“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kind of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18)
One of the most wonderful things about Christian prayer is its freedom. Paul tells us that when we are unsure of what to pray we must remember that we have the Spirit of Christ in our hearts who helps us to say, “Abba, Father!” Even when we don’t have specific words to express our thoughts to God, the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.
If we think of normal family relationships we realize why it’s possible to enjoy such intimacy in speaking with our Father in heaven. Children have this kind of relationship with their parents. It’s essentially an informal and spontaneous one. No matter how ignorant a child may be, its parents are always ready to listen to its comments and requests. The same is true in our relationship with God. If we are children of God then it’s possible for us to enjoy a high level of intimacy with the Lord. This explains why Jesus tells His disciples to address God in these terms: “Our Father in heaven.” God expects us to speak to Him with freedom and intimacy.
But there’s another reason as well for spontaneity and intimacy in prayer. When Christ took on flesh He showed that He had an overwhelming desire to draw near and reveal His inmost thoughts to us. For instance, He said to His disciples: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Since Christ wants us to be His friends, it is only natural that we talk with Him in a spontaneous manner.
However, although an intimate prayer life is a sign of praying in the Spirit, this doesn’t mean that all prayer is necessarily informal and unorganized. There is a view in Christian circles today that the only kind of prayer that God hears is the prayer that is completely spontaneous and unprepared. However, Paul says that praying in the Spirit includes “all kind of prayers and requests”.
This means that it’s possible to have both informal prayers as well as more formal ones and still be praying in the Spirit. There are many spontaneous prayers in the Bible where people cried out to God on the spur of the moment (Nehemiah 2:4-5; Genesis 32:9-12). Again, there are also prayers where great thoughtfulness and prior consideration has been given to the content of the prayer. We think for example of the structure of the Lord’s Prayer and many of the Psalms. When believers pray in the Spirit we should be aware that there is room for intimacy and spontaneity as well as form and order.