Back to Praying in the Spirit

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


The apostle makes a clear distinction between praying with our spirit, and praying with our minds: therefore when he said, "I will pray with my spirit," he also adds, but I will also pray with my mind." This distinction was made because the Corinthians did not realize that it was their duty, when they spoke in tongues, to edify others and not to simply edify themselves. It appears that many of them had extraordinary gifts, one being the ability to speak in different known languages, but they focused on these mighty gifts, edifying themselves, rather than edifying the church; which caused Paul to write to them, to make them understand, that though extraordinary gifts were excellent, yet it was more important to edify the church.

For, the apostle said, "If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind [and the minds of those listening] is unfruitful" (1 Corinthians 14:3, 4, 12, 19, 24, 25. Read the scope of the whole chapter). Therefore, "What shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind" (1 Corinthians 14:15).

It is necessary then that the mind should be involved in prayer, as well as the heart and mouth. That which is done with the mind, is done more effectually, sensibly, and heartily, than that which is done without it; which made the apostle pray for the Colossians, that God would fill them "with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1:9). And for the Ephesians, that God would give them "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [they] may know him better" (Ephesians 1:17). And also for the Philippians, that God would make their love abound "more and more in knowledge and depth of insight" (Philippians 1:9). A suitable understanding is good in everything a man undertakes, either secular or spiritual; and therefore it must be desired by all Christians that they would be a praying people. I will now show you what it is to pray with your mind.

In order for God to accept our prayers, there must be a spiritual understanding in all those who pray to God.

1. To pray with our minds, is to be guided by the Holy Spirit to pray with an understanding of the need of those things which the soul is to pray for.

Though a man is desperately in need for forgiveness of sin, and deliverance from the wrath to come, yet if he does not understand this, he will either not pray these things at all, or else be so cold and lukewarm when he asks for forgiveness and deliverance, that God will detest the attitude of his heart when he asks for them. Thus it was with the church of the Laodiceans, they wanted knowledge or spiritual understanding; yet they did not know that they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Because of their condition and all of their empty prayers, they were detestable to Christ, so much so that he threatens to spit them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16, 17). Men who pray without their minds engaged may say the same words in prayer as others do; but there is a great difference in effectiveness of the prayers! The one speaking with his mind engaged brings understanding to his words, but the other person who prays without an understanding of what he is saying is only babbling words.

2. To pray with our minds will cause the heart of God to be ready and willing to give those things to the soul that it needs.

David prayed with his mind and therefore could surmise the very thoughts of God towards him (Psalm 40:5). And so it was with the Canaanite woman; by her faith and the understanding in her mind, she was able to discern, that although Christ was refusing her initial requests to help her demon-possessed daughter, there was a tenderness and willingness in his heart to save, which caused her to be vehement and earnest, yes, restless, until she received the mercy she needed for her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28).

A proper understanding in our minds, of the willingness of the heart of God to save sinners, will be the primary motive for the soul to seek after God, and to cry out for forgiveness. If a man should see a pearl worth thousands of dollars lying in a ditch, and yet did not understand the value of it, he would most likely pass it by: but if he knew in his mind its true value, then he would climb down into the filth of the ditch to acquire it.

So it is with souls concerning the things of God: once a man understands their value, then his heart, and the very strength of his soul, will run after them, and he will never stop praying for them until he has them. The two blind men in the gospel, clearly knew that Jesus, who was going by them, was both willing and able to heal their blindness: therefore they cried out, and the more they were rebuked, the more they cried out (Matthew 20:29-31).

3. To pray with our minds allows us to clearly see God's promises, which is a great encouragement to pray.

The enlightened understanding sees the magnitude of God's promises and is therefore encouraged to pray. It is like men who make great promises to do such and such to all that will come and ask for them, it is great encouragement to those that know what promises are made, to come and ask for them.

4. To pray with our minds enables us to present to God suitable arguments to justify our requests.

Once our minds are enlightened by the Spirit, then the way is made for the soul to come to God with suitable arguments, sometimes in a way of reasoning with God, as Jacob did in the 32nd chapter of Genesis (Genesis 32:9). Sometimes in the way we verbally petition God, yet not always in a verbal way only, but even from the heart there is forced by the Spirit, through the mind, effective arguments that move the heart of God. Our example is Ephraim who gets a clear understanding of his own sin towards the Lord, then he begins to express sorrow for his sins (Jeremiah 31:18-20).

And in his expression of sorrow, he used various arguments with the Lord, that affected his heart, draws out forgiveness, and makes Ephraim pleasant in his eyes through Jesus Christ our Lord: God said, "I have surely heard Ephraim's moaning [to me] saying, 'You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me, and I will return, because you are the LORD my God.

After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth' " (Jeremiah 31:19). These are Ephraim's complaints and expressions of sorrow; at which the Lord breaks forth into these heart-melting expressions, saying, "'Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,' declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 31:18-20).

5. To pray with our minds enables us to see our needs and therefore what type of prayer we should pray.

Praying with our mind enables us to be aware of the feelings, and pressures that lie heavy on our spirit, provoking us to groan out our request to the Lord. When David felt the "cords of death entangle [him], and the anguish of the grave coming upon [him]," he did not need a bishop dressed in a fancy robe to teach him to say, "O Lord, save me!" (Psalm 116:3, 4). Nor did he need to look into a book, to teach him a form of a prayer to pour out before God. It is the nature of the heart of sick men, in their pain and sickness, to express itself for comfort, by sorrowful groans and moanings to those who are near them. Thus it was with David, in Psalm 38:1-12. And thus, blessed be the Lord, it is with them that are endowed with the grace of God.

6. To pray with our minds will keep us praying continually.

It is necessary that there be an enlightened understanding in our minds for us to see the need to continue in prayer.

The people of God are not ignorant of the many schemes, tricks, and temptations the devil has to tempt a Christian, who is truly willing to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, to tempt that very sincere soul to be weary of seeking the face of God, and to think that God is not willing to have mercy on such a person as he. "Yes," says Satan, "you may truly pray, but you will not prevail. You see your heart is hard, cold, dull, and fearful; you do not pray with the Spirit, you are not sincere in your prayers, your thoughts are running after other things, when you pretend to pray to God.

Away with you, you hypocrite, go no further, it is vain to strive any longer!" Oh, if the soul is not praying with its mind, then it will soon cry out, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me" (Isaiah 49:14). Whereas, the soul that is praying with his mind and enlightened by the Spirit, will say, "I will seek the Lord, and wait; I will not stop, though the Lord remains silent, and does not speak one word of comfort" (Isa 40:27). The Lord loved Jacob dearly, and yet he made him wrestle before he gave him the blessing (Genesis 32:25-27).

Apparent delays in our prayers being answered by God are not signs of his displeasure; he may hide his face from his dearest saints (Isaiah 8:17). He loves to keep his people praying, and to find them ever knocking at the gate of heaven; it may be, says the soul, that the Lord is testing me, or that he loves to hear me groan out my condition before him.

Oh, how many souls are there in the world, that truly fear the Lord, who, because they are not well informed in their minds, are often ready to give up hope, at almost every trick and temptation of Satan! The Lord pity them, and help them to "pray with their spirit, and also with their minds."

In my own life, when I have been in the agony of spirit, I have been strongly persuaded to stop praying, and to seek the Lord no longer; but being made to understand in my mind, what great sinners the Lord has had mercy on, and how great are his promises to sinners; and that it was not the well person, but the sick, not the righteous, but the sinner, not the full, but the empty, that he extended his grace and mercy to. This made me, through the assistance of his Holy Spirit, to cleave to him, to hang on him, and still to cry out, though for the present he did not answer.

Thus have I briefly showed you, FIRST, What prayer is; SECOND, What it is to pray with the Spirit; and THIRDLY, What it is to pray with my spirit, and also with my mind.

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