This article uses Ephesians 6:18 as a guide to introduce the who, what, when, and where of prayer. It answers questions like what does it mean to pray in the Spirit and what are the common types of prayer I can pray?
Take your Bible and turn to Ephesians 6.
Do you remember how it felt to talk to someone for the first time? How about that person you had a crush on? What was it like having a real conversation with that person? Where you nervous? Did it feel awkward? Have you ever had to face a judge, what was that like? Were you a little anxious? Were you concerned about how you would address the judge? Have you ever met someone famous? How did you feel when you were talking to them? How about a stranger? Have you ever been placed in a position to talk to someone you don’t know.
For some, this is how they feel when they pray. They don’t know what to say, there is awkward silence, not sure if God is listening, they are nervous, and not sure how to address Him. And they definitely don’t want to be asked to pray in front of a bunch of people.
The Bible has a lot to say about prayer. We can’t unpack everything but we do want to look at the essentials of prayer. To grow spiritually you will need to learn to talk to God and listen to God. That’s what prayer is.
Ephesians 6:18 says, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints” (HCSB). From that one statement we see several basic elements to prayer. Let’s briefly look at each one.
I am to pray
First, I am to pray. Paul says, “Pray…” (HCSB). If you were to define prayer at its basic core, you could describe it as simply you talking to God and listening to God. God wants to hear from you. God wants to talk to you.
- Jesus expects you to pray. He often would begin His teachings on prayer by saying, “When you pray…” (Matt. 6:5, 7).
- The first Christians devoted themselves to prayer. Acts 2:42 says the first Christians, “Devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers” (HCSB).
If you are going to grow spiritually you must talk to God and listen to Him. You must pray. It is an essential to spiritual maturity.
I am to pray at all times
Number two, I am to pray at all times. Ephesians 6:18 says to “pray at all times” (HCSB). One translation says “on all occasions” (NIV 84) another one says, “praying always” (KJV). This does not mean that you spend eight hours a day on your knees praying. It means that you have a habit of praying. You pray when life is easy and you pray when life is hard. You pray when you are feeling good and you pray when you are feeling bad. You pray when you feel righteous and pray when you don’t feel so righteous. You pray about little things and big things. You pray when God is answering immediately and when it feels like He is not there. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray constantly” (HCSB). Romans 12:12 says, “Be persistent in prayer” (HCSB). You pray at “all times” and all occasions. You have a lifestyle of prayer. You have a relational prayer life with God.
I am to pray in the Spirit
Number three, I am to pray in the Spirit. Verse 18 says, “Pray at all times in the Spirit…” (HCSB). What does it mean to pray “in the Spirit”? It means two things.
Praying in the authority of the Holy Spirit
First, to pray “in the Spirit” means to pray in the authority of the Holy Spirit. The way you pray in the authority of the Holy Spirit is to place yourself under the authority of the Holy Spirit. You are submissive to the Spirit of God. Praying in the Spirit is to place your heart, mind, emotions, and will under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. When you are living in obedience to the Holy Spirit you are living in His power. As you place yourself under His authority His power is able to work in you and through you. He is able to guide you in your praying. As a result you are praying “in the Spirit.”
Praying in agreement with the Holy Spirit
To pray “in the Spirit” also means to pray in agreement with the Holy Spirit. This is praying according to the Spirit’s will. You pray about what the Spirit’s concerned about.
Now listen carefully, the Bible often contrast someone living in the Spirit verses living in the flesh. If you are living in the flesh and are consumed with the world’s priorities you will pray according to the flesh. You will find yourself praying more about material, physical and temporary things rather than spiritual and eternal things. You will find yourself praying more about what you can see rather than what you cannot see. You will pray more about your comfort than courage. You will pray more about safety than sacrifice. You will pray more about being blessed rather than being a blessing.
We will often pray for more money, physical health, a new job, finding a house, removal of a difficult relationship and you do need to pray about those things but how often do you hear yourself praying for increased love for someone, depth of insight and knowledge, discernment, and wisdom.
If you want to pray in agreement with the Holy Spirit look to the Word of God. Remember, the Spirit of God wrote the Word of God. In His Word He gives us guidelines on what to pray about. He gives us examples to follow. Let me show you one them.
- Philippians 1:9 says, “And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God” (HCSB). The Spirit is concerned about your physical comfort, but He is more concerned about your character. He wants the prayers of His people to focus on love, purity, blamelessness and righteousness.
If you want to pray in agreement with the Spirit, then pray in agreement with the Spirit’s Word. The only way you can pray in agreement with His Word is to know His Word. We have to move from praying mostly about things we can see, feel, touch and taste to things that are spiritual in nature and supernatural in essence.
So the bottom line is this: To pray in the Spirit is to pray in the authority of the Spirit and in agreement with the Spirit. As you submit yourself to the Spirit of God He will speak to you about how to pray for that person or situation so that you can pray in agreement with what He wants to accomplish.
I am to pray with all kinds of prayers
Number four, I am to pray with all kinds of prayers. This deals with the scope of prayer. Notice the Bible says, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request” (HCSB). Notice the words “with every prayer and request.” The word “prayer” refers to general prayers, while the word “requests” refers to specific requests.
- A general “prayer” might sound like this: “Lord, I pray for the missionaries around the world, open doors for them to share the gospel with the lost.”
- A “request” which is more specific might sound like this: “Lord, I pray for Dan & Angela, missionaries in Africa. Open doors for them to share the gospel with their next door neighbor and may that neighbor surrender His life to You.”
Whether we are praying a general prayer or something specific we need to be aware of the different kinds of prayers that we can pray. Different situations call for different kinds of prayers. Let me give you the five most common prayers you need to pray.
Number one, the prayer of praise. This is appreciating the Lord for who He is. It is telling God how great He is. Psalm 34:1 says, “I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak of His praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together” (vs. 1-3, NLT). That is a prayer of praise.
A second kind of prayer is the prayer of thanksgiving. This is appreciating the Lord for what He has done. It is an attitude of gratitude toward Jesus. It is telling the Lord, “Thank You for rescuing me from my sin” or “thank You for my family” or “thank You for the protection you have given me” or “thank You for hearing my prayer today.” We hear David say in Psalm 69, “I will honor [God] with thanksgiving” (NLT). Listen to what we are told in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (vs. 16-18, NLT). There are times you simply need to say, “Thank you, Lord.”
A third kind of prayer is the prayer of confession. The prayer of confession is admitting to God the sins you have done with an attitude of repentance. 1 John 1:9 puts it this way, “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (NLT). Sometimes you need to admit to God you blew it, you messed up, you sinned.
A fourth kind of prayer is the prayer of intercession. This is asking God to do something in the life of someone else. This sounds like this, “Lord, help Ed express true love to his wife” or “Heavenly Father, give Suzy boldness as she leads that ministry” or “Jesus, open Phil’s eyes that he may understand your Word.” It is asking God to intervene and do something in the life of somebody else. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf” (v.1, NLT).
A fifth kind of prayer is the prayer of petition. This is asking God to do something in your This deals with your own needs and your own concerns. We are not talking about being selfish. A petition is asking God to fulfill His will in your life in some way. Listen to what Philippians 4:6 says, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (HCSB). “God, I’m asking you to restore my marriage.” “Lord, I’m needing a job to provide for my family.” “Jesus, I’m lonely and I need one good friend in my life.” “Lord, I’m worried about this upcoming surgery and I need your peace.”
Sometimes prayer may not feel that powerful. Sometimes prayer may feel like nothing is getting done. But don’t give up on God and don’t think He doesn’t respond to prayer because He does. He is more excited about your prayers and Him responding than you are. He wants to show Himself real and powerful in you and through you by answering your prayers. He is an amazing God.