What does praying in the Spirit mean?

Q: I have come out of the charismatic church. I am praying for wisdom and understanding. I am unsure of speaking in tongues now. I do have the 'gift' but now i am unsure. Well, I do understand the 'speaking in tongues' is actually a language that needs an interpreter that it was origionally designed to spread the gospel for other countries. Now I want to know why in the bible there is a verse saying, " continue to pray in the spirit at all times' what is then praying in the spirit? My brain is experiencing some conflict but I am at peace with leaving the cahrismatic church and its beliefs and I am now searching the bible and discovering truth for myself however there are some parts which i cannot fully explain as I was taught that tongues were a sign from God. Please can you let me know your interpretation of praying in the spirit. Thank you and God bless

A: I'm glad you are examining your experience in the light of scripture.  Often, we are more comfortable to interpret experiences based on feelings or advice of others.

Praying in the Spirit is mentioned three times in Scripture.

1) 1 Corinthians 14:15 says, “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.”

2) Ephesians 6:18 says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

3) Jude 20 says, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”

Some Christians understand these Scriptures to be referring to praying in tongues.  However, God usually communicates to us in our native language and we speak to him with understanding by using our own language.  As you mentioned in your email, when a person has the gift of speaking in tongues, it is sign to the audience that God is revealing new information through direct revelation.  The miracle of tongues authenticates the messengers.

So what does it mean?  “Pray in” the Spirit can have several different meanings. It can mean “by means of,” “with the help of,” “in the sphere of,” and “in connection to.” Praying in the Spirit does not refer to the words we are saying. Rather, it refers to how we are praying. Praying in the Spirit is praying according to the Spirit’s leading. It is praying for things that the Spirit leads us to pray for. 

1 Corinthians 14:15 uses the words "my spirit" which means Paul's spirit - the inner, spiritual part of man that responds to God's truth.  Paul is using both his powers of reason and capacity to worship when he prays.

Ephesians 6 tells us that we should be sensitive to spiritual necessities of every moment and every person.  A spiritual person recognizes these needs by being awakened to such needs - for example, how we see a financial crisis in a home can be interpreted as nothing more than poverty, or we can see a spiritual problem in a relationship as the root cause.  A spiritual insight means we see problems that have a spiritual solution which may be salvation, obedience to a commandment of the scripture or a clearer understanding of who we are in Christ.

Jude refers to spiritual growth in our faith.  Increasing understanding and appreciation to "the faith" or the doctrines of scripture will affect the way we pray - enlightened by the spirit of God in the understanding of His word.

Romans 8:26 tells us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”