Back to Praying in the Spirit

John Bunyan
Praying in the Spirit
"Pray With My Spirit"


1. I will pray with my spirit.

There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. "For through Christ we have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18). Therefore Paul said, "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (Romans 8:26, 27). And because there is in this scripture a complete discovery of the spirit of prayer, and of man's inability to pray without it; therefore I will in a few words comment on it.

"We." Consider the person speaking, Paul, an apostle, the extraordinary elder, the wise master-builder, he that was taken up into paradise (2 Cor 12:4). "We do not know what we ought to pray for." Surely everyone will admit, that Paul and his fellow apostles were able to have done any mighty work for God, yet, he says, "We do not know what we ought to pray for," without the help and the assistance of the Spirit. Should we pray for communion with God through Christ? Should we pray for faith, for justification by grace, and a truly sanctified heart? We do not know the answer to any of these things. "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:11).

"We do not know what we ought to pray for." Paul said, we must pray as we ought; and this we cannot do by the skill, and cunning devices of men or angels. "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit"; no, it must be "the Spirit HIMSELF" that helps us in our weakness; not the Spirit and man's lusts. What man's own brain may imagine and devise, is one thing, and what they are commanded, and ought to do, is another. Many ask and do not receive, because they ask with wrong motives; and so they never enjoy those things they pray for (James 4:3).

While we are praying, God is searching the heart, examining our motives and spirit (1 John 5:14). "And he who searches our hearts knows," that is, approves only, what is agreeable to, "the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:27) For he only hears that which is in accordance with his will, and nothing else. And it is only the Spirit that can teach us what to ask; only the Spirit is able to search every thing out, even the deep things of God.

Without the Holy Spirit, though we pray a thousand different prayers, yet we would be unable to know what to pray for, because we have a built-in weakness that makes us absolutely incapable of praying correctly. These weaknesses within us, although it is difficult to name them all, yet the following are eight key weaknesses which prevent effective praying.

Weakness #1 - Not having the Holy Spirit within us.

Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, man is so weak that he cannot think one right saving thought of God, of Christ, or of his blessed things; and therefore the Word of God declares about the man without the Spirit, "In all his thoughts there is no room for God" (Psalm 10:4); unless it is that they imagine God to be basically like one of them (Psalm 50:21). For "every inclination of the thoughts of [unsaved man's] heart is only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5; 8:21). Thus, since unbelievers are not able to correctly conceive who God is, the very God to whom they pray, the Christ through whom they pray, nor of the things for which they pray, as was shown before, then how will they be able to address themselves to God, without the help of the Holy Spirit?

The acceptable prayer to God must, in the outward expression, and as well in the inward intention, come from what the soul understands by the illumination of the Holy Spirit; otherwise the prayer is condemned as a vain abomination, because the heart and tongue do not agree, neither can they, unless the Spirit help us in our weakness (Mark 7; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 29:13). And David knew this full well, which caused him to cry out, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise" (Psalm 51:15).

I suppose no one would doubt that David could speak and express himself as well as any one in our generation, as is clearly manifested by his words recorded in the Scriptures. Nevertheless when this good man, this prophet, comes to worship God, then the Lord must help him too, or he can do nothing. "O Lord, open my lips," and then "my mouth will declare your praise." He could not speak one proper word, unless the Spirit gives him the utterance. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for.

Weakness #2 - Not praying with the Spirit.

We may have the Holy Spirit within us, but if we do not pray with the Spirit, then we are senseless, hypocritical, and cold, and both we and our prayers are abominable to God (Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 18:11, 12; Isaiah 58:2, 3). It is not the quality of the voice, nor the apparent affection, and earnestness of him that prays, that means anything to God. For man, as man, is so full of all kinds of wickedness, that he cannot keep a word, or thought, much less a part of a prayer pure, and acceptable to God through Christ; and because of this the Pharisees, and their lengthy prayers, were rejected. There is no question that they expressed themselves with excellent words, and also said long prayers; but they did not have the Holy Spirit to help them, and therefore in their weakness they fell short of a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of their souls to God, through the strength of the Spirit.

Weakness #3 - Not being aware of our unconfessed sins.

No one but the Holy Spirit can clearly show a person their sins, and therefore cause them to have the proper attitude of prayer. Without an clear sense of the sin of our hearts then our prayers are nothing but "lip-service" to God. O the cursed hypocrisy that is in most hearts, and that accompanies many thousands of praying men and women today, and all because they lack a sense of their sin! But now the Spirit, will sweetly show the soul its sinful state, and exactly the areas where the sin exists, and what is likely to be the consquence of that sin if it remains unconfessed, and also that it is an intolerable condition. For it is the Spirit that effectually convinces men and women of their sin and misery, and therefore causes the soul to pray in a pure, discerning, and tender way to God according to his word (John 16:7-9).

Weakness #4 - Seeing our sins and being unable to pray.

Even if men and women are aware of their sins, yet without the help of the Holy Spirit they would not pray. For they would run away from God, with Cain and Judas, and utterly despair of mercy, were it not for the Spirit. When a man is aware of his sin, and God's curse on it, then it is very difficult to persuade him to pray; for, his heart says, "It's no use," it is in vain to seek God (Jeremiah 2:25; 18:12). I am so vile, so wretched, and so cursed, that I will never be forgiven! Now here comes the Spirit, and calms the soul, helping it to hold up its face to God, by letting into the heart some small sense of mercy to encourage it to go to God, and for that reason the Holy Spirit is called "the Counselor" (John 14:26).

Weakness #5 - Not knowing how to come to God-His way.

In order to pray we must be in the Spirit; for without that no man can know how to come to God the right way. Men may easily say they come to God through his Son: but without being in the Spirit, it is impossible to come to God the right way-his way. It is "the Spirit" that "searches all things, even the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10). It is the Spirit that must show us the way of coming to God, and also what there is in God that makes him desirable: Moses said, "Teach me your ways so I may know you" (Exodus 33:13).

Weakness #6 - Being unable to call God our "Father."

Without the Holy Spirit, though a man sees his misery, and also the way to come to God; yet he would never be able to claim a share in either God, Christ, or mercy, because God would not allow him. O how great a task it is, for a lost soul that becomes aware of his sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith, this one word, "Father!" I tell you, even the Christian finds difficulty in this very thing, it cannot say God is its Father. "O!" he says, "I dare not call him Father"; and therefore the Holy Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God's people for this very reason, to cry "Father": for without the Spirit it would be too difficult for any man to knowingly and believingly call God his Father (Galatians 4:6).

When I say knowingly, I mean, knowing what it is to be a child of God, and to be born again. And when I say believingly, I mean, for the soul to believe, and that from experience, that the work of grace is completed in him. This is the right way to call God, our Father; and not as many do, by saying it in a babbling way, the Lord's prayer (so called) from memory, just as it is written in the words of a book. No, here is the life of prayer, when with the Spirit, a man being made aware of his sin, and how to come to the Lord for mercy; comes in the strength of the Spirit, and cries out "Father." That one word spoken in faith, is better than a thousand prayers, as men call them, written and read, in a formal, cold, or lukewarm way.

Many people think it is enough to teach themselves and their children to say the Lord's prayer, the creed, and other sayings; when, in reality, God knows, they are senseless of themselves, their misery, or what it is to be brought to God through Christ! Oh, poor soul! Study your misery, and cry to God to show you your blindness and ignorance, before you get into the habit of calling God your Father, or teaching your children to do so. And know this, that to say God is your Father, without any work of grace in your souls, is to say you are Christians when you are not, therefore you lie to God.

You say, "Our Father"; God says, "You blasphemer!" You say I am "a true Christian"; God says, "You are a liar!" "You are of the synagogue of Satan, you who claim to be a Jew though you are not, you are a liar" (Revelation 3:9). "I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 2:9). And the more the sinner hypocritically boasts of God being his Father, then so much greater is his sin. The Jews did this to Christ, in the 8th chapter of John, which made Christ, even in plain terms, to tell them of their doom, because of all their hypocritical pretences (John 8:41-45).

And even today, prostitutes, thieves, drunkards, blasphemers, and liars; are considered by some to honest people because with their blasphemous throats, and hypocritical hearts, they will come to church, and say, "Our Father!" But because they obey the "traditions" of their religions saying the "Our Father" over and over, they are considered to be members in good-standing in their church, while God's true children are, as it has always been, looked upon to be a troublesome, opposing, and dissident people (Ezra 4:12-16).

Weakness #7 - Being unable to keep our "heart" in our prayers.

Just as the heart must be lifted up by the Spirit in order to pray acceptable prayers to God , so also it the heart must be held up by the Spirit, if it is to continue to pray correctly. It is impossible that all the prayer-books, that men have made in the world, can lift up, keep up, or prepare the heart; for that is the work of the God himself. And truly here is the life of prayer, to keep the heart devoted to God while praying. We see in the Book of Exodus that it was very difficult for Moses to keep his hands lifted up to God in prayer; likewise, it is difficult to keep the heart in our prayers! (Exodus 17:12).

The lack of this heart in prayer is that which God complains of, when He says, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13). And truly I can speak of my own experience; I can tell you the difficulty I have of praying to God as I should. For, when I go to pray, I find my heart hates to go to God, and when it is with him, it hates to stay with him. Many times I am forced in my prayers, first to beg God that he would take my heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there. Many times I do not know what to pray for, I am so blind, nor do I know how to pray, I am so ignorant, but praise God's grace: the Holy Spirit can help us in our weakness in prayer (Psalm 86:11).

Weakness #8 - Praying without the help and strength of the Spirit.

It is impossible for the heart to pour itself out before God, with those groans and sighs that come from a truly praying heart, without the assistance of the Spirit. It is not the mouth that is the main thing to be looked at in prayer, rather one needs to look at the heart and see if is full of love and earnestness in prayer to God. There are times when the desires of a man's heart are so great, that all the words, tears, and groans that can come from the heart, cannot be uttered by his mouth: It is then that "The Spirit helps us in our weakness-and intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26).

We must pray with the Spirit, or else our prayers will fail. Prayer is a mandate from God, that must continue with a soul so long as it is on this side of glory. But, as I said before, it is not possible for a man to turn his heart to God in prayer; likewise it is just as difficult to keep it there, without the assistance of the Spirit. Therefore, for a man to continually be in prayer with God, it must of necessity be with the Spirit.

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