Empowered prayer. “But I can’t”
‘Praying,’ Paul writes, ‘at all times in the Spirit.’ The whole Christian life should be ‘in the Spirit’. Once we have been plunged into the Spirit, our lives are enriched. The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). He’s the one who makes it real. The kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, it’s about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We are meant to live our whole lives in the Spirit. So ‘pray in the Spirit’ is part of this life that’s engaged with the Holy Spirit.
Arthur Wallis said, ‘Any claim to a baptism with the Spirit which leaves our prayer life unaffected must be at best a superficial work.’ Baptism in the Spirit will open you up to praying in the Spirit. It is a way of praying that’s energised outside of yourself. It’s therefore not formal, it’s not reading a prayer, it’s not necessarily going through a list. We are not just praying alone. Something supernatural is taking place.
Many of us will say, well I don’t know how to pray. I get turned off prayer. I find prayer difficult. I lose concentration. God seems distant. I lose faith. It’s difficult to assess what’s accomplished. Prayer is so mystical. Is God listening? How do I evaluate my prayer time? How do I know God’s will? We begin to struggle with condemnation even while we are praying. We can feel like giving up.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of Go. (Rom. 8:26-27).
Isn’t it a relief to know that this problem is not unique to you? Here Paul is saying that none of us know to pray. Why? Well we are in this overlap period. John says, ‘Even now we are the children of God but it has not yet appeared what we shall be’ (1 John 3:2). I am a child of God but walking down the street I look like anybody else. I’ve started eternal life but I don’t look like that.
Not there yet
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Rom. 8:23-25).
Salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The whole of creation ‘groans’ and is ‘anxiously waiting’. Waiting for what? The full manifestation of the sons of God! When that happens, the whole of creation will burst into newness. Creation’s future is wrapped up in the full manifestation of the Church. We are locked together. We are not there yet but dawn is breaking, the night is nearly gone. Meanwhile we are waiting for this to happen.
So, we live in this season of ‘we are there but we are not there’. Of course, I don’t know how to pray as I ought! Of course it sometimes seems unreal. You are not alone in feeling that. No, at times we all do. The Spirit comes to us in our limitations because we don’t know how to pray. It’s in fellowship with the Spirit that we learn to break through into the sense of God’s presence. We have a foretaste of our inheritance. Heaven breaks in upon us, and in our not knowing how to pray we suddenly feel ‘I can pray. I feel I am being drawn into something. I feel I am getting drawn out of my inability into His ability. I feel a new energy.’
So, as the Puritans used to say, pray yourself into prayer because the Spirit has come.
This post was adapted from the 3rd of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010