|’The exclusive or general distinct labelling by believers of the term ‘praying in the Spirit’ as ‘speaking in tongues’ is confusing and unbiblical’.

This article examines the widespread belief among Christians that ‘praying in the Spirit’ is exclusively or somewhat formally known as ‘speaking in tongues’. As mentioned in another section of this website, I am a ‘tongues’ speaker.

Firstly, it is asserted that it has become virtually the norm for a great proportion of believers to associate ‘praying in the Spirit’ with the practice of ‘speaking in tongues’. Thus, the first question to ask of course is whether this is biblical. Does the Bible mention ‘praying in the Spirit?’ Yes.

In Ephesians 6:18, it states that believers should be “praying always with all prayers and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”. Paul the Apostle here emphasises the need for believers to ‘pray in the Spirit’. Though, what does praying in the Spirit mean?

Briefly, praying in the Spirit is prayer that is offered to God in accordance with the Word of God. In Spirit, and in truth. The basis for this is found among other places in John 6:63, where Jesus states:

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life”.

Jesus reveals here that the Word of God is spirit itself, and life. Also, the Bible tells us that the Word of God is ‘a lamp to my feet and a lamp to my path’ (Psalm 119:105). That is, the Word of God is truth and guides us into all truth and therefore as stated we are to pray in accordance with the Word which is an act of the Spirit itself and because 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us that nobody can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. This is to mean that when a believer is praying to God, he or she is engaging in a practice of the Spirit, and, as stated, is to do so in truth.

In this regard, Jesus mentions in John 16:13 the Spirit of truth which is the Holy Spirit. Thus, a believer is to pray consistent with God’s Will and Scripture (Matt 6:10; John 4:34). Importantly, they are to do so in an attitude of truth as befitting the holy nature of the Word of God, and the presence of the Holy Spirit which Romans 8:26 reveals that He Himself makes intercession for believers because they do not know what they ought to pray for. Furthermore, in regards to how to pray, Jude 1:20 instructs believers:

“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit”.

Moreover, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is turned to, which essentially deals with the nature and purpose of ‘speaking in tongues’. In chapter 14 verses 14 and 15, Paul explains that a person who ‘speaks in tongues’ engages in an act ‘with’ one’s spirit. It reads:

14 “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind” (1 cor 14:14-15).

So, we see in the passage above that ‘speaking in tongues’ is an act ‘with’ one’s human spirit, and not an act “in” one’s spirit, nor “in” the Spirit, as evidenced by Ephesians 6:18, Jude 1:20, and Romans 8:26 above.

This is significant because many believers hold that when a person is ‘speaking in tongues’ that one is specifically ‘praying “in” the spirit’. Consequently, the effect of this belief then is that unfortunately by implication every other ‘type’ of prayer is effectively excluded as ‘praying in the spirit’ which is wrong. That is, the expression “praying in the Spirit” has become so wrongly synonymous with “speaking in tongues” that it is difficult to encounter ‘charismatic’ believers who would automatically say that the ordinary Spirit-led prayer is actually the biblical “praying in the spirit”, as Ephesians 6:18 reveals, and not ‘speaking in tongues’.

Thus, in this regard, it seems probable that when the correct Greek word “with” is used in verses 14 and 15 above, as different from “in”, that the average believer would less likely assign ‘speaking in tongues’ as “praying ‘in’ the Spirit”. This is because it would become understood that a common prayer should and would evidently be prayed ‘in” the Spirit which is the common practice of believers and which is contrasted with the gift of ‘speaking in tongues’ which not every believer will practice. In this regard, part 1 in particular in the article Series titled ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Tongues?’ on this website addresses this in detail.

Moreover, there is a further aspect to the erroneous practice of assigning ‘praying in the Spirit’ as ‘speaking in tongues’. This is that there is a belief that the practice of speaking in tongues is regarded by many as being a more “spiritual” type of prayer and that speakers who do so enter into a ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ ‘realm’ of the Spirit. This is such that it is fair to say that a significant proportion of Christians have at times unconsciously and consciously assigned a somewhat secondary “status” to the ‘ordinary’ practice of prayer in terms of generally not openly ‘labelling’ such as “praying in the Spirit” unlike its erroneous and general association with ‘speaking in tongues’ as above.

In all honesty, the automatic or almost automatic association by much of the Church of ‘praying in the Spirit’ with ‘speaking with tongues’ needs to stop. This is because it is sin against God as it does not represent the proper truth of what the biblical ‘praying in the Spirit’ involves, and is a significant misrepresentation at that. As above, every ‘non-tongues’ ‘type’ of prayer is one that is ‘prayed in the Spirit’ as Romans 8:26, Ephesians 6:18, and Jude 1:20 clearly reveal, and thus it should be recognised and understood as such.

So, what can one conclude here? That, pastors and church ‘leaders’ should not be effectively giving ‘speaking in tongues’ a ‘special’ or virtually exclusive ‘status’ of “praying in the Spirit”. This, as alluded to, is because doing so indirectly and wrongly relegates those who do not ‘speak in tongues’ as believers who are supposedly not “praying in the Spirit. This is sin and is confusing and also because it unduly elevates ‘tongues’ to a somewhat ‘superior’ type of prayer which is negligent of the scriptural truth in its distinction but nevertheless harmony between a prayer ‘with’ one’s spirit and one ‘in’ the Holy Spirit.

This is important to note because, to reiterate, the general wider Church has wrongly and often assigned ‘tongues’ as in effect at times a preferred prayer in the Church of God. As a result, and unfortunately, many believers wrongly feel spiritually inept and less favoured by God in falsely believing that they are supposed to be speaking in ‘tongues’ when in truth the Scriptures are clear that not all believers will have the gift even if they ask for it.

This prevailing belief is sad and is a very real issue in Christendom resulting mainly from wrong teaching and a widespread belief that more effective prayer as well as ‘special’ spiritual power occurs by ‘speaking in tongues’.

Finally, in believing that speaking in tongues is a somewhat preferred prayer, the consequence is that it is even at times regarded by many as a ‘better’ prayer to pray. However, while true ‘tongues’ is a powerful expression of giving glory to God, it is in truth not a ‘preferred’ prayer nor as evidenced one that is prayed ‘in’ the Spirit that all believers need to do as so many wrongly believe.

This is wrong and needs to change.