The Power of Praying in the Spirit
by Adam Wittenberg
There is an exhortation in Scripture to pray—and sing—with our spirit and our understanding. “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:15.
Singing and praying with our spirit implies using the gift of tongues. This can help release the mysteries of God and ignite our hearts with passion for Him. Praying in the spirit is powerful and enjoyable. However, many people misunderstand the purpose of the gift of tongues and the scriptures that describe it.
Opposition to Questions to Practice
Mike Bickle, director of the International House of Prayer, preached against speaking in tongues in his early ministry. But one verse caused him to question his position.
In 1 Corinthians 14:18, Paul wrote, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all.” This caused Mike to ask, “Why did he value this gift so much that he engaged in it more than anyone? He was a busy man, so why did he invest so much time speaking in tongues?” What Mike soon discovered is that Paul is describing two different types of the gift of tongues—two expressions and two different purposes.
Two Different Types of the Gift of Tongues
The first, in 1 Corinthians 12, is the gift of tongues for the corporate body. This is a gift where a believer speaks in a corporate setting—such as a church service or small group—and then someone interprets what was spoken.
This type of tongue needs to be heard by other people, so that someone with the gift of interpretation can give the meaning (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:27). This gift edifies the body, allowing the Lord to speak to His people.
Paul is clear that not all believers have this gift: “Do all speak with tongues?” he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:30). Yet in 1 Corinthians 14:5, he says, “I wish you all spoke with tongues.”
Mike explains the apparent contradiction:
There is a difference between the gift of tongues given to a few for the profit of the corporate body when the speaker speaks to men (1 Corinthians 12:7), and the gift of tongues given to all as a devotional prayer language for the profit of the individual who speaks privately to God. (1 Corinthians 14:2, 4)
Personal Prayer Language
The second type of tongues is a personal prayer languages that edifies the one who is speaking. This is what Paul was refering to when he said, “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all” (1 Corinthians 14:18).
This edification is interpretation for the speaker’s own use. Look at an example in Mike’s own words.
Before ministering to a group, I seek to pray in the Spirit to position myself to receive impressions, mental pictures, phrases, and direction from the Spirit to guide and help me. It is good to pray for the interpretation of what you are praying for (1 Corinthians 14:13). As you do, the Holy Spirit may give you insight into what is on His heart for a particular situation.
It is this personal prayer tongue that Paul used frequently, praying to God with his spirit (Ephesians 6:18). This allowed him to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Jesus included speaking in tongues as one of the signs that would follow those who believe in Him (Mark 16:17). Believers can receive this gift by asking for it, and are even exhorted by Paul to ask for it, along with the other spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1).
“As you pray for the release of the gift of tongues, you may simply feel the presence of God lightly, or just a gentle urge to speak out,” Mike says. “I encourage you to speak out the words that come to you and see what the Holy Spirit does.”
In 1 Corinthians 14:6-33, Paul explains the importance of order for the corporate gift of tongues. He even limits the number of people who can speak openly to two or three, and each in turn, so that the interpretation can come forth (1 Corinthians 14:27). “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church, and let him speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:28), meaning that believers can always pray quietly in the Spirit as long as they are not disrupting others.
Sometimes in a corporate setting, the room will engage in a time of singing or praying together in the Spirit to build strength, war spiritually, or give joyful praise to God.
These tongues are being spoken to God, not men, and there is no requirement for interpretation—although believers can ask God for the interpretation, since tongues speak mysteries that the Spirit wants to reveal (1 Corinthians 14:2; 14:13).
One of the goals of 24/7 prayer is to worship God from a flowing heart. Praying in the spirit sensitizes our hearts to the things of the Spirit (Jude 20).
“We may not feel anything when we pray in the Spirit, but we should not seek to measure what is happening by what we feel in that moment,” Mike says.
He also teaches not to disengage your mind, but to focus on God’s throne in heaven (Revelation 4) and speak directly to the Father, or to speak directly to the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside (Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
Both singing with our spirit and with our understanding is important in our spiritual life. Paul taught that if we sing to God from our hearts, we would experience God’s grace and the Spirit’s presence:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)
One way we are filled with the Spirit is by singing spiritual songs in our heart to the Lord.
“I have discovered the power of spontaneously singing Bible passages to God and intermittently singing in tongues, which often results in the Holy Spirit’s touching the deep chambers of my heart,” Mike says.
“Singing the Word impacts our hearts more than just speaking it or hearing others speak it. God designed our heart to be touched deeply by music and singing. As we sing the Word and sing with our spirit, we receive mysteries (impressions from the Holy Spirit) and gain insight from the Word. The Spirit will give us more and more if we will sing the Word and sing with our spirit consistently.”
To join in corporate prayer in our prayer room, which includes times of singing in the spirit, visit ihopkc.org/prayerroom.
If you are seeking a Spirit-filled place to worship God, we invite you to our annual Onething Conference. Join 20,000 young adults in Kansas City this December for four days of worship, prayer, and ministry in the Spirit’s power. Worship leaders and speakers include Mike Bickle, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, Jonathan David and Melissa Helser, and others. Learn more »
To learn more about tongues, watch Mike’s teaching “Praying in the Spirit” »
A Detroit native who was raised in Vermont and Connecticut, Adam worked as a newspaper journalist until 2012, when he moved to Kansas City to complete the Intro to IHOPKC internship. Afterwards, he earned a four-year certificate in House of Prayer Leadership from IHOPU and is now on full-time staff in the Marketing department at IHOPKC. He also serves in the NightWatch (overnight prayer hours) and is active in evangelism. He, and his wife Stephany, have a vision to reach people everywhere with the good news of Jesus Christ.