Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.
What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? Many teach that to pray in the Spirit means to pray in tongues...or a heavenly language. There are two problems with this interpretation.
Problem #1: Tongues is not in the context of Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
Problem #2: Not everyone has the gift of tongues (1 Cor 12:30; 13:5). I do not have this gift. My spiritual gift is teaching.
In Ephesians 6:18, Paul is instructing the people of the church in Ephesus to pray in the Spirit. Since everyone does not have the gift of tongues, then he certainly could not be associating praying in the Spirit with praying in tongues, as some teach.
To understand what Paul means by "Pray in the Spirit", it is best to stay within his letter to the Ephesians where he mentions the Spirit several times.
The purpose of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is to bring unity to the church family in Ephesus. The church family was made up of Jews and Gentiles. Each group was bringing their different backgrounds and beliefs into the church. These different backgrounds and beliefs caused division within the church. Therefore, Paul writes to explain to them that the law, which the Jewish believers were resurrecting from the grave of Jesus and dragging into the church, had been destroyed and abolished, and that grace had now replaced the law.
The law for around 1500 years was a “dividing wall of hostility” between the Jews and Gentiles. It brought separation between them. Jesus abolished the law in his flesh and brought grace to both the Jew and Gentile through the cross. Where the law brought separation and hostility between the two groups, grace brought unification and peace (Ephesians 2:11-17).
Through the grace of Jesus...the cross...his blood...Jew and Gentile now became members of the same family of grace, joined together as one body, with one Father, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, and one faith (Ephesians 4:4-6). They shared in God’s grace together (Ephesians 3:1-7).
In this brand new family of grace...this new spiritual race of people, the grace race (Ephesians 2:15), God lived in each family member by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). The Spirit of God within each person would bring revelation and understanding of grace to this new family of grace so they could know the Father better (Ephesians 1:17-18). The Spirit would dwell in the hearts of all to strengthen them in their inner being as he gave them greater revelation of the love of Jesus (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Jews and Gentiles had been called by God himself into this new family of grace...this new race of grace,, and now the Spirit wanted to bring peace and unity among them through humility, gentleness, patience, love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:1-4; 30-31).
Through the Spirit, each member of God’s new family of grace, whether Jew or Gentile, had direct access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). Each could approach him with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12).
There were no religious laws to follow in order to talk with the Father. There were no rituals or regulations to follow. There was no religious hoops to jump through and no religious formulas to follow.
Because of the cross...the blood of Jesus...grace, all sins had been forgiven (Ephesians 1:6-8), giving each person in this family of grace direct access to God as their loving Father. Through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, his Spirit now came to live in each of these new believers, enabling them to call him Father because they were his dearly loved children (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Filled with the Father’s love through the Spirit, individually and corporately as one family of grace, they could pray in the Spirit. This meant they, as the Father’s dearly loved, accepted, and forgiven children, could go directly to their Father in prayer with freedom and confidence to talk with him, as a child would to his or her father, about whatever was on their hearts and minds...no religious laws to follow...no religious rituals to follow...no religious regulations to follow...no religious hoops to jump through...no religious formulas to follow...just an authentic, open, honest, and transparent conversation with their Father who loved them.
This is what it means to pray in the Spirit in Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
So how does this understanding of praying in the Spirit as seen in the context of Ephesians relate to us today?
It definitely relieves the pressure put upon us by Bible teachers telling us that praying in the Spirit means to pray in tongues. As Scripture teaches, not all believers have the gift of tongues, but all have the Spirit of Christ in them enabling them to call God their loving Father.
As our loving Father, we can now come to God in prayer, in an authentic, open, honest, and transparent relationship with him where we talk with him freely and confidently about everything in our lives. We can talk with him about our hopes and dreams, our struggles and weaknesses, our hurts and our pains...our cares and concerns, etc...We can talk with him about anything and everything because we are his dearly loved children and he is our loving Father.
There are no religious hoops for us to jump through. There are no religious formulas for us to follow. There are no denominational guidelines for us to go by.
In this family of grace...this spiritual race of people all over the world made up of people from different countries, different races, different cultures, and different backgrounds...each of us has the same Father, the same Spirit...the same Lord...the same baptism...the same hope. We are members of the same family of grace. Individually and corporately, in the unity and peace of the Spirit of Jesus in each of us, we pray to our Father about our own lives and we pray for one another in an authentic, open, honest, and transparent conversation with the Father where we are free because we are confident our he loves and accepts us, and has fully forgiven us in Jesus.
This is what it means to pray in the Spirit.