Pray in the Spirit. (Ephesians 6:18)
Some time after Peter preached at Pentecost where three thousand were saved, he and John were going to the temple to pray when they saw a lame man begging alms. Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus rise up and walk.’ The man was healed – walking, leaping, and praising God. Immediately a crowd gathered and Peter, who a few days before had denied Jesus, boldly preached Christ to the crowd. The Sanhedrin arrested Peter and John, thinking a night in jail would weaken their resolve to persist in their spurious activity. The next morning the Sanhedrin thought they could intimidate them, but Peter said there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. He said we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard. Later they were with believers, rejoicing at the privilege of suffering for Jesus’ sake. While together the place was shaken, all were filled with the Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that if she believed in him she would never thirst. Rightly we apply this to the issue of evangelism but has the thought occurred to you that once you have Jesus this ought to characterise your daily life? If you have Jesus you are never to thirst. Never! You should never have bitterness, anger, wrath, slander, or malice toward anyone. You should never be anxious or worried. You should always submit to your husband unless he is demanding unlawful activity from you. You should always love your wife as Christ loved the church. You should always give a full day of work to your employer. Is it not true that most believers are living far below what Christ promises? ‘You will never hunger . . . you will never thirst . . . from your innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’
Why, then, do you thirst? Because the Dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan (Revelation 20:1) works you over big time. He accuses you when you sin, telling you that you are hopeless, that Christianity does not work for you. He tempts you to heinous sin, and when you give in the accusations grow more severe. He deceives you, telling you that a few moments of pleasure with that woman at the office will not harm you. He tells you that soft porn is no big deal. He tells you that repentance is easy, that God is all love and grace. He fails to tell you that repentance is a gift from God, that there are consequences to your sin. He does not tell you how continual, habitual, unrepentant sin can destroy your life in hell. He lies to you, would kill you if he could, and routinely destroys families, churches, communities, and nations.
Peter tells us that we have all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). Paul tells us to put on the full armour of God (Ephesians 6:14-17). You know this but most of you still succumb to the devil’s schemes. You still thirst. You have the wiring for holiness but you lack the electricity. From where does the electricity come? I have preached the armour of God in Ephesians 6 many times but only recently did I see the clear connection between the armour and Paul’s instruction on prayer that follows. The verb in verse 14, ‘Stand firm,’ is followed by four participles (having girded your loins, having put on the breast plate of righteousness, having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace) concerning the gospel armour; and he continues with another participle in verse 18 (with all prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit) that reveals continuation of thought. In other words, we stand firm by praying in the Spirit. None of the biblical commentators I consulted (including Calvin, Hendriksen, Matthew Henry, Wuest, O’Brien, or Lenski) address in any detail the phrase ‘praying in the Spirit.’ I suggest, however, that this is the electricity that enables you to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. This gospel electricity energizes the armour of God, quenching your spiritual thirst.
What does it mean to ‘pray in the Spirit?’ Romans 8:26-27, ‘the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings too deep for words,’ gets at it. So does James 5:15, ‘the prayer of faith.’ This is what Moses experienced on Mount Sinai, what Elijah experienced on Mount Carmel when confronting the prophets of Baal, what Peter saw at the Mount of Transfiguration, what John saw on the Isle of Patmos. It is a coming down of the Holy Spirit in prayer. It is what the Puritans called ‘praying through.’ It is what Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls praying with boldness, certainty, felicity of speech, fervency, zeal. It is praying down the presence of God. We rejoice that our God is one of providence and power, but we need him, not just his attributes. We need the presence of this God of providence and power. When praying in the Spirit it is as though you enter into the Holy of Holies, shut the door behind you, and enjoy communion with God, caught up in his love and glory, losing all sense of time. It results in great joy, refreshment, encouragement to press on in the Militia Christiana (the Christian fight of sanctification). It brings a renewed resolve to pursue biblical holiness, urging preachers to stay at their task in spite of hardship, dwindling numbers, wayward sheep, or opposition. This is the electricity for the wires of the armour of God. This is the living water that always quenches thirst.
How do you get there? How do you pray through? How do you pray down the Spirit? You pray until you pray. Praying out loud with others for extended periods of time will help. You pray Scripture, asking the Holy Spirit to visit you. You repent and confess your sins. You give praise and adoration to God. You seek him until you find him. You call upon him until he answers you. You knock until the door is opened to you. You ask until you receive. Does this sound strange to you? Does this sound Pentecostal? Until one hundred years ago all Presbyterian and Reformed preachers and theologians pursued this, but today we are too mechanical, too tame, too predictable. We need Word and Spirit. We tend to be strong on the Word but weak on the Spirit. This leads to dryness, dead orthodoxy. Charismatics tend to be strong on the Spirit and weak on the Word, leading to chaos. Can we not have both? Can we not live in the Spirit, praying him down, praying through until we sense the glory of God in our presence! This alone will bring refreshment to our souls. This alone will cause unbelievers to thirst for righteousness. They want more than words. They need to see that Christianity is real, that it alone truly satisfies.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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