Principles of Prayer
by Francis Foulkes ©


5. God the Holy Spirit

"Pray in the Holy Spirit".
(Jude 20)
Master, they say that when I seem,
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it's all a dream -
One talker aping two.
They are half right, but not as they
Imagine; rather, I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.
Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener's role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.
And thus you neither need reply
Nor can, thus, while we seem
Two talking, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.
(C.S. Lewis)

It is through the Son that we come to the Father, but we also rely on the Holy Spirit to inspire our prayer. The Spirit gives us the desire to pray, teaches us how to pray, assists our prayers when we are very weak. Romans 8:26-27 spells this out most specifically, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (cf.Jas.4:5). In the spirit of the whole of that passage in Romans 8 Simon Barrington-Ward says, `True Christian prayer is fundamentally a moving of the Spirit of Jesus in the hearts and minds of men and women, preparing the whole creation for the final reconciliation ---.' (12)

"Pray in the Holy Spirit" is the exhortation in Jude 20 and similarly in Ephesians 6:18. J.O.Fraser the pioneer missionary of Lisuland, spoke of the need to `get our prayers from God', meaning our dependence on the Spirit of God to enable us to pray as we ought. It has also been the experience of many Christian people that the Holy Spirit prompts prayer at special times and for special needs.(13) This is expressed in a poem by Georgia B. Admas:

I know not why should come to me
That certain urge to pray
For some dear saint of God near by
Or someone miles away.
I know not why my peaceful sleep
Is broken suddenly
By some strange and impelling force,
By certain urgency.
But this I know! God knows the need
Of each child of His care;
Distance and time mean naught to Him -
His Hand is everywhere!
And so, I count it joy to be
In partnership with the One
Who lays upon my heart the needs
Of those I cannot see!
At night or day - whene'er the call
I'll pray right then and there
Though I know not why God should call
My heart to sudden prayer!

Prayer thus is dependent on who God is, on the knowledge that we have of God as Father, on our access through the Son and taught from his incarnate life and ministry so many lessons of prayer, and on the Holy Spirit inspiring and guiding our prayers. Graham Redding contrasts what he speaks of as the telephone concept of prayer with the `Trinitarian Model' in which `prayer is shaped by the mediatorial role of Christ, who intercedes with us and for us. Prayer is an activity in the Spirit through which we as a Church and as followers of Jesus are enabled to participate in the prayer-life of our Lord.' (14) Eighteen centuries ago Origen put it, `The discussion of prayer is so great that it requires the Father to reveal it, his firstborn Word to teach it, and the Spirit to enable us to think and speak rightly of so great a subject.'

Some, especially in the Pentecostal tradition, have taken the words of Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 about praying "in the Spirit" to speak of praying "in tongues". 1 Corinthians 14 certainly alludes to such prayer. The apostle speaks of praying in a tongue himself and of that as meaning that his spirit prays though his mind is unproductive (1 Cor.14:14), and he is not ashamed to acknowledge the use that he makes of tongues in speaking and doubtless in praying (1 Cor.14:18). Yet the phrase "in the Spirit" in New Testament terminology is more than the equivalent of "in tongues". It is to be set along side of "in Christ", and it speaks of the inspiration and direction of the Spirit however that may be given, so that prayer, as Romans 8:26-27 puts it, is truly Spirit-given, and thus expresses the mind of the Lord.