Building My Prayer Life: Praying in the Spirit


"If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” - Martin Luther

After I just got saved, I began to look up to men and women of God who had an amazing relationship with God. Biographies and stories talked about the hours that they would pray. There would be many examples of their dedication to their secret (or not so secret) prayer lives. It would inspire me and spur me on to pray for hours a day myself. I would time myself as I sought to build a routine prayer life. I shot for two hours a day, seven days a week with no days off. But I realized rather quickly that a routine prayer life is incredibly difficult to maintain. There would be days I would flow and there would be days when I would plateau really fast, and it would take all that was in me to simply show up.

“Praying at all times [kairos, occasions] in the Spirit, with all [kinds of] prayer and supplication.”  Eph. 6:18

According to Paul, praying in the Spirit at all times is essential to a victorious faith. Written in the context of spiritual warfare and harnessing our spiritual arsenal, it's clear that praying in the Spirit enables us to be effective and victorious in our Christian walk. So what does praying in the Spirit look like?

Not By Flesh

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  Rom. 8:26

To understand what praying in the Spirit is, we can take a look at what praying in the flesh is. According to Martyn Lloyd Jones: it is forcing oneself to pray through human effort and ability. In attempts to push through the sense of deadness, and difficulty in prayer, the flesh will exert more force and seek to employ a smarter strategy. This may assist in the short-term but is never a long-term solution.

“We must come face to face with our tendency to try to pray on our own.” - Martyn Lloyd Jones

Unlike praying forcefully and falling flat after expending much of my own energy, praying in the Spirit is to acknowledge our very weakness and limitation, and yield to a power beyond human effort and ability. It looks more like gliding into a peaceful flow that’s already teeming with life. Praying in the Spirit is not to create our own river through our ability or wit, but it is to connect with God’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. As we align ourselves to it, we will find life and a fullness that we were previously unaware of.

The truth is when I shortcut the part where I wrestle to align myself truly and wholly to God, my prayers will naturally gravitate toward my own agenda. I remember trying to reach the two-hour mark of my prayer time each day, and without realizing, it had become more about hitting that benchmark than listening to His heart. Sooner than later, I burned out and it was hard for me to come back into the place of prayer. My human heart is not energized by prayers of striving. It’s energized when I make space for the Holy Spirit to breathe into my surrendered and emptied form.

Taking the Time to Listen

I think one of the most common mistakes I make in prayer is to bring my petitions and only my petitions. What’s wrong with that? When I am only doing the talking, it becomes apparent what the agenda is. I remember going into the prayer chapel at Biola University and I would see one young man coming into the prayer chapel often. He would come in and go straight to the front each time. He would drop his heavy backpack, get on his knees and start pouring out his heart to God. After some time, he would end with a resounding amen, pick up his bag, and walk straight out. The first time I saw him, I was impressed by his passion and sincerity. Then as I observed him again and again, it made me wonder when he would spend time listening to God’s response or God’s heart.

A pastor I knew once said that you should spend 95% of your time in prayer listening and 5% talking. This gives us an insight into how much talking we should really do in prayer. With a regular ingestion and digestion of God’s Word, I must learn to sit with God and turn my heart to him in complete dependence. I acknowledge my weakness, and recognize my willfulness. Like the Psalmist in Psalms 19:12, I recognize my own blindness before an omniscient God.

Stripping Bare

I put on so many titles throughout my day. As a husband, leader, or friend, my heart naturally finds itself hiding behind these titles and identities. My heart self-protects behind the guises and disguises of human achievement and status. But in order to achieve intimacy, I must strip naked before God. To pray in the Spirit, we must spend ample time undressing before God.

In Colossians 3:9, Paul talks about the idea of putting off the old self before putting on the new self. It’s this idea that we cannot take on love unless we learn to undress the things we cover. It’s no wonder that Paul talks about this in chapter 3 before exhorting the church to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving in Col 4:2.

As I strip down through the help of the Spirit, the effects of the fall are reversed. In Christ, there is no shame in my weakness, and no shame in my sins. I come before God and receive his unconditional love for me. As the beauty of God’s grace is uncovered before my eyes, I fall in love with Jesus again and again.

Seek to spend more time putting off layers than just mere petitioning. Seek to align your will fully to his through intentional listening. Remain in your desperate need for his Spirit and your prayer life will experience freshness and vitality.

Jiwon J Lee is a husband and a youth pastor in New Life Vision Church in Koreatown. Graduated with a M.Div from Talbot Theological Seminary, and currently lives in Koreatown.

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