This afternoon I returned from a wonderful weekend in Colorado. I can say with full conviction of heart, "The Lord was with us!" For I experienced God's people praying in the Spirit.
Invited by Pastor Joseph Friedly of the Tri-Lakes Reformed Church, on Saturday I met with a half dozen men, along with their wives, who are considering pastoral ministry. Hearing their stories, desires, questions, and even anxieties, we spent an incredible time in fellowship, honest discussion, and prayer for several hours on Saturday evening.
Then on the Lord's Day, in God's providence I came having planned to preach on the role of the Spirit in the life of the church. In the morning service, I addressed Ezekiel 47 and the imagery of the river flowing from the temple, growing deeper and bringing life the further it spreads. Then we looked at Ephesians 6:18 in the evening service and concentrated on the phrase "praying at all times in the Spirit."
However, though I came to encourage this church in prayer, I found the night before and then that day that the Lord had arrived before me! For they were eager to engage in prayer. Beyond the normal worship services, I participated in two significant prayer times that day - one planned and one spontaneous - with good attendance. These times were glorious! Experientially, we were praying in the Spirit. I could hear it in the saints' praises and petitions they were making.
So what was I hearing? What does it actually mean to pray in the Spirit? How is it accomplished?
To answer those questions, let me relate something I heard from Sinclair Ferguson. At a Banner of Truth conference I attended some years ago, Sinclair said that he often asks his students, “What is the first way to be filled with the Spirit?” He then went on to say that they often meet that question with blank looks on their faces. So he tells them that the answer is to sing the psalms. Referring to Ephesians 5:18, where Paul tells the church to be filled with the Spirit by singing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," Dr. Ferguson was encouraging the use of the psalms in the church. He in essence was stressing that we are to be filled with the Spirit and pray in the Spirit by being filled with the Psalter!
John Calvin called the Psalter “the anatomy of all parts of the soul.” Commenting on Calvin's thoughts, Robert Godfrey said, “In other words, (what Calvin is saying is that) the Psalter shows how Christians are to offer praise and prayer to God amid all the various circumstances of life.” Calvin taught that every fear, every anxious thought, every yearning for the Christian can be a prompting toward obedience in prayer by using the psalms to help us to pray.
And that is what I was hearing in those prayer services. God's people were bringing many differing circumstances before the Lord. Praise for the conversion of a grandfather after thirty years of praying for him. A desire to see the nations discipled and worshiping Christ. Crying out for the Lord to move in the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Asking the Lord to raise up preachers of the gospel. Begging for the release of kidnapped Haitian missionaries. Praying for the encouragement and revival of established churches. Many times, as they prayed, they used the psalms, the very language of the Holy Spirit, to express themselves.
In so doing, I sensed the close presence of our Savior in those prayers. And for good reason. Surely He prayed in the Spirit at all times, but especially as He neared and then hung on the cross. And what do we find on His lips as He did? The psalms were repeatedly in His prayers.
What a blessing it was to be with a congregation of Christ's people who were praying in the Spirit like their Lord!