Pray in the spirit and with understanding

Ephesians 6:18 “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

I Praying Always

1. The Greek actually says, “Praying with all kinds of prayer and supplication in the Spirit”

2. It doesn’t mean we pray at every single moment

3. We are always looking for every opportunity to pray

4. All kinds of prayer

Every type of prayer has a particular function, and every prayer must be energized with God’s Word

II Different Kinds of Prayer

A. The Prayer of Binding and Loosing

1. When we became born again, Spiritual authority was given to us and God wants us to learn our authority

2.We can trample on serpents and scorpions and all the works of the enemy.  This is binding them

3. Ministering angels are sent to minister to us. We can loose ministering spirits into situations

Matthew 18:18 “…Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Luke 10:19 “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

Hebrews 1:14 “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”

B. The Prayer of Agreement

1. One of the most powerful prayers God has given us

Matthew 18:19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”

C. The Prayer of Faith

1. You can pray over yourself

Mark 11:24 “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

2. Someone else can pray over you

James 5:15 “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

C. The Daily Prayer of Commitment and Consecration

1. Jesus is our example of this type of prayer. He prayed daily that He came to do the will of His Father

a. Today is a brand new day.  We make a commitment from our heart to do His will

Hebrews 10:5 “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.”

vs. 7 “…Behold I have come… to do Your will, O God.”

E. United Prayer

1. Also called intercessory prayer or group prayer

a. They gathered together as a group and prayed for Peter who was in prison

b. They lifted up their voice in one accord – everybody lifted up their voice as if it was one person

Acts 4:24 “…They raised their voice to God with one accord…”

Acts 12:12 “…Where many were gathered together praying.”

F. Intercessory Prayer

1. This prayer is putting you in someone else’s place and praying for them.

a. Lifting up in prayer the needs of the congregation

b. Lifting up in prayer the needs of relatives

c. Praying for unsaved loved ones

d. Sensing, feeling, and experiencing what other people are going through but reaching out with a heart of compassion

Mathew 14:14 “When Jesus went out He saw a great multitude, and He was moved with compassion for them and healed their sick.

G. The Prayer of Worship

1. Prayer is simply communion with God and every time we pray we are worshiping Him

III “Supplication in the Spirit”

A. Praying in the Spirit

1. We can pray all the time

a. Whether it is one of the different types of prayer listed above or praying in the Spirit.  This can be done at all times

B. In the Greek, this says: “Being alert at the same time, with all perseverance and supplication for all of the saints.”

C. Praying in other tongues

1. Edifies you and builds you up

2. Brings rest and refreshment to your life

3. Is for the purpose of finding God’s will on how to pray

Jude 20 “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.”

1 Corinthians 14:4 “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.”

Isaiah 28:11 “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people,”

vs. 12 “To whom He said, “This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest,” and “this is the refreshing”

IV Praying in the Spirit

1 Corinthians 14:14 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.”

vs. 15 “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding.”

A. When we pray with tongues, it is our inward man praying

1. The words do not come from your mind

2. The words come from your spirit on the inside

3. If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful

B. When we pray in tongues, we bypass our natural thinking and the prayer comes directly from our spirit

1. Praying in tongues brings us into a place of spiritual sensitivity

Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

2. God prepares us for those times when we don’t know how to pray

3. How do we get the wisdom we need to handle the situation we are in?  Praying in the Spirit

C. “The Spirit helps in our weakness”

1. Our weakness, in this situation, is that we do not know what we should pray for as we ought

2. The Greek translation for “help” is “To take hold together with against.”

a. When we begin to pray in the Spirit, an unseen Helper comes beside us and takes hold together with us against the problem

b. When we don’t know how to pray in this situation.  We don’t know what promises to stand on. Begin praying in the Spirit, suddenly He begins to make intercession for us

c. The Holy Spirit knows the perfect prayers and He prays according to the will of God on our behalf

1 Corinthians 14:2 “For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit, he speaks mysteries.”

We may not know the answer, but we are never without an answer. God has given us different types of prayer.  And if we do not know how to pray, the gift of speaking in tongues and the help of the Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness.

by Adam Wittenberg



There is an exhortation in Scripture to pray—and sing—with our spirit and our understanding. “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:15.

Singing and praying with our spirit implies using the gift of tongues. This can help release the mysteries of God and ignite our hearts with passion for Him. Praying in the spirit is powerful and enjoyable. However, many people misunderstand the purpose of the gift of tongues and the scriptures that describe it.

Opposition to Questions to Practice
Mike Bickle, director of the International House of Prayer, preached against speaking in tongues in his early ministry. But one verse caused him to question his position.

In 1 Corinthians 14:18, Paul wrote, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” This caused Mike to ask, “Why did he value this gift so much that he engaged in it more than anyone? He was a busy man, so why did he invest so much time speaking in tongues?” What Mike soon discovered is that Paul is describing two different types of the gift of tongues—two expressions and two different purposes.

Two Different Types of the Gift of Tongues
The first, in 1 Corinthians 12, is the gift of tongues for the corporate body. This is a gift where a believer speaks in a corporate setting—such as a church service or small group—and then someone interprets what was spoken.

This type of tongue needs to be heard by other people, so that someone with the gift of interpretation can give the meaning (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:27). This gift edifies the body, allowing the Lord to speak to His people.

Paul is clear that not all believers have this gift: “Do all speak with tongues?” he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:30). Yet in 1 Corinthians 14:5, he says, “I wish you all spoke with tongues.”

Mike explains the apparent contradiction:

There is a difference between the gift of tongues given to a few for the profit of the corporate body when the speaker speaks to men (1 Corinthians 12:7), and the gift of tongues given to all as a devotional prayer language for the profit of the individual who speaks privately to God. (1 Corinthians 14:2, 4)

Personal Prayer Language
The second type of tongues is a personal prayer languages that edifies the one who is speaking. This is what Paul was refering to when he said, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18).

This edification is interpretation for the speaker’s own use. Look at an example in Mike’s own words.

Before ministering to a group, I seek to pray in the Spirit to position myself to receive impressions, mental pictures, phrases, and direction from the Spirit to guide and help me. It is good to pray for the interpretation of what you are praying for (1 Corinthians 14:13). As you do, the Holy Spirit may give you insight into what is on His heart for a particular situation.

It is this personal prayer tongue that Paul used frequently, praying to God with his spirit (Ephesians 6:18). This allowed him to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Jesus included speaking in tongues as one of the signs that would follow those who believe in Him (Mark 16:17). Believers can receive this gift by asking for it, and are even exhorted by Paul to ask for it, along with the other spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“As you pray for the release of the gift of tongues, you may simply feel the presence of God lightly, or just a gentle urge to speak out,” Mike says. “I encourage you to speak out the words that come to you and see what the Holy Spirit does.”

Using Tongues
In 1 Corinthians 14:6-33, Paul explains the importance of order for the corporate gift of tongues. He even limits the number of people who can speak openly to two or three, and each in turn, so that the interpretation can come forth (1 Corinthians 14:27). “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:28), meaning that believers can always pray quietly in the Spirit as long as they are not disrupting others.

Sometimes in a corporate setting, the room will engage in a time of singing or praying together in the Spirit to build strength, war spiritually, or give joyful praise to God.

These tongues are being spoken to God, not men, and there is no requirement for interpretation—although believers can ask God for the interpretation, since tongues speak mysteries that the Spirit wants to reveal (1 Corinthians 14:2; 14:13).

Enhancing Worship
One of the goals of 24/7 prayer is to worship God from a flowing heart. Praying in the spirit sensitizes our hearts to the things of the Spirit (Jude 20).

“We may not feel anything when we pray in the Spirit, but we should not seek to measure what is happening by what we feel in that moment,” Mike says.

He also teaches not to disengage your mind, but to focus on God’s throne in heaven (Revelation 4) and speak directly to the Father, or to speak directly to the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside (Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

Both singing with our spirit and with our understanding is important in our spiritual life. Paul taught that if we sing to God from our hearts, we would experience God’s grace and the Spirit’s presence:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

One way we are filled with the Spirit is by singing spiritual songs in our heart to the Lord.

“I have discovered the power of spontaneously singing Bible passages to God and intermittently singing in tongues, which often results in the Holy Spirit’s touching the deep chambers of my heart,” Mike says.

“Singing the Word impacts our hearts more than just speaking it or hearing others speak it. God designed our heart to be touched deeply by music and singing. As we sing the Word and sing with our spirit, we receive mysteries (impressions from the Holy Spirit) and gain insight from the Word. The Spirit will give us more and more if we will sing the Word and sing with our spirit consistently.”

To join in corporate prayer in our prayer room, which includes times of singing in the spirit, visit

If you are seeking a Spirit-filled place to worship God, we invite you to our annual Onething Conference. Join 20,000 young adults in Kansas City this December for four days of worship, prayer, and ministry in the Spirit’s power. Worship leaders and speakers include Mike Bickle, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, Jonathan David and Melissa Helser, and others. Learn more »

To learn more about tongues, watch Mike’s teaching “Praying in the Spirit” »

pray in the spirit and with understanding

Adam Wittenberg

A Detroit native who was raised in Vermont and Connecticut, Adam worked as a newspaper journalist until 2012, when he moved to Kansas City to complete the Intro to IHOPKC internship. Afterwards, he earned a four-year certificate in House of Prayer Leadership from IHOPU and is now on full-time staff in the Marketing department at IHOPKC. Adam is also active in evangelism and has a vision to reach people everywhere with the good news of Jesus Christ.

What is important to understand is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit operate in conjunction with the human spirit(pneuma). Paul is not suggesting he is merely praying with his own intellect, or his own ‘spirit’; rather, when one operates in the gifts of the Spirit one must understand the Context one is operating in.

Before we delve into Chapter 14, which talks about Context, we must 1st read Chapter 12:

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Nowhere in the above paragraph do we see Paul refuting the gifts of the Spirit, and the same word Πνεῦμα is used-except capitalized to represent the Holy Spirit. However, in Chapter 14, he is talking about “When you come together..”(vs 26), there is an order in which the church should express itself, and that in a public setting with unbelievers in the audience;(vss 23-25)

If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

Paul does not discount tongues; in vs 27 he says,

If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.

He can pray in tongues “more than you all” and he is saying that in truth. But his understanding is unfruitful, therefore he is only edifying himself, rather than the church at large, which is the whole point of Chapter 14.

If Paul prayed in tongues(which he says he does), and it is “unknown”-meaning he doesn’t understand what he is saying, then it is a “him and God” dialogue, which is not profitable for a Sunday Morning Worship Service. It is important to note that, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself“(vs 4), so to speak in tongues without understanding indeed edifies the individual, therefore, one is certainly encouraged to do so-providing it doesn’t become a message for the church at large.

Romans 8:26-27 might be the most comforting passage in Scripture. It reads,

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.

This is so comforting because, more often than not, prayer is a frustrating endeavor for me. I vacillate between not knowing what to pray, battling wandering thoughts, and not having words for the deep needs of my soul.

pray in the spirit and with understanding

So naturally, Colin Smith’s new booklet on prayer, Praying in the Spirit, caught my attention. This short book of only 15 pages is a Mary Poppins’ bag of wisdom. Though not a comprehensive study of prayer, it is brimming with big truth and solid teaching. Smith sets out to teach us to pray in the Holy Spirit and, in doing so, answers many of the issues that hinder the work of prayer in our lives.

In an effort to not copy down the full text of the book for you (because it is all so good), I’ve sifted out four summarizing ideas that will hopefully encourage you to check out Praying in the Spirit.

Pray like the Spirit to pray in the Spirit.

Smith begins to reorient us to prayer by reminding us that Scripture is “directly breathed out by the Spirit of God” (6). Big chunks of the Bible are prayers, namely the Psalms, so why not use them to shape our prayers? He says,

As you learn to form your prayers from the Bible, you will be praying in the Spirit because you are praying in a way that reflects the heart and mind of God. (6)

After including some examples, Smith adds that using Scripture to pray has three key benefits that address three big prayer problems. It keeps our prayers from becoming “dull and repetitive,” as well as “self-centered” (7). And it enables us to pray confidently, knowing that we are asking “in line with the mind and heart of God” (7).

Don’t let yourself get in the way.

Prayer is like a narrow path, with two ditches, one on either side. One ditch is called pride, and the other is called despair. Both are equally dangerous, and the way to avoid them is to get your eyes off yourself. (7)

Goodness, that’s helpful. Smith cautions us to focus on God rather than our successes or failures in prayer (6-8). To that end, he also encourages us to maintain the posture of a servant, remembering that we come to God to receive direction, not to give it (8).

Transform your “what ifs.”

For some of us, worry is our downfall in prayer. Since worry-doused prayers are not reflective of the heart or mind of God, Smith offers a new perspective. He suggests that we switch from “the ‘what ifs’ of worry to the ‘what ifs’ of faith” (11). We’re to think on what God has already done for us and let that inform our thoughts of the future.

Instead of negative “what ifs” about potential harm, we should be offering “what ifs” of thanksgiving in prayer. “What if God were not with me? What if Christ had not died for me?” (11). Smith affirms that “confidence in what Christ has already done builds expectation of what he will do” (12).

Affirm and ask.

“We move forward as we grow in asking for what we need and affirming what God has done” (12). Smith views asking and affirming as key components to prayer. He cautions against only asking or only affirming, warning that the former will lead to defeat and the latter will lead to denial. But using both in equal measure will lead to deliverance (12). Spirit-led prayer is characterized by faith in both the good that God has done, and the good that he is able to do.

In On Writing Well, William Zinsser advised, “Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off, and be content to cover it well and stop.” That is precisely what Smith has done with Praying in the Spirit. He has taken a corner of the extensive subject of prayer and unfolded it to cover a whole area of discipleship.

Prayer directly affects our understanding of the gospel and vice versa. In Praying in the Spirit, Smith reminds us that one of Christ’s gifts to us through salvation is the indwelling of his Spirit. His Spirit is the heart and mind of God, so it only makes sense for us to learn to align our prayers accordingly.

Get a free download of Praying in the Spirit when you sign up for our emails!


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pray in the spirit and with understanding

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