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A meditation on Ephesians 6:18


In Ephesians 6:18 we find several clear cut boundaries regarding prayer. 

Firstly, prayer is to be consistent: Paul commands us to pray ‘on all occasions’ and to ‘keep on praying’.  

Secondly, prayer is to be comprehensive: Paul commands us to pray with ‘all kinds of prayers and requests’ and ‘for all the saints’.  

Thirdly, prayer is to be conscious and clear-sighted: Paul commands us to ‘be alert’ in our praying. Here he commands an awareness, a watchfulness, a vigilance, a consciousness of what is going on around us and within us, a clear-sightedness about the enemy and his deceptions, an alertness for his overt and subtle attacks, a constant readiness with all the armour God provides securely in place protecting our minds. The word used here actually means ‘being sleepless’ – that is, never taking the armour of God off because it’s time to have a rest. 

Fourthly, prayer is to be genuinely Christ-centred: Paul commands us to pray ‘in the Spirit’.  

Some contemporary Christians maintain that praying ‘in the Spirit’ is speaking in tongues. This does not tie in with the command to pray with ‘all kinds of prayers and requests’, with the specific command to pray ‘for all the saints’, or with the command to be ‘alert’. These all assume that the person praying is well aware of what he or she is praying about.  

What does it mean to ‘pray in the Spirit’?  

Anyone can go through the motions of praying, saying words to ‘god’ as they imagine him. But that is not ‘praying in the Spirit’. Such a person knows neither Christ nor the Spirit.  

Some people pray expecting to be heard on the basis of their own goodness or merits. But that is not ‘praying in the Spirit’. Such a person is still relating to God on the basis of flesh, not on the basis of Christ and his righteousness.  

Some people pray thinking that the act of prayer is, in itself, meritorious and praiseworthy. But that is not ‘praying in the Spirit’. Jesus actually said that such prayer is hypocritical [Matthew 6:5-8].  

The person who prays ‘in the Spirit’ is the person who comes to God in prayer depending solely on God’s mercy. This is the kind of prayer spoken of in Luke 18:13 in contrast to the ‘in the flesh’ prayer reported in Luke 18:11-12. Both of these men ‘went up to the temple to pray’. Only the man who prayed trusting in the mercy of God was answered. Similarly, the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of this kind of prayer that enters the presence of God depending solely on the mediation of Jesus Christ [Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22], and, trusting that mediation alone, comes to God in full assurance of faith.  

This prayer, that comes to God not with its own merits, but trusting solely in Christ and his merits, is prayer ‘in the Spirit’. Why so? Because this understanding, this new relationship with God in Christ, this assurance of God’s grace and acceptance, is ours only because of the convicting, teaching, regenerating work of the Spirit. The Spirit of God taught us about Christ [John14:26], the Spirit of God convicted us of our sin [John 16:8], the Spirit of God brought us to new life in Christ [John 3:6], the Spirit of God assures us we are God’s dearly loved children [Romans 8:15-16]. Apart from the Spirit we would still be only ‘flesh’. We would have no part of Christ. We would have no access to God in prayer.  

Of necessity, prayer, if it is to have access to God, must be ‘in the Spirit’.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2011