to the backseat. Don’t be surprised when the Spirit steers into a sudden turn or stomps on the gas.


I remember the first time the Spirit got behind my wheel. I was asked to open our adult Sunday School class with prayer. I began, and suddenly words I didn’t plan came out of my mouth.

I was startled. Where did that come from?

After the “Amen,” I looked around the table. As though God hit the pause button, folks were slow to end prayer and start the lesson. But no one looked shocked. It was my voice, my prayer style but not quite my words—more powerful, more inspired, more passionate than my words would have been.

This happens sometimes but not always when I pray in public. It can also happen when I’m all alone. I usually just think my prayers, or simply whisper them quietly. But sometimes the words burst out with unplanned authority, or intense emotion, or even righteous anger.

I can’t make it happen. I can’t just settle into the backseat and expect the Spirit to drive. The decision is the Spirit’s. I can’t demand it, but I can recognize it and get out of the way.

Or I can shut it down. I can refuse to move to the backseat. I can grip the steering wheel tighter than ever and continue my conscious prayer.

Why would I do that? Because I want to stick to my plan. Because I like my routine. Because I want to be in control.

1 Thessalonians 5:19
Don’t stop the work of the Holy Spirit.

Some translations use the word “quench.” When I hang on to control, I throw a bucket of cold water on my prayers. I’m in the driver’s seat—wet, cold and alone.

Let’s discuss praying in tongues—that is, speaking to God in an unknown language. It’s in the Bible. Paul wrote about it:

1 Corinthians 14:2
Those who have the gift of speaking in a different language are not speaking to people. They are speaking to God. No one understands them—they are speaking secret things through the Spirit.

Some Christians believe praying in tongues is for everyone. Others want no part of it. I know sincere Christians who pray in tongues and sincere Christians who don’t. Paul calls it a gift, and that makes sense. Different believers, different gifts. We don’t get identical packages.

I was raised in a faith tradition that didn’t encourage praying in tongues. Frankly, it was a gift I didn’t want. But it’s there in the Bible. Who am I, I thought, to say “no thanks” to one of God’s gifts?

Lord, if that’s your plan, I’m willing.

Thus far, God hasn’t put secret words in my mouth. But I find myself using hand signals in prayer: cupped hand, palm down, as a prayer for protection; hand flat, palm down, then palm up as a symbol of transformation; index finger to thumb, representing conversation with God. Sometimes it makes me laugh—me, a woman of many words, wordlessly praying.

Sometimes as I pray in a group, a mini-movie runs through my head just a word or two ahead of my words. What I speak is a description of what I see. It’s a conscious prayer, based on an unconscious vision.

I wouldn’t do the mini-movie or the hand motions on my own. These are simply ways that the Spirit drives my prayers.

That’s my story. What’s yours?


Many people pray to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Spirit. Folks start out, “Our Father” or “Father God.” They end, “in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

It’s familiar. It’s biblical.


Ephesians 2:18
Yes, through Christ we all have the right to come to the Father in one Spirit.

But it’s not the only way. There’s no single formula for prayer. God doesn’t listen better if you pray one way and ignore you if you pray differently.

Talk with God. Talk with the Father. Talk with Jesus. Talk with the Spirit.

What do you want me to do, God? 

Father, I’m scared. Protect me. 

Oh Jesus, I am so thankful for your grace and mercy. 

Dear Spirit, I’m drawing a blank. Help me remember.

Don’t get hung up on the how-to’s. Pray in the Spirit. Pray to the Spirit. Pray with the Spirit. Pray in the power of the Spirit. Pray. Just do it.

Ephesians 6:18
Pray in the Spirit at all times. Pray with all kinds of prayers, and ask for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready. Never give up.


What’s your story? When has the Spirit taken the steering wheel of your prayers? Did you jump eagerly into the backseat?