“Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks as well, but the other is not edified” (1 Corinthians 14:13-17).
“My spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but to the human spirit, the inward man. Our prayers should not be vain repetitions (Matthew 6:7). The human spirit (mind, will, heart, and emotion) is to be engaged (John 4:24 cf. Joshua 24:14). It is not an outward show, but sincerity, God desires. Joel instructed, “rend your heart, and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).
“The Spirit” is less clear in my mind. (1) It may be that this still refers to the human spirit. The presence of the definite article does not necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit is intended (cf. Matthew 5:3; 26:41; John 11:33; 13:21; Acts 18:25; 1 Corinthians 2:11; 5:3, 5; Colossians 2:5). (2) It may refer to the Holy Spirit. Miraculous gifts are clearly in context (1 Corinthians 14:12-14, 18-19). Regardless, the point is the same. When one leads public prayer or song, he should be mindful of others. It should be done in such a way that others can understand and participate.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” (Ephesians 6:18).
“Prayer is listed next to the armor which is to be worn by the Christian. One will not make it through this spiritual war without prayer. When facing a spiritual battle do not forget to pray.
What does it mean to pray “in the Spirit”? Here are some possibilities: (1) Some believe that the human spirit is intended. The definite article is absent. The meaning would be that the human spirit is engaged in prayer. (2) Some believe that the Holy Spirit is intended. The absence of the article does not mean that the Holy Spirit could not be intended (Luke 4:1; John 3:5; 4:1; Acts 2:4; Ephesians 4:4; Jude 20; Revelation 1:10). The meaning may be that this refers to prayers which are in accordance with the teaching of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18 cf. Colossians 3:16). Foy Wallace Jr. commented that this is not “wishes of our own, but prayers that breathe the Spirit’s guidance as revealed in His word” (Wallace, Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, p. 229).
“But you beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 20-21).
How can we maintain ourselves in a right relationship with God? (1) We can build ourselves up in the faith. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We need to spend time in the word of God. It is able to build us up (Acts 20:32). May we not be content. May we desire to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). (2) We can pray seeking mercy through Jesus. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest… Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
What does it mean to pray “in the Holy Spirit”? Here are some suggestions: (1) Some think this refers to the human spirit being holy. The definite article is not present. It is true that successful prayer life depends of righteous behavior (James 5:16; 1 Timothy 2:8 cf. James 4:8; Isaiah 1:15). (2) Most think this refers to the Holy Spirit. Our prayers are to be according to God’s revealed will (1 John 5:14). (3) A few believe that God helped the early church learn how to pray, by inspiring their words in prayer. Franklin Camp has commented, “‘praying in the Holy Spirit’ was praying by the inspiration of the Spirit” (Camp, The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption, p. 251). “In the Spirit” does at times refer to inspiration (e.g. Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36; Revelation 1:10); though, I find no clear evidence of inspired prayers in the New Testament (unless one count praying in tongues cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-17).
The wording is difficult, but the basic point is not. We are to be a people who study our Bibles, and we are to be a people of prayer. May we be both.