Praying in the Holy Spirit is praying in fervency. Cold prayers, my Brothers and Sisters, ask the Lord not to hear them! Those who do not plead with fervency, plead not at all. As well speak of lukewarm fire as of lukewarm prayer! It is essential that it be red hot. Real prayer is burnt as with hot iron into a man’s soul, and then comes forth from the man’s soul like coals of juniper which have a most vehement heat. Such prayers none but the Holy Spirit can give. I have heard from this spot prayers which I never can forget, nor will you ever forget them either.
Last January and February there were times when certain of our Brethren were helped to pray with such power that we were bowed down in humiliation, and afterwards borne up as on the wings of eagles in the power of supplication! There is a way of praying with power in which a man seems to get hold of the posts of Heaven’s gate, as Samson grasped the pillars of the temple, and appears as though he would pull all down upon himself sooner than miss the blessing. It is a brave thing for the heart to vow, “I will not let You go except You bless me.” That is praying in the Holy Spirit. May we be tutored in the art of offering effectual fervent prayer!
Next to that, it is essential in prayer that we should pray perseveringly. Any man can run fast at a spurt, but to keep it up mile after mile—there is the battle! And so, certain hot spirits can pray very fervently every now and then, but to continue in prayer—who shall do this except the Spirit of God sustains him? Mortal spirits flag and tire. The course of mere fleshly devotion is as the course of a snail which melts as it crawls. Carnal minds go onward and their devotion grows small by degrees and miserably less, as they cry out, “What a weariness it is!” But when the Holy Spirit fills a man and leads him into prayer, he gathers force as he proceeds—and grows more fervent even when God delays to answer! The longer the gate is closed the more vehemently does he use the knocker till he thunders in his prayer! And the longer the Angel lingers, the more resolved is he that if he grasps Him with a death grip he will never let Him go without the blessing.
Beautiful in God’s sight is tearful and yet unconquerable importunity. Jesus delights to be laid hold of by one who says, “I cannot take No for an answer, this blessing I must have, for You have promised it and You have taught me to ask for it, and I will not believe that You can belie yourself.” Surely we must have the Holy Spirit to help us thus to pray. Praying in the Spirit we shall be sure to pray in a holy frame of mind. Brothers and Sisters, do you ever get distracted in your minds? “Ah,” you say, “I wonder when I am not.” I will venture to say that you have come into this house burdened, and yet on the road you were saying, “This is a blessed Sunday, I feel I have God’s Presence.”
Then some silly gossip met you on the steps and told you an idle tale which distracted you. You may even get quietly seated here, and then the recollection of a child at home, or the remembrance of what somebody said about six weeks ago will perplex your mind so that you cannot pray. But when the Holy Spirit comes, He takes a scourge of small cords and drives these buyers and sellers out of the temple and leaves it clear for God. And then you can come with a holy, devout frame of mind, fixed and settled in your great object of approach to God. This is to approach Him in the Spirit. Oh for more of this blessed, undisturbed devotion!
I could not, however, finish the description of praying in the Spirit if I did not say that it means praying humbly, for the Holy Spirit never puffs us up with pride. He is the Spirit that convicts of sin and so bows us down in contrition and brokenness of spirit. We must pray before God like the humble publican, or we shall never go forth justified as he was. We shall never sing Gloria in Excelsis except we pray to God De Profundis—out of the depths must we cry, or we shall never see the glory in the highest! True prayer must be loving prayer if it is praying in the Holy Spirit. Prayer should be perfumed with love, saturated with love—love to our fellow saints, and love to Christ. Moreover, it must be a prayer full of faith. The effectual fervent prayer of a man prevails only as he believes in God, and the Holy Spirit is the Author of faith in us, and nurtures and strengthens it so that we pray believing God’s promises. Oh that this blessed combination of excellent Graces, priceless and sweet as the spices of the merchant, might be fragrant within us because the Holy Spirit’s power is shed abroad in our hearts! Time fails me, therefore I must dispense with a full description of what praying in the Holy Spirit is, but I hope you will possess it and so understand it.
~ Charles Spurgeon. Sermon excerpt from “Praying in the Holy Spirit,” 1866.