“Loving Our Neighbors Well in Challenging Times,” from L.Willows (Tangible Good, Motion Love, Become the Blessing)

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I join countless others at this pivotal time in history by asking that we join together seeking to share with one another by lifting our hearts, as we face the challenges of self-sacrifice, and the disciplines of home isolation during the coronavirus trial here and around the world. There is a great need for all to love and to love one another well. 

We need to remember that God is Near, His faithfulness will restore our hearts.

During this particular challenge, we face more than a virus- there is a trial that we face in each of our hearts as well. Many long to surge to action to assist others and loved ones, in the usual ways, often, we can not- many of us feel helpless. In distant places, there may be loved ones that are suffering. On the news every day we watch something that seems unbelievable, yet this “thing” is really happening in a world that was so different mere months ago. We see heroes and leaders in the medical community and on other fronts that sacrifice their wellbeing so that they can serve in hospitals, communities and in points of leadership all over the world.

From wherever we are, we can be praying for them every day. We pray that they will be restored protected and renewed. May God Bless them and keep their families near to Himself.

I ask that God give us wisdom, discernment, and protection – that His mercy touches all of our hearts and His Spirit anoints al with the Breath of His Loving Life.

 God hears each of our prayers and leads us all forward. We pray for revival in the hearts of all, that prayer is bold and strong at this vital time. We long to feel infused with His Loving Presence and meet together at the Altar of His Love from wherever we are and from whatever condition we are in. This is His Promise to us. He is ALWAYS with us. He hears EVERY prayer.

Matthew 7:7 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Deuteronomy 9:7 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

We can be in His Presence directly and know that whatever happens today, tomorrow or next week – we be able to receive His Comfort and His Mercy directly. 

More importantly, we can do that for others. God love pours into us abundantly and generously.

Romans 8:37-39 -No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jerimiah 31:3 -The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

As our hearts are filled with God’s Love, we become sensitive to the needs of others, and while we are not the Healer, as God is- as we are infused and inspired by His Spirit, the love that is poured into us outflows in unlimited ways. “Our cups run over”.  We become vessels for His Love. God’s Love Pours Outward.

We are reminded that our lives are not about ourselves. Even during these crises, we are urged to do several things.

1. Draw close to God. Connect whole-heartedly with His Presence so that we experience personal renewal in our individual relationships with Him.

When we are in a crisis, whether it is personal or a collective one that affects us all at the same time- our first response always needs to be to call upon God. We are born into a mortal condition that instills fear and sin that leads us in the opposite direction, into darkness. From the darkness, we can find no solutions- only more chaos and deeper anxiety. Because we have been born anew by the power of His Spirit into Light, into the Resurrection Power of Jesus Christ- we can call upon His Power by Grace.

If any readers do not know Jesus and desire to be able to call upon Him at this urgent time please link to this amazing article by Randy Newman for a wonderful article on Following Jesus.

Suggested Resource: Randy Newman“Follow Jesus”, the Invitation C.S. Lewis Accepted, from Dr. Randy Newman (Christ, Faith, Eternity)

Suggested Resource: Drawing Near to God, The Saints Happiness by Richard Sibbes

2. Have an ongoing honest dialogue with God about the present condition of our hearts.

Do not be afraid to pour out how you are feeling “right now” with God. Confinement over a period of time tends to pull out past or recent heart wounds in an honest way. Whatever has been hiding in the recesses comes forward because of the severity of the stress of isolation and these unique circumstances that stress and trigger so much. (a sense of loss of control, fear and anxiety, health, mortality- just a start…) It is important not to ignore the signals or to cover up the normal anxiety as it arises with buffers. We need to appeal to His Wisdom and lift out of the distress. Unless we face the heart stories that surface, things can begin to simmer- inner stress can cause anxiety and we begin to develop other symptoms that stray from the peace that we are seeking.

We can look to the way King David spoke to The Lord in the Psalms about everything that he was experiencing and feeling. He held nothing back from God, The Father.  Sometimes I do this during a “prayer-walk”. I start with worship and gratitude, then I confess everything that I am feeling to the Lord. Before I know it, I am Lamenting. Then, I pray by making my requests known to God. I finish with Gratitude, remembering all of the prayers have been answering in the past. Try reading the Psalms and you may find some that may express how you are feeling in these hours. Some Psalms of Lament are Psalm 44, Psalm 60, Psalm 74, Psalm 79, Psalm 80, Psalm 85 and Psalm 90. 

Suggested Resource: “Trusting God; how do we develop strength for tough times?”…the works of Maria M. Kneas

3. As we become motioned by Love, we begin to enter a realm of personal heart healing.

As we are confined in isolation for whatever reason and by this or new trials in life will find that there are one or more specific heart issues that may be recent, new or quite familiar to you. Sometimes, rather than feeling what is going on at the moment, we insert “buffers”. A buffer pads us but only momentarily. It is false insulation from what is going on in the heart. It will only help anxiety increase.

Most of us, just because we are mortal have difficulty fathoming our own hearts. We don’t have eyes with the ability to “see” ourselves. We try to analyze our hearts but we end up using our Minds to look at the Heart. One organ tries to “spot” another. Have you noticed what a tangle that ends up in? We make lists but they never end. That is the Mind trying to be the Specialist again.  We need the eyes and heart of God to See and to heal our hearts.

We are not specialists at our own hearts, nor at finding peace within. We need  God. Our pride believes that we are so that we can keep control. When we release pride and control, we soften the space, we allow an opening for the Light- for the inflow of God’s Spirit to enter in. There, we begin to open a door that allows a Kingdom View. Our hearts open to Love.

Suggested Resource: “Finding Peace amidst the chaos of this world; Scripture and Prayer” from L.Willows

4. Gain perspective from the past and present. Open our hearts to our neighbors around the world. Ask for The Kingdom View.

I am reminded of the second world war when so many endured close quarters and hardship for years on end. They lived through every kind of loss with tenacity and courage. Families were separated. Soldiers from many countries sacrificed courageously. Faith heightened as all worked towards peace.

I worked in the Middle East just during and after the Gulf War and then in Bosnia Herzegovina during the Balkan war for a number of years. My heart witnessed and people and cultures that have suffered greatly; whose lands have been ravished. In many cases, there was no food or electricity, nor supplies of any kind. Every night we learned of new death tolls and soldiers returned from the front lines with stories of horror.  Orphans roamed deserted streets and hid in empty hollowed outbuildings while the towns were shelled from nearby mountaintops. When they dove for cover, their heart must have gone away somewhere. I knew them. I was with them. My perspective is shaped by the children of war. There is a place in my heart that remembers them today and wonders how they are and if they are “sheltered in place” as adults with the coronavirus. I pray that these adult children know God today and that He Bless them. Maybe some of them grew up to be Doctors and Medics that are now helping others in crises. I pray that.

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Imagine the wounds that these generations carry into these hours. Today, there are many countries that suffer civil war and other kinds of deprivations and poverty. We learn that we are not the center of everything. Even the scenes of horror and crises that we view on the news are scenes that someone with a camera found. In distant places, there are hospitals, villages, and tents that no one is seeing. It is humbling to realize that much of our prayer needs to go to what we cannot even see.

Suggested Resource: “Humility, The Beauty of Holiness”, Andrew Murray, Pastor and Author (humility, the root of grace, see Jesus),

Suggested Resource: “Seeking Greater Things or Seeking God”, from D.A. Carson (leadership, motive, serving God)

Only God, who is sovereign over the earth and our sojourn past, present, and future, can deliver us and open our hearts and minds to help us to see His Purpose and His Goodness in us and in this Journey that we are all walking through together. Ask for a Kingdom View.

5. Love our Neighbors as ourselves.

Sometimes, perhaps because of the age that we live in, we lose the skill of connecting with one another in tangible ways? Now, because of self-isolation, the business community, by necessity, continues over the computer from home. Children are learning from home in most cases from schools by technology from the schools. Without going into more specifics, countless families that were once separated for 6-10 hours a day are now home together even as parent or parents must work from home. Cities and lives that once bustled with life are not shutting down. Life as we knew it has shifted into a different landscape. Even if one venture out, it does not look like “this world was before”. There is much sadness in everyone’s heart about loss. There are many, many losses.

Pray for inspiration and wisdom about how you can be a blessing and an inspiration at this time to others.

We each have specific gifts given to us by God. The purpose of a gift is that it be used for the benefit of others. Can there be a more vital message that this is the time to use the blessings that have been given to us on behalf of others in need? I believe that we are especially challenged now to begin to recognize kinds of need that we may not have been listening to as sensitively before this crisis. Right now, I notice and listen to needs being articulated that are specific to now.

Suggested Resource: “Quotes on Spiritual Gifting and Service”, Pastor Tom Holliday, APC sermon notes (Kingdom hearts, perspective, serving God)

Suggested Resource: “Giving the Gift of Encouragement”, from L.Willows (Hope, Joy, Prayer)

6). Become a Tangible Outreach of God’s Love.

Reach out to friends and helpful people in your family, friends and church communities. Don’t sit and wait for someone to call you in an isolation puddle. Be the first one to call someone else that you sense needs to be drawn out. By taking the initiative to help someone else, you are actually emptying a space within for more of the Power of God to move into your own life. It is a dynamic of motion. But we all sometimes have to take the first step rather than digging deeper into our out lonely ditches.

We need to accept God’s invitation to lift up and out, by accepting His invitation to Love. His command was to love one another as He loved us. He always put others before Himself. His sacrificial love that pours into us is meant to be shared as a blessing. We are His vessels, that out-pour the love that is given so generously to us.

Reach out, become the Blessing to others:

Respond and Reach – Make a tangible difference in the lives of others now:

Here are some ideas and practical examples, remember to be safe under our present circumstances (you will have more!):

a). It is welcome to others when we offer to reach out, yet there is a special joy that comes at this time of restriction and isolation that is received from the “old fashioned” phone call (as opposed to texting- which also has a welcome place!).

The blessing of the voice of a friend or family member brings remarkable healing for the heart.  We have imprinted memories around the voices of one another. And, since we are all home, (for now) perhaps we could temporarily suspend the Voicemail and answer our phones as a kindness to one another. It brings back the message that says “you are important to me” or at least try to call each other back. We need to get outside of our own stories, and agendas and consider that for now- the hearts of others are “God’s work for us”. We may not be placed at home just to idle or develop new hobbies that are about ourselves. As my Pastor said before all of this began, “our lives are not about ourselves”. It has to still apply. A virus is not going to conquer my heart nor yours. Will it?

Remember, even though many of us still feel overloaded with new home responsibilities, the gift of Time to one another is still one of the greatest resources that we have to give.

We seem to have gotten to an overload point where though everyone was “connected” to one another, no one was able to REACH each other. Maybe this can soften the heart of that. Time, prioritized as a gift blesses each other with selfless love is the message of Christ.

b). We can each be Givers of God’s Kindness each day.

As we come to a deepening awareness of how greatly we are being blessed during this journey together, it becomes vital to keep the blessings (which are God’s Mercies and generosity) in Motion. Can we each find ways, as an expression of gratitude to pass along His kindness to two other people every day? That can take many forms. Your own ideas will surprise you. Some people write cards to people in nursing homes. Some drop off care packages to neighbors. Others always buy for someone in need when they pick up fresh supplies for themselves and distribute them specifically. (and safely)

I recently thought of a “Living Call Outreach”. Each participant prays first and allows their hearts to be inspired by the names of one or two people that they are prompted to call. Trust God. As you enjoy the outreach call, explain the prompting and the purpose of reaching many with hope and honest conversation about our hearts. Express that we desire to grow His Spirit by Reaching with Love. Ask if the person would make one or two calls to share hope and encouragement forwards and continue the Outreach in His Name.

The Living Call Outreach is like forming a miraculous Tree of God’s connective Spirit that branches out in a Loving way among us. Keep going. Pray for the Holy Spirit to sustain each branch with His Life and Christ’s Love. 

c). Do you have a skill, gift or talent that could help others?

Many of us have skills and abilities that we have “put away” because we were busy doing other things, or even because we didn’t feel good enough. Sometimes, we develop the heart reason (which is not true) that we think that we need “permission from the world, or from an authority that confirms our reputation” before we are willing to contribute a skill. This is not a time to wait.

Here are some examples of Tangible Good;  your skills, your gifts-

    • form a prayer group by phone or virtual meeting in your town or community.
    • form a local (virtual)community support group for people at home with heart needs; include a health expert.
    • Are you well versed in the Gospel? Could you be a blessing or uplift to a neighbor with God’s Word? What about Prayer Cards left under the door?
    • Share your expertise in the arts, crafts, gardening, or cooking with friends and community by virtual or phone chains.
    • Do you have a gift or expertise in Life or Biblical Counseling? Can you offer your services to those that are homebound? Will it be by phone, internet, Livestream?
    • Find communities that need fellowship (senior homes and housing communities that are isolated) and arrange to send encouraging cards and handmade notes to them.
    • For artists and writers, create handmade notes for distribution to the home-bound. Become the Encouragers of your Community. Distribute Hope.
    • Bakers and Gifted Gourmets, consider creating special treats for those celebrating birthdays, weddings and anniversaries during this time, brainstorm on how to deliver and connect.
    • Bread Bakers, unite. Fresh Bread is a great Blessing. Is there a way in your town or community to produce bread and safely have it distributed to those in need at doorsteps and distribution centers for the elderly?
    • Prayer or Hope Cards are all over the internet but they might be a more personal blessing if they arrive anonymously and securely wrapped (sanitary) at the door of people in apartment buildings that are in lock-down. Especially in places that are in hard-hit areas. Is there a way to do this, with just one inventive artist and lots of computer paper?
    • Do you have a garden with flowering trees or blossoms? Using plastic gloves, create gifts of florals wrapped in “safe wrappings” and leave them at the doorstep of neighbors that do not have access to the outdoors with a note. Be sanitary and safe!
    • Are you a teacher with skills that can help students at home, can you help as a tutor that gives Parents additional resources, tutorials, websites to use at home? How will you connect the parents to your abilities?
    • Whatever you are able to offer, remember- it is all for the blessing and good of others, not for raising up one’s own reputation or advertising one’s one “market”
    • Pray. Pray every day. Pray unceasingly. Increase the capacity of your heart to pray and pray faithfully. 

Now is a time for personal sacrifice, a time when we look outside of ourselves to the needs of the world and those around us. God provides for us generously and faithfully. It is His Promise.

Would you like to add to this list with your own ideas? Please do! We are one family, God connects us.

© 2020 Linda Willows

Isaiah 40: 27-31

Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

“Praying in The Spirit from Martin Lloyd-Jones”, by Jason Meyer (a Living Communion with God, Bold Prayer)

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How to Pray in The Spirit by Jason Meyer, Studies with Martin Lloyd-Jones

I spent five years immersing myself in the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was truly a transformative season in my life. What was the biggest takeaway? The answer may surprise you. He taught me how to pray.

“We must come face to face with our tendency to try to pray on our own.”

Those who really knew Lloyd-Jones will not find that answer surprising at all. His wife once said, “No one will ever understand my husband until they realize that he is first of all a man of prayer and then an evangelist” (Bethan Lloyd-Jones). In particular, Lloyd-Jones, as a man of prayer, taught me how to pray in the Holy Spirit.

My hunger for learning how to pray in the Spirit came from a perplexing problem. I read Ephesians 6:18, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” This text really bothered me because I could parse the words and diagram the grammar, but I had this nagging sense that I was not experiencing the reality of it. Lloyd-Jones served as a mentor for me in making this verse a living reality. He led me on a three-stage guided tour of discovery: (1) what it is not, (2) what it is, and (3) how it is done.

What Praying in the Spirit Is Not

First, he helped me see what praying in the Spirit means by contrasting it with its polar opposite: praying in the flesh. Prayer in the power of the flesh relies upon human ability and effort to carry the prayer forward.

We all know what it is to feel deadness in prayer, difficulty in prayer, to be tongue-tied, with nothing to say, as it were, having to force ourselves to try. Well, to the extent that is true of us, we are not praying in the Spirit. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Living Water: Studies in John 4, 99)

How do we overcome this difficulty in prayer? Praying in the flesh calls upon human ability and effort to push past the difficulty. If we are tongue-tied in prayer, we may try to overcome that difficulty with a stream of many words. Jesus warned us against thinking we would be heard because we use many words (Matthew 6:7).

If we struggle with wanting to give up after a short time in prayer, we may focus upon how long we pray. Success in prayer does not depend upon how much time we can log in prayer. Sometimes people try to overcome deadness in prayer by focusing on how well we can pray. We subtly trust in having perfectly composed, doctrinally correct prayers that rely upon the right diction, cadence, language, emotion, or volume.

These attempts to push past the difficulty in the power of the flesh are attempts to imitate the liveliness that the Spirit gives in prayer.

The Spirit is a Spirit of life as well as truth, and the first thing that he always does is to make everything living and vital. And, of course, there is all the difference in the world between the life and the liveliness produced by the Spirit and the kind of artifact, the bright and breezy imitation, produced by people. (Living Water, 99)

If praying in the flesh is the counterfeit or imitation of praying in the Spirit, what is the genuine article? The second part of the guided tour was discovering what praying in the Spirit is.

What Praying in the Spirit Is

Here is the key difference: in the flesh, we are pushing the prayers forward, while in the Spirit, we feel caught up in the way the Spirit carries the prayer forward. Praying in the Spirit is experiencing the Spirit of life bringing prayer to life.

“Sometimes praying in the Spirit will not feel electrifying at all. It will feel like groaning.”

Praying in the Spirit means that the Spirit empowers the prayer and carries it to the Father in the name of Jesus. The prayer has a living quality characterized by warmth and freedom and a sense of exchange. We realize that we are in God’s presence speaking to God. The Spirit illuminates your mind, moves your heart, and grants a freedom of utterance and liberty of expression.
Lloyd-Jones frequently used stark contrasts to make his point. He did not often go back and nuance the contrast between praying in the flesh and praying in the Spirit. He did not plot different degrees of experience; he simply posed sharp polarities to help us see the difference between the two.

It is helpful to acknowledge that there are varying degrees of experience when it comes to praying in the Spirit. It does not feel like revival every time we pray in the Spirit. There are varying experiences of feeling carried along or pushed forward. Sometimes praying in the Spirit will not feel electrifying at all. It will feel like groaning. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us according to the will of God (Romans 8:26–27).

I remember going on a bike ride where there was a gradual incline for the first half and a gradual slope down for the second half. I sometimes think of that as the experiential difference between praying in the flesh and praying in the Spirit. Praying in the flesh feels like an upward climb in which we are having to power up the hill. Praying in the Spirit reflects the reality of the downward slope. Obviously, there are degrees of decline. But the basic awareness of a downhill energy and momentum are present in all of the different degrees of a downward slope.

When we pray in the Spirit, according to Lloyd-Jones, we experience being carried or driven in prayer to God by the Spirit, but how is it done?

How to Pray in the Spirit

Praying in the Spirit has three aspects: (1) admitting our inability, (2) enjoying the creation of a living communion with God, and (3) pleading the promises of God with boldness and assurance.

Step One: Admitting Our Inability to Pray

We should start with confession: we must admit our inability to pray as we ought. We must come face to face with our tendency to try to pray on our own. We start with the recognition that prayer is a spiritual activity, and the power of the flesh profits nothing at all. We should feel our dryness and difficulty and confess to him our dullness, lifelessness, and spiritual slowness and sluggishness (Living Water, 86).

But this step is not passive; it is the act of yielding ourselves to the Spirit. Confession leads to expectation and prayerful anticipation.

Step Two: Enjoying Living Communion with God

You are aware of a communion, a sharing, a give-and-take, if I may use such an expression. You are not dragging yourself along; you are not forcing the situation; you are not trying to make conversation with somebody whom you do not know. No, no! The Spirit of adoption in you brings you right into the presence of God, and it is a living act of fellowship and communion, vibrant with life. (Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, 100)

The place where you pray seems to be transformed. I start out praying in my living room, and suddenly I sense that I am in the throne room.

“The result of the Spirit’s work is that we bow before God as humbled children of God in awe of God.”

One of the key differences here between praying in the flesh and praying in the Spirit is that you don’t feel the need to rush to say anything when you pray in the Spirit. The living reality the Spirit creates is the awareness of God’s presence. Experiencing his presence will seem much more important than any petition you are going to make (Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, 82). But the Spirit will not lead you merely to rest in God’s presence in a passive way. There will be a holy boldness to plead the promises of God.

Step 3: Pleading with Holy Boldness

The result of the Spirit’s work is that we bow before God as humbled children of God in awe of God. We don’t bow before an unknown or far away god, and we don’t skip into God’s presence with breezy familiarity. We come with an awakened sense of intimacy and awe. The Spirit also breathes bold life into our prayers — a holy boldness that pleads the promises of God with God in the presence of God.

The beauty of this boldness is that it is a humble and holy boldness. There is no presumptuous sense of demand.

Do not claim, do not demand, let your requests be made known, let them come from your heart. God will understand. We have no right to demand even revival. Some Christians are tending to do so at the present time. Pray urgently, plead, use all the arguments, use all the promises; but do not demand, do not claim. Never put yourself into the position of saying, ‘If we but do this, then that must happen.’ God is a sovereign Lord, and these things are beyond our understanding. Never let the terminology of claiming or of demanding be used. (Lloyd-Jones, The Final Perseverance of the Saints, 155)

Don’t Quench the Spirit

Lloyd-Jones once said that the quickest way to quench the Spirit is to not obey an impulse to pray. This point is very, very personal to me, so let me tell you a story from my own experience.

“Lloyd-Jones once said that the quickest way to quench the Spirit is to not obey an impulse to pray.”

Once I was driving home from working at UPS. I worked the night shift during my doctoral days and never seemed to get enough sleep. I was driving home very early one morning, around 4:30, and falling asleep at the wheel. I tried everything to stay awake. I turned up the radio and tried to sing along. I even slapped myself. The next thing I knew, I woke up in my driveway. I was more than a little shaken. I didn’t know how I got there.

I walked inside the house now eerily wide awake, and as I walked into our bedroom I noticed the strangest thing: my wife was wide awake, too. She would normally be asleep, but instead, she was sitting up in bed waiting for me.

She said, “Hi, honey, how was your drive?”

I said, “It’s funny you should ask. I really struggled to stay awake on the drive home. In fact, I don’t know how I got here.”

She said, “Yeah I figured. . . . ”

“Okay,” I said, “please continue!”

“Well,” she said, “I woke up at about 4:30 very suddenly, and felt this intense prompting to pray. I figured you must be struggling on the road since that is around the time you normally come home. So, I prayed for you.”

I think I am still alive, and typing these words, because my wife did not quench the Spirit in that moment. She obeyed the Spirit’s prompting to pray. I hope this story gives you a greater sense of what is at stake in prayer. Our tendency to quench the Spirit is not a small and inconsequential problem. Let us give ourselves to the reality of praying in the Spirit and renounce the temptation to try and pray in our own strength. And let us, after Lloyd-Jones’s example, always obey every impulse to pray.

Jason Meyer (@WePreachChrist) is the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church and associate professor of preaching at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He’s the author of Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life: Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire. He and his wife, Cara, have four children.

Source: Desiring God.org (article April 30, 2018)

~ Link to more resources and articles on Prayer on the “Prayer, Breathing God Page” ~

“Praying in The Spirit”, by Dr. Michael A. Milton (what it is and why is it important)

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Praying in The Spirit: What is it and Why is it Important?

By Dr. Michael A. Milton

There are some doctrines that we see but we cannot see through them.1 The believer is often called upon to hold biblical truths in tension. We must be content to merely see through the glass dimly until we know even as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12). There are several biblical doctrines in this category. Praying in the Spirit is not one of them.

Praying in the Spirit is an indispensable part of the Christian life that has, sometimes, generated “more heat than light.” Opinions admittedly vary about the exact meaning of praying in the Spirit. There are assorted theological claims about how to “achieve” prayer in the Spirit as if the admonition is a skill to be acquired. It is not. It is a gift to be received, a life to be lived.

The Scriptures are clear: Praying in the Holy Spirit is approaching the throne of grace in humble and devout intercession and supplication entirely on God’s terms, not ours. Or, as one older Christian author, Jacob Gregory, put it so plainly: “No human can pray without divine help.” Prayer with divine help is praying in the Spirit.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

“No human can pray without divine help” seems to be a saying far too simple. We want more. We want to know what we must do to encourage the experience. Our contributing to the work of the Holy Spirit is as preposterous as presuming that praying in the Holy Spirit is an ecstatic experience to be cultivated. However, this phenomenon of “God can do it, but I must help Him along” is a wrong-headed but universal impulse of humanity to deal with God as we would with a mortal king. “I will do this, and so you will do that.” Such an error reveals, not necessarily an evil intent (haven’t we all thought that way at one time or another?), but rather a sad misunderstanding of God’s grace in Christ. “Praying in the Spirit” is altogether a divine activity that one appropriates through faith in Jesus Christ and in His finished work on the cross. Simple? Yes, and infinitely glorious.

I am reminded of Peggy Nunan’s line from her book, On Speaking Well:

Most of the important things you will ever say or hear in your life are composed of simple, good, sturdy words. ‘I love you. ‘It’s over.’ ‘It’s a boy.’ ‘We’re going to win.’ ‘He’s dead.’

Praying in the Holy Spirit is a simple, good, sturdy doctrine. But it is simply amazing. There are numerous passages in both the Old Testament and the New addressing prayers made in the power of the Spirit. The great E.M. Bounds (1835-1913), a Methodist Episcopal pastor who “majored” in the lifelong study of the biblical doctrine of prayer, wrote of one such example concerning Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:

“Her desires were too intense for articulation. She poured out her soul in prayer before the Lord.” Insuperable natural difficulties were in the way, but she “multiplied her praying,” as the passage means, till her God-lightened heart and her bright face recorded the answer to her prayers, and Samuel was hers by a conscious faith and a nation was restored by faith.

Hannah’s tears were like saltwater sacraments that spoke of a deep, unseen desire. This longing was lifted to God with God’s help. She was praying in God’s power, not her own. While there is no specific wording, “praying in the Spirit,” the narrative (and narrative is the chief literary genre in the Old Covenant text) clearly demonstrates that both Hannah and her son were believers who prayed with “divine help.” This is praying in the Spirit.

The New Testament is characterized, not only by narrative but “didactic” literature. That is, the New Testament writers, particularly the Lord Jesus and His Apostles, speak or write in order to teach: to communicate God’s revealed truth to humankind. Within this primary genre in the New Testament, we can better isolate and examine exact teaching on the subject of praying in the Holy Spirit. Here are but a few selections that teach “prayer with divine help.”

5 Bible Verses about Praying with Divine Help

  • “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16,17 ESV).
  • “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
  • “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 1:20).
  • “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. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
  • “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

We say again: these are but samples of the doctrine of praying in the Spirit. Each glorious passage is worthy of its own careful consideration. The passages are mysterious only in the sense that all truth about the grace and condescending love of God is incomprehensible to mere mortals, but the teaching therein is plain and accessible. The passages are like the proleptic pods of Red Winter Wheat filled with life but buried beneath so much snow in a Kansas field.

One sees a frozen field and says, “nothing good can ever grow there!” Ah, but wait for spring and you will see that the very field that appeared barren was pulsating with invisible power. The springtime fields in Kansas become a landscape of golden grains swaying in the breeze. So, too, the biblical teaching about “praying in the Spirit” is a seed hidden within those who trust in Christ Jesus. We see the dear lady in the nursing home, and we might be tempted to think, “How powerless the poor soul is!” But you could not be more wrong. As the hidden seeds of wheat burst forth in warm sun of the spring, so, too, does the Holy Spirit move within her to inspire her prayers, to perfect her prayers, and bring pain to prayer and prayer to providence and providence to praise! What a golden harvest from such a tiny vessel! These Scriptures about praying in the Spirit burst forth from the pages of the Bible to grow into golden grains of life for those wise farmers of the Word, for those who pray, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.

Whether in narrative (e.g., Acts 4:41) or in didactic (“teaching”) expression, (e.g., Ephesians 6:18), the Old and New Testament demonstrates that praying in the Spirit happens when we come to Almighty God in the name of Jesus Christ and according to God’s revealed will.

How to Pray in the Spirit

I risk repetition here, but we must not leave any room for the ever-present human tendency to add or take away from the plain truth of Scripture. To pray in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and worship in the Spirit (“in Spirit and in truth,” John 4:24) is to come before the Lord according to His appointed means—that is through the One whom the Spirit magnifies, the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:26-27), depending on His revealed Word and pleading as a lesser creature to our glorious Creator.

The Holy Spirit also takes our prayers and perfects them before the Almighty (e.g., Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit prays within us when we cannot utter a word (again, Romans 8:26). To pray in the Holy Spirit is to also build unity in the body of Christ. When you are praying in submission to the Lord God and His Christ, the Holy Spirit within you will testify to Himself in His Word, in your prayers, and even in those other believers praying with you. These things and so much more are ignited by the dynamite of praying in the Spirit.

What Praying in the Spirit is Not

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Welshman who was the Queen’s surgeon-turned-King’s Ambassador, used a large segment of his teaching at Westminster Chapel, London on praying in the Holy Spirit by demonstrating, from Scripture, what it is not.2,3 I cannot take up as much space as Dr. Lloyd-Jones did (you can listen to the excellent teaching supplied in the footnote), but I affirm from the Word of God (and with “the Doctor”) that praying in the Spirit is not an act of mere emotion. One cannot be “excited into praying in the Spirit.” Such a divine arrangement cannot be held captive to mortal sensations. Alternatively, to pray in the Spirit is to undoubtedly pray with one’s whole being, “head and heart.” Emotion, in this case, is an effect of praying in the Spirit rather than the cause. Thus, ecstatic utterance or other physical manifestations are not the seals of authenticity for praying in the Spirit any more than Stoicism is a trusted sign of emotional poise in the Christian life.4 Let me give an example.

I know of an elderly Christian man who lives alone. This unassuming and kind man is a retired banker, a quiet and reserved person by nature. An Anglican, this gentleman reads the “daily office” from the Book of Common Prayer. He reads Old Testament, New Testament, and a Psalm. He prays the Collect of the Day (a special written prayer, mostly by Thomas Cranmer [1489-1556] for the respective seasons of the Church, assembled in the Book of Common Prayer). As he bows before the Lord and prays, using these ancient forms, is this man somehow unable to pray in the Spirit? Of course not. He may or may not be praying in the Holy Spirit (I know him and believe that he most certainly is). So, praying in the Spirit is not demonstrated, necessarily, by visible excitement, but by faith in God’s Word and God’s will, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God magnifies the Son of God and His will for His lambs: you and me.

Why Does Praying in the Spirit Matter?

Praying in the Spirit is vital to our sanctification (growth in grace and knowledge of Christ and in our ethical response to God in every area of life). Moreover, praying in the Holy Spirit is God’s glorious means of advancing His will on earth as it is in heaven. The late J. Oswald Sanders (1902-1992) of New Zealand pointed to the believer’s blessing of praying in the Spirit in his classic book, Prayer Power Unlimited:

“Here is the secret of prevailing prayer, to pray under a direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whose petitions for us and through us are always according to the Divine purpose, and hence certain of answer.”

Praying in the Spirit cultivates a vital relationship with our resurrected and reigning Lord Jesus Christ. When you come to see Christ face-to-face, He will be the One you have grown to love throughout all of the days of your life. To pray in the Spirit is to open your life to the filling of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer in the Spirit changes us from the inside out and makes us ready and willing to do God’s will.

Who Can Pray in the Spirit?

I want to be very encouraging to all of you who are reading this. Each and every one of you may come to God and pray in the Holy Spirit. There are no tricks, cryptic lingo, and no insider information you have to acquire. Repent of self and all of the sinful consequences of trust in “the flesh,” and receive Jesus Christ by faith. The Spirit of God will come into you and make His residence in you. You become a veritable “temple” of the living God. Then, you will have a new God-implanted desire to follow Him: in worship, witness, fellowship, and in prayer. Prayer in the Spirit is the “natural” next-step in following Jesus as Lord and Savior.

There once was a believer who brought his burden to God in prayer. Twice this man had been engaged to be married and twice he had lost his fiancée to an illness. Joseph Scriven (1819-1886) had a promising career in music after graduating from Trinity College in Dublin. The losses that he suffered caused him to go to Canada to take up a life of a teacher and educator. But the grief was overwhelming. Indeed, on top of all of this, his mother in Ireland missed him so very much. Joseph Scriven died August 10, 1866; it remains unclear whether the poor man drowned by accident. However, his family, the Christian community that surrounded him, and all those who loved and cared for him could take comfort in the words that he wrote, words that were a veritable prayer from his heart. You see, even though this poor man suffered in silence and brought his brief to God, he composed a prayer that became a hymn. You may know that hymn very well: What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Carry everything to God in prayer. Do so by His power and according to His will. If you do that, you will be praying in the Spirit. O that the golden grains of revival will move in the gentle breeze of the Spirit’s presence. Such a refreshing time of renewal is available to you, your local Christian community, and even to a nation of believers as the veiled, prevailing seed of prayer bursts forth to accomplish what we cannot.


author image for Michael MiltonMichael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.
Notes

1. Hans Urs Von Balthasar (1905-1988), the remarkable Swiss theologian said as much in his parish notes on the phrases of the Apostles Creed, collected into the book, Credo. I am indebted for his insights on the mystical nexus between revelation and mystery. This preeminent Roman Catholic priest and doctor of the Church reminds us of the reality of Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (English Standard Version of the Holy Bible.
2. See more insight into this seminal figure in twentieth-century evangelicalism, see Christopher Catherwood, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: His Life and Relevance for the 21st Century (Crossway, 2015); and Iain Hamish Murray, The Life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1899-1981 (Banner of Truth Trust, 2013).
3. See, e.g., Praying in The Spirit (Westminster Chapel, London), accessed December 3, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtpuOuO01Ac#action=share.
4. For a Pentecostal view on Praying in the Spirit, see Dr. Steven J. Land in his fine scholarly article, “Praying in the Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective.”,” Pentecostal Movements as an Ecumenical Challenge, 1996, 85–93
Sources Consulted

Carson, D. A. “Praying with Paul.” Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic (2014).
Miller, Paul E. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2017.
Murray, Andrew. “Praying in the Spirit.” Alliance Weekly (1940): 597.
Sanchez, Leopoldo A. “Praying to God the Father in Spirit: Reclaiming the Church’s Participation in the Son’s Prayer Life.” Concordia Journal 32, no. 3 (2006): 274.
Whitney, Donald S. Praying the Bible. Crossway, 2015.
“How to Pray in the Holy Spirit.” Desiring God. Last modified April 30, 2018. Accessed December 3, 2018. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-pray-in-the-holy-spirit.
“Learning to Pray in the Spirit and the Word, Part 1.” Desiring God. Last modified December 31, 2000. Accessed January 2, 2019. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/learning-to-pray-in-the-spirit-and-the-word-part-1.

Source: Crosswalk.com

For more resources and articles on Prayer see the Beloved Page —“PRAYER, Breathing God”