Thursday, October 05, 2006



It was one long flight I'll never forget. I had been looking forward to a restful in-flight nap. But instead of snoozing, I was captivated by conversation with the man sitting next to me. He relayed one tragic story after another about growing up as a Christian in atheistic Albania.

Our hearts were immediately connected. Because one of this mans languages was modern Greek, I asked him if he had ever used one of my favorite Greek words sunantilambanomai.

Now, let me explain the reason for that odd request. Earlier that week, I had been thinking about the Holy Spirit and prayer. That long Greek word is the word the apostle Paul chose to explaine that the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayers. "In the same way the Spirit also helps [sunantilambanomai] our weakness; for we do not know how to pray" (Romans 8:26).

"Yes," he said. "We use that word for helping someone." I asked him to give me an example. He quickly replied, "If a person were carrying a heavy box, I would go over and help them. We would carry it together." He further explained that the emphasis was on an action where two people were doing something together. With that revelation, I could barely contain my joy. I remember struggling to restrain myself from shouting. I sure did not want to cause a scene and attract an air marshal!

I then asked him if he thought the apostle Paul meant that when we pray the Holy Spirit does it with us. He nodded and confidently said, "Yes."

At that moment, I saw for the first time that prayer was never intended to be an activity that I do all alone--the Holy Spirit wants to help me pray more effectively. Too often we work hard to figure out the "right formula"to make our intercession successful. A better approach would be to begin our prayers with a humble admission of our inability to pray on target and then ask for the Holy Spirit's help. That would require us to listen more and give God fewer directions.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

We see the Holy Spirit's activity with prayer even in the Old Testament. The foundation for all of our spiritual undertakings is, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zechariah 4:6).

This is certainly true of prayer. Our praying requires the Holy Spirit and not purely human might, power and effort.

Zechariah further links the Holy Spirit with prayer: "And I will pour out.the Spirit of grace and of supplication" (Zechariah 12:10).

Jack Hayford explains how the Holy Spirit helps our praying in terms of one of the Old Testament definitions of the word "intercession."

"Lexicons show the root idea of this word to be, 'to light upon by chance, to meet accidentally.' So it expresses a fortuitous and unplanned encounter of parties. That definition seems pointless unless we take into consideration Gods strategy for prayer. The [Holy Spirit] is active in bringing to mind people or circumstances we ought to pray for, and giving rise to prayer that exactly hits the mark. That is, God Himself knows where hearts cry for His intervention, and theHoly Spirit prompts prayer to release the working of His hand for them."(Jack Hayford, Prayer is Invading the Impossible [New York: BallentineBooks, 1983], 123-124.)

We can all testify of how God brought someone to mind at the precise moment they needed intercession. The person was either experiencing a victorious breakthrough or an urgent need. The Holy Spirit brought them to mind and helped our prayers to "hit the mark!"

How the Holy Spirit Helps Us to Pray

The New Testament portrays each person of the Trinity as deeply involved in the experience of prayer: we approach the Father through the Son, empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul exhorts us to "pray in the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:18).

Jude speaks of"building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit"(Jude 20). "Praying in the Spirit" has been interpreted differently depending on a persons background and theology. Charismatic and Pentecostal churches believe these verses refer to praying in tongues (I Corinthians 14:14-15). A widely accepted interpretation explained here by Frank Gaebeleinis to pray while guided by the Spirit of God: "Because all believers have the Spirit, they are to pray according to the Spirit's will (set forth in the written Word of God, and made known by inner promptings) to accomplishGod's work by God's power." (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 395).

Just how does the Holy Spirit help us to pray?

Here are six ways :He helps our praying to be more powerful and effective:When I am weak, the Spirit supplies my inner man with spiritual vitality:"strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man" (Ephesians3:16).

When I am struggling with my identity, the Holy Spirit confirms to me the reality of my adoption by the Father: "The Spirit Himself bears witness withour spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16).

When I feel far from God, the Holy Spirit ushers me into the Fathers presence: "we have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18).''

When I am confused about how best to pray, the Holy Spirit gives insight:"For to us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God" (I Corinthians 2:10).

When I am battling unbelief and negativity, the Holy Spirit fills my life with praise: "filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns" (Ephesians 5:18-19).

The apostle Paul wrote that we are to keep alert in our praying with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).

When I become sluggish in prayer, praising and thanking God actually wakes me up and keeps me focused. When I am tempted to disobey and thus hinder my prayer life, the Holy Spirit helps me to walk in Gods ways (Ezekiel 36:27) and manifest--the fruit of the Spirit-- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness(Galatians 5:22). It is by the Spirit that we put to death the deeds of our flesh (Romans 8:13).

An obedient life lays a firm foundation for confident, productive intercession (I John 3: 21-22). I am forever grateful for the Holy Spirits invaluable help with prayer. In fact, my life is a testimony to being pulled out of numerous critical situations because someone prayed by the Holy Spirits insights.

The most memorable time was when my daughter forcefully announced to my family that I needed prayer right then. She went into intercession asking God to protect me. At that precise moment I was two time zones away in a situation where a man was trying to rob me and possibly hurt me seriously. The amazing thing is that my daughter was only four years old. Holy Spirit helped a child to"hit the mark" with her intercession, and I am here today to proclaim that our God is faithful!'

Richard Foster eloquently summarizes the Holy Spirits help in prayer as:"When we stumble over our words, the Spirit straightens out the syntax. Whenwe pray with muddy motives, the Spirit purifies the stream.The point is that we do not have to have everything perfect when we pray. The Spirit reshapes, refines, and reinterprets our feeble, ego-driven prayers.

"WOW! With that kind of help, who would ever want to pray alone?