Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Learning the art of prayer involves taking the position of a servant.
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us. (Psalm 123:2)
The writer of this Psalm was not a slave, and he was not endorsing slavery. He is using a picture, and he is saying to God, “This is how I am coming to you: I am approaching you in the same way as a slave comes to a master. That means that I look to you to direct me, I look to you to provide for me, and I look to you to protect me.”
The important point here is that I am in the position of the slave, and God is in the position of the master. One reason why many people do not ascend in prayer is that we get it the wrong way round. We put ourselves in the position of the master and God in the position of the servant. We come and give direction to God. We feel that we should be telling him what to do, and when he does not carry out our requests, we feel disappointed, angry, and frustrated.
Praying in the Spirit involves aligning ourselves with what the Holy Spirit is seeking to accomplish. It is not about bringing God into your world but about God bringing you into his world. There’s a big difference. One is centered on you and what you want. The other is centered on God and what he is doing. Praying in the Spirit is only possible for those who love God and who have died to self. That is why it is only possible in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus was praying in the Spirit when he said, “Not my will but yours be done.” And Paul was praying in the Spirit when he pleaded with God to take away a problem in his life that he describes as a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8). He started out with a deep desire to be free from the problem, but as he prayed, he discerned that God would use this problem in his life: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This discovery changed Paul’s entire perspective.
Before his encounter with God through prayer, he had seen his problem as an obstacle to God’s work in his life. But now, he could see that God was using this as a means of advancing his kingdom.
Apart from the Holy Spirit, our prayers would never rise above a shopping list of our own desires, and our prayers would reflect only the immaturity of children who see a Father as existing to satisfy an endless stream of demands. Praying in the Spirit will deliver you from that kind of immaturity and shallowness. It will enable you to grow in likeness to Jesus, because it involves aligning yourself with what God is doing.