As Pentecostal Christians, our unique doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit lends us a powerful tool by which we can overcome the world in these trying times. I am talking about praying in the Spirit. There are many benefits to this privileged prayer of partnership with the Third Person of the Trinity.
First, according to Paul, it is how we put on and put to use the full armor of God that we may take our stand against “spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:10-18). In reclaiming our Pentecostal heritage, we also reclaim a supernatural perspective that reflects what is seen is moved by what is unseen. The problems plaguing our world are far greater than viruses and the schemes of humans. But we cannot apprehend the true evils, much less thwart them, except by praying in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, spiritual warfare is waged through spiritual prayer. As an aside, we should not think of this kind of prayer as an exception to the rule of our morning “quiet times,” or that it is something that only “intercessors” can do. For as Paul exhorted the Ephesians: “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
Second, as Jude wrote, it builds up our “most holy faith” (Jude 20). Paul adds depth to this point in 1 Corinthians 14 when he contrasts the gift of tongues with prophecy. Summarily, tongues are a heavenly prayer language, unknowable to anyone but God- not even the one praying is privy to the actual content of such prayers (v. 2). Nevertheless, “anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves” (v. 4). Paul later instructs, “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays” (v. 14), and infers that one can sing, praise, and thank God in tongues (vv. 15-17). So while our minds are unfruitful, praying in tongues greatly impacts our spirits as well as the spiritual realm.
Third, it allows us to pray precisely according to God’s will. This is what drove me to relate this topic to our current crisis in the first place. Candidly speaking, I have no clue what is going on or what I should do about it, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does either. “There are… so many kinds of voices in the world,” but at bottom there is only one we must follow (1 Cor. 14:10 KJV). Again, Paul provides the insight to our interplay with the Spirit when he speaks of “the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit,” explaining that “the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-11). God’s Spirit gives us access to God’s mind in order that we may know God’s thoughts, and by extension God’s voice.
How, then, can we gain such access? This comes back to praying in the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:26-27, we read that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Now this may be in reference to tongues or it may mean literal groaning. Regardless, the former stands as a valid practice as demonstrated in my second point; the latter, however, can be exhibited in what the old timers called “travailing.” Travailing is when the Spirit moves upon a person to experience His grief over the world’s sin and pain, causing them to physically moan and writhe about. Travailing is very mysterious in that it is “wordless,” but many who have entered into it sensed that they were praying for things of global significance “in accordance with the will of God.”
In the midst of a global crisis, we need to discern and to do God’s will more than ever. We cannot allow fear and confusion to paralyze us from fulfilling our ministry and reaching the world for Christ. There is indeed a strange social reality being thrusted upon us, rife with new obstacles to our message and outreach. But the Spirit knows what to say, what to do and where to go so we can bear fruit for God! The future- both short and long-term- may be incredibly uncertain, but the Spirit gives us the wisdom and patience we need to endure- even flourish- come what may! There may be confusion as to what God is doing in the world right now, but the Spirit wants us to know God’s heart and mind. On a personal and practical level, I can attest, along with many of my mentors in the faith, that taking time daily to pray in the Spirit consistently brings me closer to God, elevates my perspective and bolsters my faith like few things can.