John Bunyan wrote a book on praying in the Spirit. He said: ‘There is no man nor church in the world that can come to God in prayer, but by assistance of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘If men did see their sins, yet without the help of the Spirit they would not pray.’ ‘There is nothing but the Spirit that can lift up the soul or heart to God in prayer.’ ‘The soul that rightly prays, it must be in and with the help and strength of the Spirit; because it is impossible that a man should express himself in prayer without it.’ He explains:
O how great a task it is, for a poor soul that becomes sensible of sin and the wrath of God, to say in faith but this one world, “Father!” … O! says he, I dare not call him Father; and hence it is that the Spirit must be sent into the hearts of God’s people for this very thing, to cry Abba, Father: it being too great a work for any man to do knowingly and believingly without it.
Without the Spirit we wouldn’t pray. Do an experiment with me. Every day for a month ask the Queen for something. Wherever you are, speak out loud a request to the Queen. I suspect you won’t keep it up for a month because it’s a futile exercise. Try it now. Say out loud, ‘Hello your Majesty. Could I have an invitation to Buckingham Palace?’ It feels stupid. For one thing, she’s not there with you. What’s the point of asking for something when she can’t hear you? And even if she was in the room with you, her likely response would be, ‘Who are you?’ Or perhaps she would just call security to have you removed. She might respond to one of her children, but you have no claim on her.
Why doesn’t prayer feel like this? The answer is that we have the Holy Spirit. When we pray we feel connected to the Father because that’s what’s happening – the Spirit is connecting us to the Father. When we pray we feel the Father hears us because the Spirit assures us that he is our Father (Romans 8:14-16). If the Spirit wasn’t at work in your heart then you just wouldn’t pray. Every time you tried to pray you would feel like a mad man ranting in the street or a child talking to their imaginary friend.
But we do pray, we can pray, we should pray because the Spirit assures that God is our Father who longs to hear us. The Spirit of God enables us to share the experience of sonship that God the Son experiences. That is a glorious gift of grace. It means confidence, intimacy and joy.