How many of us pray for direction and guidance but simply are not able to effectively discern the way of the Lord? His voice is not a familiar voice to us for one reason or another, and as a result, it appears at times that God is not leading.
As Jesus prepared his disciples for his rejection and death on the cross and life after his departure, he promised that he would “ask the Father, and He would give them another Helper that He might be with them forever; that is the Spirit of truth. . .” (John 14:16).
This same Helper, which Jesus speaks of here, is also the same Holy Spirit who is identified as the one who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). How breathtaking it is to think that the Spirit of Christ, himself, dwells inside the believer in order to lead and guide us in all His truth. But the question still remains, how do we recognize that the guidance we think we are receiving is that of the Holy Spirit and not merely misdirected, deceptive human reasoning?
The Holy Spirit resides in me in order that he might “Give me understanding, that I may observe His law and keep it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:33). The very purpose of understanding in the first place is that we might know God’s word and keep it more faithfully.
The Holy Spirit never leads or guides me in a way that is contrary to his word, and he never leads or guides me in a way that cannot be affirmed by either the direct commands of Scripture or the principles, which are clearly displayed on the pages of the Bible.
The only true confidence we have that we are being led by the Spirit is the principles we find in the written word. Feelings, emotions, and deep-seated affections will always lead us astray without the light of God’s word to light our path. The word of God is the only confirmation that we have that we are led by the Holy Spirit.
Praying in the Spirit means that the Spirit empowers the prayer and carries it to the Father in the name of Jesus. The prayer has a living quality characterized by warmth and freedom and a sense of exchange. We realize that we are in God’s presence speaking to God. The Spirit illuminates your mind, moves your heart, and grants a freedom of utterance and liberty of expression.
Here is the key difference: in the flesh, we are pushing the prayers forward, while in the Spirit, we feel caught up in the way the Spirit carries the prayer forward. Praying in the Spirit is experiencing the Spirit of life bringing prayer to life.
Praying in the Spirit has three aspects:
- Admitting our inability
- Enjoying the creation of a living communion with God
- Pleading the promises of God with boldness and assurance.
Lloyd-Jones once said that the quickest way to quench the Spirit is to not obey an impulse to pray. Our tendency to quench the Spirit is not a small and inconsequential problem. Let us give ourselves to the reality of praying in the Spirit and renounce the temptation to try and pray in our own strength. And let us, after Lloyd-Jones’s example, always obey every impulse to pray.
Romans 8:26: “Likewise the spirit also helps in our infirmities; for we do not know how we should pray as we ought.”
This text is most pregnant and vital, and needs to be quoted. Patience, hope and waiting help us in prayer. But the greatest and the divinest of all helpers is the Holy Spirit. He takes hold of things for us. We are dark and confused, ignorant and weak in many things, in fact in everything pertaining to the Heavenly life, especially in the simple service of prayer. There is an “ought” on us, an obligation, a necessity to pray, a spiritual necessity upon us of the most absolute and imperative kind. But we do not feel the obligation and have no ability to meet it. The Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, gives wisdom to our ignorance, turns ignorance into wisdom, and changes our weakness into strength. The Spirit Himself does this. He helps and takes hold with us as we tug and toil. He adds His wisdom to our ignorance, gives His strength to our weakness. He pleads for us and in us. He quickens, illumines and inspires our prayers. He indites and elevates the matter of our prayers, and inspires the words and feelings of our prayers. He works mightily in us so that we can pray mightily. He enables us to pray always and ever according to the will of God.
God searches the heart where the Spirit dwells and knows the mind of the Spirit. The Spirit who dwells in our hearts searches the deep purposes and the will of God to us, and reveals those purposes and that will of God, “that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God.” Our spirits are so fully indwelt by the Spirit of God, so responsive and obedient to His illumination and to His will, that we ask with holy boldness and freedom the things which the Spirit of God has shown us as the will of God, and faith is assured. Then “we know that we have the petitions that we have asked.”
To pray by the Holy Spirit we must have Him always. He does not, like earthly teachers, teach us the lesson and then withdraw. He stays to help us practice the lesson He has taught. We pray, not by the precepts and lessons He has taught, but we pray by Him. He is both teacher and lesson. We can only know the lesson because He is ever with us to inspire, to illumine, to explain, to help us to do. We pray not by the truth the Holy Spirit reveals to us, but we pray by the actual presence of the Holy Spirit. He puts the desire in our hearts; kindles that desire by His own flame. We simply give lip and voice and heart to His unutterable groaning. Our prayers are taken up by Him and energized and sanctified by His intercession. He prays for us, through us and in us. We pray by Him, through Him and in Him. He puts the prayer in us and we give it utterance and heart.
Acts 10:9 As Peter began praying he fell into a trance and received a marvelous vision of the purposes of God to open the door of the gospel to the Gentile world. This vision changed the course and the entire landscape of Christianity in the early Church and beyond. What if Peter had not been paying attention to his heart? What if he had not taken time to pull aside and wait on the Lord? He would’ve missed the plan of God and probably not received the messengers that Cornelius sent who were on their way to the house.
Peter paid attention to what was going on in his heart. He pulled away from the distraction of food and eating and the Spirit of God met him. What a great lesson we can learn from this! Often the Lord is trying to get our attention but we are distracted by too many things. All the time He is endeavoring to speak to us, to lead us, and to impart some needed wisdom to us, but we are too busy to stop, wait, and listen.
God’s Spirit works with the one whose mind is set on Him (Is. 26:3). He who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit (Rom. 8:27). We must learn to use our minds to pay attention and search out the activity in our hearts. That’s what Peter did.
Periodic awareness of God is not God’s design. Instead, our triune God desires for us to cultivate a practice that is the habitual pattern of our lives. Closely connected to this is a realistic understanding of what it means to experience God’s presence. We should not expect or seek only the spectacular encounters with God. That minimizes the normal way in which Christians have experienced God over the centuries. Like Elijah, we need to realize that God’s presence is typically not in the mountain-shattering wind or in the convulsions of the earthquake or in the consuming fires, but rather in God’s gentle “quiet whisper” (1 Kings 19:11–12).
To make this more concrete and practical, I suggest a spiritual exercise that can encourage your ability to notice God. Laubach and Brother Lawrence reminded themselves and others that God is always present. I encourage you to seek to experience that presence of God. Although this is similar to Laubach’s desire, cultivating an attentiveness to God closes the gap between recognizing that God is present and experiencing God in that moment. This exercise is based on two questions:
- Where have I met Jesus (or God or the Holy Spirit) today?
- Where have I missed Jesus (or God or the Holy Spirit) today?
Ask these questions throughout each day and week, and you’ll be surprised how much more you recognize God’s presence with you.
God is always with you, yet in this busy world it’s easy to become so distracted that you aren’t aware of it. You can count on God’s presence at all times and in all situations, since He pays close attention to you. However, God doesn’t force His attentions upon you. He waits patiently, reaching out to you with love, eager for you to discover Him. To find Him, you must learn how to pay attention.
Become aware of what God is up to in your life and seek to cooperate with that work, rather than making your own plans and asking Him to bless them. Pattern your life on Jesus rather than your inner compulsions or outer expectations. Every day, invite God to transform you to become more like Jesus. Pursue what God wants for your life by basing your decisions on His guidance, and you’ll discover much more about Him in the process.
When you first wake up each day, turn your thoughts immediately toward God and pray simply that during the day to come, God would open your eyes to His presence in new and deeper ways. Then – even if you just have a brief amount of time – spend some time listening to what the Holy Spirit may have to say to you for each new day.
Decide every day that you will listen for Jesus’ guidance and respond to it with obedience motivated by love. Make a habit of listening first to Jesus’ words rather than your own needs and desires, then responding in the ways that best show your love for Him.
When you read the Bible, invite God to use what you read to change your life. Pay close attention to what you read and carefully consider how you should respond to it. Try the ancient practice of Lectio Divina (“divine reading”) when you read the Bible. First, read a passage aloud several times, asking “What does it say?”. Then reflect on the text (or even just a word or phrase from it) to ask “What does it say to me?”. Pray your response back to God. Then rest in the presence of God, who stands behind the text.
Regularly reflect on Psalm 46:10, in which God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Let this Scripture bring peace to your soul. In a peaceful state, you can do more than just “know” many things partially, as you do when you simply gather information in a busy world. Relying on God’s peace to pay attention well, you can know one thing at time – deeply. Don’t mistake the flow of adrenaline for the moving of the Holy Spirit. Remember that what counts isn’t what you’re doing for God, but what God is doing in and through you. While you’re still, you can be moving into the fullness of what God has in mind for you.
Questions for Chapter 7
- Pages 57-58: the author gave examples of how a person was guided by the Holy Spirit to pray for another person. Please share any similar events in your life showing how someone prayed because they were guided by the Holy Spirit.
- Read Psalm 38:9, Psalm 62:8 , Romans 10:1….what does each verse say about prayer ?
- Share how this chapter or the notes have encouraged you to talk with the Holy Spirit in prayer.
- Page 58: “ …the greatest discipline in prayer is the discipline of communicating with the Holy Spirit as He aids us in sharing our real concerns , burdens, and desires “
- Page 61: The author writes….. “ God knows how to prepare us for all that is ahead as we seek to be attentive to Him. “
- Share how you are increasing your attentiveness to God .
- Page: Thrasher writes “…..sometimes ….the Spirit desires to slow us down and lead us into silence “.
- How can you welcome more silence in your life and “ be available to the Lord to let Him bring things to mind to pray “ ?