Is praying in the Spirit the same as praying in tongues? What does it mean to pray in the Spirit? What does it mean to pray in tongues? This study briefly examines the concept of praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues to see if they are the same. The goal is to live an effective Christian life by practicing what the Bible reveals to us of the kingdom of God.
There are three passages of Scripture that refer to praying in the spirit. However, they do not refer to the same thing, which we will now see.
Praying With the spirit
Let me first present the concept of praying with the spirit based on the passage of Scripture below.
1 Corinthians 14:15 (NKJV) 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.
This passage is part of a discussion on speaking in tongues by Paul. He was comparing the act of speaking in an unknown language (unknown to those listening and speaking) and of speaking in a language that the listeners and speaker knew. Speaking or praying in tongues was a gift of the Holy Spirit. Not every Christian could speak in tongues because not every Christian has the same gifts. Paul used the term to speak or pray in tongues to distinguish it from speaking or praying from the mind, i.e., the language that you knew. Therefore, when a person who has the gift of speaking in tongues begins to speak, they are speaking or praying from their spirit because their mind does not know the language or, therefore, what is being said.
So, in short, praying with the spirit is basically the same as praying in tongues. The prayer originates from the spirit of the person, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is in a language that the one praying and those listening do not know.
Praying in the Spirit
Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV) 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) But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,
These two passages of Scripture refer to something very different from 1 Corinthians 14:15. Many Bibles use a convention when referring to God. You will notice the capital “G” when the Bible text is referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, i.e., YHWH. The same convention is used here with respect to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit. The capital “S” means that it is referring to the Holy Spirit and not the spirit in general, e.g., the spirit of a person. You will notice the difference in capitalization of the word “spirit” in 1 Corinthians 14:15 and the two passages above.
Let’s look at another example of this convention.
John 4:22–24 (NKJV) —  You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.  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.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus said that true worshipers worship in spirit and in truth. To worship God in spirit means that the worship originates from the heart and is not a mere formality. That is why these are true worshipers. Why? God is Spirit and we must, therefore, worship him spiritually, i.e., with our spirit. So, the word “spirit” refers to the spirit of humans, i.e., the real you! Whereas, when referring to God, notice the capital “S.”
Praying in the Spirit means to pray with a dependency on the Holy Spirit to help you with your prayer and be consistent with God’s kingdom and ways. Praying in the Spirit means that the prayer is also from the heart and not mere words put together for effect.
Praying in the Spirit refers to a prayer that is from one’s spirit, as opposed to mere words from the mind, and it relies on the Holy Spirit to help you in your prayer.
Romans 8:26 (NKJV) 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 with the spirit (praying in tongues) is a term that Paul used to refer to a prayer that is in an unknown language.
Therefore, praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues refer to separate, though related things. Not all Christians have the gift of tongues (speaking in a language they don’t know). However, Paul tells all to pray in the Spirit, i.e., pray from your innermost being and not merely your head.
Matthew 6:7 (NKJV) — And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
Whether you are praying in tongues or in the Spirit (Holy Spirit), true prayer is one that comes from within one’s inner being, i.e., our spirit. True prayer is more than words put together in the mind and spoken. Praying with the spirit (praying in tongues) is a special case of praying in the Spirit where the prayer is rendered in a language that is not known to the one praying nor those listening.
So praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues are prayers that originate from the spirit of the person praying. Praying in the Spirit relies on the Holy Spirit to help, whereas praying with the spirit (or in tongues) is possible because of the Holy Spirit. Both are spiritual prayers, but one is a special case with regard to the language spoken.