PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT: DEEP CALLING UNTO DEEP
BY WM. DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR.
The multiple posts and comment threads on the continuationism vs. cessationism discussions here at SBC voices have been primarily academic and didactic in nature. However, there is a devotional and inspirational component to this discussion that we have allowed to get lost in the weeds along the roadside.
While we are volleying our divergent views across the median at each other; while we are all claiming biblical authority for our point of view and practice—or lack thereof; we are also overlooking or under emphasizing a major point of agreement between the cessationists and the continuationists.
The place of agreement between all Baptists and evangelicals on the subject of the role and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the realm of prayer is this:
All believers, in all places, at all times, with all prayer, and all perseverance, for all the saints, are to always—pray in the Spirit.
In Ephesians 6:18a, Paul admonished believers to practice:
“praying always with all prayer and supplications in the Spirit” [emphasis mine].
Praying in the Spirit for the believer is not up for debate, dispute or indecision. It is absolutely essential for the edification of every believer, of every race, of every denomination; of every theological camp, of every political persuasion. Cessationists and continuationists must take seriously the biblical command to “pray in the Spirit.”
Jude taught that if believers were to be edified, it was essential that they pray in the Spirit.
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” [emphasis mine] (Jude 1:20).
Believers will either pray in the flesh, or in the Spirit. The only prayer that God will hear will be a prayer that’s prayed in the Spirit of the living God.
Interestingly, it is somewhat uncommon to hear among Baptists—preaching and teaching that encourages and instructs believers to pray in the Spirit of God. Yet, all Baptist would say that praying in the Spirit is a biblical mandate, and it is absolutely necessary for effective praying.
I. “Deep Calling Unto Deep”: Defining Praying in the Spirit.
There are three spirits that exists in the world. And they are:
- The Holy Spirit
- The human spirit
- The unholy spirit or the demonic spirit.
It is important for us to understand that there is a battle for the control of our minds by each of these three spirits. Depending on which one of these three spirits controls our minds, that spirit will also control our prayer life.
Praying with our human spirit (or mind) will only say to God what the flesh wants said, and it will only result in what the mind can achieve. James 4:2 indicates that we can pray in the flesh.
The unholy or demonic spirit will work overtime to distract, detour, disinterest and to defeat the believer from spending time in prayer with God. The demonic spirit has even been known to interfere with the believers prayer and to actually resists the believers prayer (Daniel 10:12-14). The human mind or spirit and the unholy or demonic spirits constantly seek to control the prayer life of a believer—the cessationists and the continuationists.
In order to pray in the Spirit we have to overcome the temptations, resistance, and unholy influences of our human spirit (mind), and the unholy spirits (demons). At the point that our prayers are not influenced or controlled by our human spirit, or unholy spirit(s), then we are ready to pray in the Spirit.
TOWARD A DEFINITION
What, then, is praying in the Spirit? Praying in the Spirit is when my human spirit is submitted to and controlled by God’s Holy Spirit, who then comes along beside me to help me commune and communicate with God the Father, spirit to Spirit, and enables me to resist the unholy spirit, by the power that’s working in me—which is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:20).
Praying in the Spirit allows us to communicate with God at a deeper level than my mind could be capable of communicating with Him, apart from His Spirit. Praying in the Spirit allows us to communicate with God in a spiritual dimension that transcends the type of conversation with a mere human being. Praying in the Spirit allows us to communicate with God at a spiritual depth that triumphs over the distractions, resistance, delays, defeat and deception that the unholy and demonic spirits—seek to sabotage our prayer lives with.
In Psalm 42:1-2; 6-11 we read the prayer of a desperate, despondent, discouraged and depressed soul, who was thirsty for God. He said,
“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2a)
“O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,” (Psalm 42:6)
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7)
In this passage of Scripture, we hear the prayer of a man who was desperate for God. He longed for God. He recognized that, as the life of a deer depends upon water, so our lives depend upon God.
In an effort to define “praying in the Spirit,” I want to borrow a phrase the Psalmist used in this passage that described the depth of his search for God, and I believe it described his prayers, in the midst of his desperation and despondency. The Psalmist said, “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls” (Psalm 42:7).
I love the language he used: “Deep calls unto deep.” I believe that is the essence of “praying in the Spirit”—“Deep calling unto deep.” When from the depth of my human spirit, I am communing and crying out to the depth of God’s Holy Spirit—then I am praying in the Spirit. When my human spirit is connected to and submitted to the rule of God’s Holy Spirit, I can then communicate with God—spirit to Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is communicating with God spirit to Spirit as opposed to flesh to Spirit. When the depth of my spirit connects and communicates with the depth of His Spirit, I am then praying in the Spirit—“Deep calling unto deep.”
Praying in the Spirit is effective and fervent praying, from the heart of a man who has right standing before God. Perhaps the greatest need of Southern Baptists is that we all in one accord begin to pray in the Spirit and watch God change things. We would all agree that we cannot pray in the Spirit, unless we are in the Spirit (I Cor. 2:9-15).
Praying in the Spirit occurs when we and the Spirit of God are participating, taking both sides of the prayer banner and lifting it up together. It is praying in the Holy Spirit rather than praying on our own. I’ve prayed on my own and in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is far better. Praying in the Spirit is a delight. Praying in the flesh is a duty.
Michael Green defines praying in the Spirit thusly:
“It is a deep, free, intensive time of prayer, when the Spirit takes over and controls and leads the prayers…It means allowing the Spirit of Christ to pray in us…The Spirit grasps the situation for us and with us. He frames the petition on our lips; and he prays within us to the Father, with signs too deep for words.”
Praying in the Spirit is “Deep calling unto deep.” (Psalm 42:7).
II. “Praying Always with All Prayer”: The Deployment of Praying In the Spirit.
We understand the command to pray in the Spirit. But how do we actually do it? Continuationist and cessationist are in agreement that we can pray in the Spirit in three ways:
- With words understood
- With words not understood
- Without words
PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT WITH WORDS UNDERSTOOD
In I Corinthians 14:15a Paul raises the question:
“What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding.”
As we are open to the Spirit of God, and not the flesh, God will flood our minds with thoughts of His nature and presence, and with our normal speech we will begin to speak back to Him.
There are many prayers recorded in Scriptures that was spoken in the native tongue of the prayer. I disagree with the Pentecostal teachings that the way (or only way) to pray in the Spirit, is to pray in tongues. If that were the case the wonderful prayers in Scripture that we find recorded, simply would not be there. We have all heard, received, or offered prayers to God in our native English language that have moved us to adoration, thanksgiving, lifted hands and hearts, mountain moving faith, a sense of call, a change of heart or direction, discernment of the will of God, etc. Who would dare argue that these prayers were not prayed in the Spirit—although they were prayed in the native language of the hearer? One of the ways to pray in the Spirit with words understood, is to pray the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 5:17)
PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT WITH WORDS NOT UNDERSTOOD
Before you tune me out at this point, here me out. When I say that we can pray in the Spirit with words not understood, I am first looking at the prayer life of Jesus.
In Mark 7:31-37, when Jesus healed the deaf-mute, it says he “looked up to heaven…and with a deep sigh” (Mark 7:34). The Holy Spirit, the author of Scripture, found it necessary to leave us a record that Jesus—while looking up to heaven (a form of prayer)—“sighed.” Sighing is a form of communication. It denotes intensity, burden, release, emoting and expression of current disposition and attitude. Jesus sighed. A “sigh” is an expression that cannot be translated to another language; but nevertheless, it is a communication expression that transcends all languages. It certainly is not speaking in tongues. But it is communicated to the Father without words. Yet, I am certain that God felt and understood the sigh of Jesus.
Which one of us has not sighed in prayer, as we brought a weighty matter before the Lord? Which one of us have not been moved by the sigh of a spouse, parent, child, or close friend? Which one of us would argue against the notion that some form of communication was taking place even during the sigh? Surely, the cessationists and the continuationists would agree that if it was permissible for Jesus to sigh in prayer, and He is our example, we too can sigh in prayer under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus not only sighed in relationship to prayer, but He groaned. John 11:33 said, speaking of Jesus, “He groaned in the Spirit.” John 11:38 says, “again groaning in Himself.” If anyone modeled praying without ceasing, it was Jesus. If anyone modeled an unbroken and unfettered fellowship and communion with the Father, it was Jesus. If Jesus “groaned in the spirit,” communicating without words understood, but nevertheless communicating, can’t the believer follow the example of our Lord? Who would argue that Jesus “groaning in the Spirit” was not in the will of God? Who would argue that because of Jesus’ constant fellowship with God, his “groaning in the spirit” was not a form of prayer with words not understood? Jesus “groaning in the spirit” is an example of “Deep calling unto deep.”
Once reason that we as believers sometimes sigh, moan and groan in prayer is because, “we often don’t know how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26b). In these moments, Paul said that the “Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Certainly, if it is permissible for Jesus and the Holy Spirit to groan in the ministry of prayer, so can I. Again, sighing and groaning are not words understood, but certainly we see in Scripture where they were unintelligible sounds that communicated to the Father. God understood the sighs and groans of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also understands our sighs, moans and groans—although, we ourselves don’t understand them.
Quite simply, we sometimes just don’t have the words, or know the words, or how to frame the words that will convey to God the sentiments of our hearts. That’s why the Holy Spirit is our prayer partner, and He comes to help us in this process. And that is a part of what it means to pray in the Spirit. We are talking to a Spirit being (John 4:23-24). And the only way to communicate with Him is through spiritual language; words and sounds understood and not understood. This can, should be and often is done without speaking in tongues.
The cessationist and the continuationist disagree that under the influence of the Holy Spirit that for God’s own sovereign purposes, He enables some believers to pray to Him with words not understood by man, but by God (I Cor. 14:2). It is clear to me that Paul testified that he prayed with words understood and words not understood.
Nevertheless, even without tongues being spoken, we are in agreement that we can pray in the Spirit with words or sounds not understood. The Bible is clear that all believers are not gifted to pray in tongues (I Cor. 12:30). If praying in tongues were required to pray in the Spirit, God would contradict Himself. He commanded all believers to pray in the Spirit, but He did not command all believers to speak in tongues.
When my four children were small babies, it would amaze me that my wife could listen to their sighs, moans, groans and cries and almost with one hundred percent accuracy; she could interpret their unintelligible speech. She could distinguish a hunger cry from a pick-me-up cry. She could distinguish a change-my-diaper cry from an I’m-hurting or sick cry. She could distinguish between an I’m-thirsty cry and I-want-my-daddy-to-hold-me cry. If an earthly mother can discern and distinguish the cry, moans, groans and sighs of her children, I am convinced that the heavenly Father can understand the cries, moans, groans and sighs of His children.
PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT WITHOUT WORDS
The Psalmist said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Prayer in the Spirit is not only the words of my mouth under the influence of the Holy Spirit, it is also the meditation of my heart. Even without words, the believer can pray in the Spirit as he or she meditates and worships in the presence of God. Paul is clear that believers can pray without words or sounds being heard (I Cor. 14:27, 28). Certainly, the cessationist and continuationist can pray in the Spirit with words understood, words not understood, and even without words.
Finally, when my kids were quite young, I wrote a book that enjoyed about 5-7 years of popularity that resulted in me having a demanding travel/speaking schedule. When I would return from trips, the four of them would run to the door and jump up and down, screaming and hollering—“Daddy’s home,” “Daddy’s home.” I didn’t say—“get away from me, you little charismatics.” I was simply happy that they wanted to celebrate their daddy returning home. After the initial greeting, my kids would then sit in Daddy’s arms and lap and “ooooh,” “aaah” and giggle. I enjoyed every second of it.
I am not as sure that God is as meticulous and put aside about our manner of praying as we are with each other. He simply wants us to pray in the Spirit; and no matter how we do it, I believe that we please the Father.
God wants us to pray to Him in the Spirit with words understood, with words not understood, and even without words—whether or not we are cessationist or continuationist.