Praying in the Spirit Versus Praying in Tongues


What does it mean to pray in the Spirit?  Is praying in the Spirit the same as praying in tongues?  This study is dedicated to the answers to those questions.  I have heard people say that praying in the Spirit (note the capital “S”) is the same as praying in tongues.  Is that so?  Well we will soon find out by doing a basic study of the scriptures that refer to praying in the Spirit.

Scripture Lessons

  • 1 Corinthians 14:15 (NKJV) {15} What is the conclusion then? 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.
  • Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV) {18} praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—
  • Jude 20 (NKJV) {20} But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,

Consider 1 Corinthians 14:15 compared to Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20.  Notice that the word “spirit” is capitalized in the latter two verses of scripture, but not in the first scripture reference above.  This is because they are referring to two separate things, which is why I believe people equate praying in the Spirit with praying or speaking in tongues.  Let’s look at the first reference in more detail.

In 1 Corinthians 14:15 Paul is definitely talking about praying in tongues since that is the context at that point in the epistle.  However, notice that the word “spirit” is not capitalized indicating that it is not referring to the Holy Spirit as the other two verses are (it is a convention in biblical text to capitalize Spirit when referring to the Holy Spirit).  Paul is discussing the act of a person praying with his or her spirit.  That is another point to consider as well.  Notice that 1 Corinthians uses the phrase “with the spirit” as opposed to “in the Spirit” as the other two references.  Paul is talking about a person praying from the position of his or her spirit, which may not be limited to his or her known languages.  Consider the same text from the Amplified Bible, which I believe will shed more light on this.

“Then what am I to do?  I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding;…”

Notice that Paul says that he will pray with his spirit (which is made alive because the Holy Spirit is within him).  This indeed may manifest itself as speaking or praying in tongues, but not always.

Now in the other two scripture passages (Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20) we see the phrase “pray in the Spirit.”  The difference here is that praying in the Spirit refers to the position or realm of your prayer.  It means that you are guided by the Holy Spirit or in the power of the Holy Spirit.  It stands to reason that this would imply that you are also praying with your spirit, but in conjunction with the power and realm of the Holy Spirit.  Why?  In order to be guided by the Holy Spirit and pray accordingly you have to be praying with your spirit (See John 4:23-24 as an illustration).  In short you could say that praying in the Spirit refers to a prayer that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.


Praying in the Spirit refers to an inspired prayer, i.e., a prayer that is guided by the Holy Spirit and is within the realm of God so to speak.  All of our prayers may not be specifically guided by the Holy Spirit though they may be legitimate prayers.  Sometimes we pray for things we want, need, for others, etc.  However, sometimes God wants us to use the power of prayer to accomplish his will on the earth.

Romans 8:26 (NKJV) {26} Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Praying in the Spirit and praying with the spirit are separate things though related to each other.  Praying in the Spirit encompasses many types of prayers, e.g., praying in tongues, prayer walking, etc.  It simply means that your prayers are inspired by the Holy Spirit and/or that you are praying in the power and realm of the Holy Spirit.  Praying with your spirit simply means that you are praying from your spirit and not your mind.  This does not mean that praying with the mind is a bad thing (see 1 Corinthians 14:15), but rather that the particular prayer may or may not be inspired or directed by the Holy Spirit.

Praying in the Spirit or even praying with the spirit (of the person) is not necessarily the same as speaking or praying in tongues.  I am reminded of something that Jesus said.

John 4:23-24 (NKJV) {23} But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. {24} God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Our prayers, as with our worship, must be done with our spirit because God is Spirit.  Some prayers are mere repetitions of words or stock prayers spoken religiously.  Those are not necessarily spiritual prayers since they are mere words from the mind (memory).  Praying with your spirit is when you truly communicate with God and what is in your heart is expressed.  When those prayers are inspired (directed or led) by the Holy Spirit and you are praying within the realm of the Spirit then you are praying in the Spirit.  This doesn’t mean that praying with the spirit is bad and that we should all strive to only pray in the Spirit, but rather that we should realize that praying with the spirit and praying in the Spirit do not mean that you have to pray in tongues.

Though this is not an article dedicated to speaking or praying in tongues, I think it fitting that I at least say what speaking in tongues really is.  Speaking in tongues simply means speaking a language, which is mostly referring to a language that you do not know.  For example, if I started to speak Chinese then you would say that I was speaking in tongues, which is a gift of God.

Pray with your spirit.  Pray in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Allow the Holy Spirit to direct you in all aspects of your life including your prayers.  Prayer is a very powerful weapon that the Christian has.  Use it especially in accordance with the direction of the Holy Spirit whether you speak in tongues or not.  Amen.