Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. – Ephesians 6:18-20 NLT
The English Standard Version translates verse 18 as “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” The word, “prayer” would seem to indicate our conversation with God, while “supplication” addresses any specific requests that we make to Him. But whatever Paul means, he is encouraging us to pray “in the Spirit.” The context for this well-known passage is that of spiritual warfare. Paul has been talking about the whole armor of God and the need for the believer to equip and arm himself with the weapons of our warfare. Why? So that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). His point is that the battle in which we find ourselves is spiritual, not physical in nature. He writes, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So this supernatural enemy requires that we use supernatural resources with which to combat it. Any hope we have of standing up against this enemy is based on the weapons we utilize in our struggle. Paul mentions the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that represent the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. These elements all represent God’s armor, not our own. They are spiritual in nature. They are divinely provided and empowered. Our survival is tied to their use and our dependence upon them for protection. They offer both defensive and offensive capabilities, providing us with all we need to withstand anything the enemy can throw our way.
But there is one more thing Paul mentions. It is the prayers we offer up in the Spirit. But what does that mean? Is Paul referring to a special spiritual state or some kind of divine altered reality? As always, he seems to be encouraging us to remember our complete dependence upon God for all we need to live the Christian life. Our prayers are powerless without the Spirit’s help. In fact, it is the Spirit who steps in and gives words to our seemingly impotent prayers. Paul told the Romans, “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” (Romans 8:26-27 ESV). The Spirit of God knows the will of God. He knows what it is that God desires and what God intends. He steps in and converts our sometimes selfish, me-centered prayers into words that coincide with the heart of God. He gives expression to our pleas so that they come to the ears of God in perfect harmony with His will.
We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. We are incapable of surviving on our own. We don’t have the strength, the resources, the wisdom or the courage to stand up against all that the enemy can bring against us. But it is our recognition of our weakness and our need for God’s help that allows us to take advantage of His weapons and benefit from His Spirit’s power. We are to pray dependently, persistently, expectantly, boldly, and specifically. Paul asked for specific prayer regarding his need to preach the right words with boldness. Even though living in chains, he asked that prayers be made on his behalf that he would be strong. His request was clear. His desire was easily understood.
And should his readers doubt their ability to pray and receive an answer to their prayers, all they needed to do was remember to offer up their prayers in the power of the Spirit. He would intercede on their behalf. He would bring their weak and powerless prayers before God and make sure that they mirrored the Father’s will and accomplished the Father’s plans for Paul. Praying in the Spirit is not some supernatural endeavor we accomplish, but a reliance upon a supernatural entity provide by God on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor, helper, and advocate who lives within us, empowers us, guides and directs us, and speaks to God on behalf of us. When we pray, we must remember that we do so in Jesus’ name and with the Spirit’s help. At all times. And for all people. We can be specific. We can be expectant. We can be bold. We can be thankful. Even before our answer has even arrived.