The Holy Spirit and Prayer
In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you.
John 16:23–24, 26–27
Pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love.
The words in 1 John 2:12–14 to little children, to young men, and to fathers, suggest the thought that often in the Christian life there are three great stages of experience. The first is that of the newborn child with the assurances and the joy of forgiveness. The second is the transition stage of struggle and growth in knowledge and strength: young men growing strong, God’s Word doing its work in them and giving them victory over the Evil One. And then there is the final stage of maturity: the fathers who have entered deeply into the knowledge and fellowship of the eternal One.
In Christ’s teaching on prayer there appear to be three stages in the prayer life, somewhat analogous.
In the Sermon on the Mount we have the initial stage: His teaching is comprised in one word, Father. Pray to your Father. Your Father sees, hears, knows, and will reward you—much more than any earthly father! Only be childlike and trustful.
Later on comes something like the transition stage of conflict and conquest, in words like these: ‘‘However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’’ (Matthew 17:21 NKJV); ‘‘And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?’’ (Luke 18:7).
Then we have a higher stage referred to in His parting words. The children have become men. They are now the Master’s friends from whom He has no secrets and to whom He says, ‘‘Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’’ (John 15:15); and to whom in the oftrepeated ‘‘whatever you wish’’ He hands over the keys to the kingdom. Now the time has come for the power of prayer in His name to be proven.
The contrast between this final stage and the previous preparatory ones our Savior marks distinctly in the words we are to meditate on: ‘‘Until now you have not asked for anything in my name’’ (John 16:24); ‘‘In that day you will ask in my name’’ (John 16:26). We know what ‘‘in that day’’ means. It is the day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The great work Christ was to do on the cross, the mighty power and the complete victory to be manifested in His resurrection and ascension, were to lead to the coming down from heaven, as never before, of the glory of God to dwell in men. The Spirit of the glorified Jesus was to come and be the life of His disciples. And one of the marks of that wonderful spirit dispensation was to be a power in prayer hitherto unknown—prayer in the name of Jesus, asking and obtaining whatever they wished to manifest the reality of the Spirit’s indwelling.
To understand how the coming of the Holy Spirit was indeed to begin a new epoch in the prayer-world, we must remember who He is, what His work is, and the significance of His not being given until Jesus was glorified. It is in the Spirit that God exists, for He is Spirit. It is in the Spirit that the Son was begotten of the Father. It is in the fellowship of the Spirit that the Father and the Son are one. The eternal, never-ending giving to the Son that is the Father’s prerogative, and the eternal asking and receiving that is the Son’s right and blessedness—it is through the Spirit that this communion of life and love is maintained. It has been so from all eternity. It is especially so now, when the Son as Mediator ever lives to pray. The great work of reconciling in His own body God and man that Jesus began on earth, He carries on in heaven. To accomplish this He took up in His own person the conflict between God’s righteousness and our sin. In His own body on the cross He once for all ended the struggle. Then He ascended to heaven that from there He might in each member of His body carry out the deliverance and manifest the victory He had obtained. To do this, He ever lives to pray. And in His unceasing intercession, He places himself in living fellowship with the unceasing prayer of His redeemed ones. It is His intercession that shows itself in their prayers and gives them power that they never had before.
All this is done through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the glorified Jesus, given after Jesus had been glorified (John 7:39). This gift of the Father was something distinctively new, entirely different from what Old Testament saints had known. The work that the blood effected in heaven when Christ entered within the veil was something new. The redemption of our human nature into fellowship with His resurrection power and His exaltation glory was so intensely real, the taking up of our humanity in Christ into the life of the triune God was an event of such inconceivable significance that the Holy Spirit, who had to come from Christ’s exalted humanity to testify in our hearts of what Christ had accomplished, was no longer as He had been in the Old Testament. He came first as the Spirit of the glorified Jesus. The Son, who from eternity was God, had entered upon a new existence as man and returned to heaven with what He did not have before. So the blessed Spirit, whom the Son on His ascension received from the Father into His glorified humanity (Acts 2:33), also came to us with a new life not previously His to communicate. Under the Old Testament He was invoked as the Spirit of God. At Pentecost He descended as the Spirit of the glorified Jesus, bringing down and communicating to us the full fruit and power of the accomplished redemption.
In the intercession of Christ, the continued efficacy and application of His redemption is maintained. Through the Holy Spirit descending from Christ to us, we are drawn up into the great stream of His ever-ascending prayers. The Spirit prays for us without words. In the depths of a heart where even thoughts are at times formless, the Spirit takes us up into the wonderful flow of the life of the triune God. Through the Spirit, Christ’s prayers become ours, and ours are made His; we ask what we will and it is given to us. We then understand from experience, ‘‘Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. . . . In that day you will ask in my name’’ (John 16:24, 26).
What we need to pray for in the name of Christ and ask that we may receive that our joy may be full is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is more than the Spirit of God under the Old Testament. This is more than the Spirit of conversion and regeneration that the disciples had before Pentecost. This is more than the Spirit with a measure of His influence and working. This is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the glorified Jesus in His exaltation power, coming on us as the Spirit of the indwelling Jesus, revealing the Son and the Father within (John 14:16–23). When this Spirit is the Spirit not only of our hours of prayer but also of our whole life and walk; when this Spirit glorifies Jesus in us by revealing the completeness of His work, making us wholly one with Him and like Him; then we can pray in His name, because we are indeed one with Him. Then it is that we have that instant access to the Father to which Jesus referred: ‘‘In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf’’ (John 16:26).
How we need to understand and believe that to be filled with this Spirit of the glorified One is the one need of God’s believing people! Then we will understand ‘‘and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests’’ (Ephesians 6:18), and ‘‘pray in the Holy Spirit’’ (Jude 1:20).
Once again we see that what our prayer avails depends upon what we are and what our life is. Living in the name of Christ is the secret of praying in His name. Living in the Spirit fits one for praying in the Spirit. Abiding in Christ gives the right and the power to ask what we will. The extent of the abiding is the exact measure of the power in prayer. The Spirit dwelling within us prays, not in words and thoughts always, but in a breath deeper than utterance. There is real prayer according to how much there is of Christ’s Spirit in us. If our lives are full of Christ and full of His Spirit, the wonderfully unlimited answers to our prayers will no longer be rare or unusual. ‘‘In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf’’ (John 16:23–24, 26).
Prayer has often been compared to breathing: we have only to carry out the comparison fully to see how wonderful the place is that the Holy Spirit occupies. With every breath we expel the impure air that would soon cause our death, and inhale again the fresh air to which we owe our life. So we exhale the sins in confession and the needs and the desires of our heart in prayer. Drawing in our breath again, we inhale the fresh air of the promises, the love and the life of God in Christ. We do this through the Holy Spirit, who is the breath of life.
The Father breathes the Spirit into us to unite Him with our spirit. God draws in again His breath, and the Spirit returns to Him laden with the desires and needs of our hearts. Thus the Holy Spirit is the breath of the life of God and the breath of the new life in us. As the Spirit of God, in whom the Father and the Son are one, and the intercession of the Son reaches the Father, He is to us the Spirit of prayer. True prayer is the living experience of the truth of the holy Trinity. The Spirit’s breathing, the Son’s intercession, the Father’s will—these three become one in us.
In holy awe I bow before you, the triune God. Again I have seen how the mystery of prayer is the mystery of the holy Trinity. I adore the Father who ever hears, the Son who ever lives to pray, and the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, to lift us up into the fellowship of that ever-blessed, never-ceasing place of prayer. I bow, my God, in adoring worship before this infinite condescension that through the Holy Spirit takes us into the divine life and fellowship of love.
Blessed Lord Jesus, teach me to understand that it is the indwelling Spirit flowing from you and uniting to you who is the Spirit of prayer. Teach me what it is as an empty, wholly consecrated vessel, to yield myself to Him as my life. Teach me to honor and trust Him as a living person to lead my life and my prayers. Teach me to wait in holy silence in prayer and give Him place to breathe within me His unutterable intercession. Teach me that through Him it is possible to pray without ceasing— to pray without failing—because He makes me a partaker of the never-ceasing and never-failing intercession in which you, the Son, appear before the Father. Lord, fulfill in me your promise ‘‘In that day you will ask in my name. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.’’ Amen.