Two of the most deeply significant passages in the Bible on the subject of the Holy Spirit and on the subject of prayer are found in Jude 20 and Eph. vi. 18. In Jude 20 we read, "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost," and in Eph. vi. 18, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints."
These passages teach us distinctly that the Holy Spirit guides the believer in prayer. The disciples did not know how to pray as they ought so they came to Jesus and said, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke xi. 1). We to-day do not know how to pray as we ought--we do not know what to pray for, nor how to ask for it--but there is One who is always at hand to help (John xiv. 16, 17) and He knows what we should pray for. He helps our infirmity in this matter of prayer as in other matters (Rom. viii. 26, R. V.). He teaches us to pray. True prayer is prayer in the Spirit (i. e., the prayer that the Holy Spirit inspires and directs). The prayer in which the Holy Spirit leads us is the prayer "according to the will of God" (Rom. viii. 27). When we ask anything according to God's will, we know that He hears us and we know that He has granted the things that we ask (1 John v. 14, 15). We may know it is ours at the moment when we pray just as surely as we know it afterwards when we have it in our actual possession. But how can we know the will of God when we pray? In two ways: First of all, by what is written in His Word; all the promises in the Bible are sure and if God promises anything in the Bible, we may be sure it is His will to give us that thing; but there are many things that we need which are not specifically promised in the Word and still even in that case it is our privilege to know the will of God, for it is the work of the Holy Spirit to teach us God's will and lead us out in prayer along the line of God's will. Some object to the Christian doctrine of prayer; for they say that it teaches that we can go to God in our ignorance and change His will and subject His infinite wisdom to our erring foolishness. But that is not the Christian doctrine of prayer at all; the Christian doctrine of prayer is that it is the believer's privilege to be taught by the Spirit of God Himself to know what the will of God is and not to ask for the things that our foolishness would prompt us to ask for but to ask for things that the never-erring Spirit of God prompts us to ask for. True prayer is prayer "in the Spirit," that is, the prayer which the Spirit inspires and directs. When we come into God's presence, we should recognize our infirmity, our ignorance of what is best for us, our ignorance of what we should pray for, our ignorance of how we should pray for it and in the consciousness of our utter inability to pray aright look up to the Holy Spirit to teach us to pray, and cast ourselves utterly upon Him to direct our prayers and to lead out our desires and guide our utterance of them. There is no place where we need to recognize our ignorance more than we do in prayer. Rushing heedlessly into God's presence and asking the first thing that comes into our minds, or that some other thoughtless one asks us to pray for, is not praying "in the Holy Spirit" and is not true prayer. We must wait for the Holy Spirit and surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit. The prayer that God, the Holy Spirit, inspires is the prayer that God, the Father, answers.
The longings which the Holy Spirit begets in our hearts are often too deep for utterance, too deep apparently for clear and definite comprehension on the part of the believer himself in whom the Spirit is working--"The Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. viii. 26, R. V.). God Himself "must search the heart" to know what is "the mind of the Spirit" in these unuttered and unutterable longings. But God does know what is the mind of the Spirit; He does know what these Spirit-given longings which we cannot put into words mean, even if we do not, and these longings are "according to the will of God," and God grants them. It is in this way that it comes to pass that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us (Eph. iii. 20). There are other times when the Spirit's leadings are so clear that we pray with the Spirit and with the understanding also (1 Cor. xiv. 15). We distinctly understand what it is that the Holy Spirit leads us to pray for.
II. The Holy Spirit inspires the believer and guides him in thanksgiving as well as in prayer. We read in Eph. v. 18-20, R. V., "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." Not only does the Holy Spirit teach us to pray, He also teaches us to render thanks. One of the most prominent characteristics of the Spirit-filled life is thanksgiving. On the Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance, we hear them telling the wonderful works of God (Acts ii. 4, 11), and to-day when any believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, he always becomes filled with thanksgiving and praise. True thanksgiving is "to God, even the Father," through, or "in the name of" our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
III. The Holy Spirit inspires worship on the part of the believer. We read in Phil. iii. 3, R. V., "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Prayer is not worship; thanksgiving is not worship. Worship is a definite act of the creature in relation to God. Worship is bowing before God in adoring acknowledgment and contemplation of Himself and the perfection of His being. Some one has said, "In our prayers, we are taken up with our needs; in our thanksgiving we are taken up with our blessings; in our worship, we are taken up with Himself." There is no true and acceptable worship except that which the Holy Spirit prompts and directs. "God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and truth; for such doth the Father seek to be His worshippers" (John iv. 24, 23). The flesh seeks to intrude into every sphere of life. The flesh has its worship as well as its lusts. The worship which the flesh prompts is an abomination unto God. In this we see the folly of any attempt at a congress of religions where the representatives of radically different religions attempt to worship together.
Not all earnest and honest worship is worship in the Spirit. A man may be very honest and very earnest in his worship and still not have submitted himself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the matter and so his worship is in the flesh. Oftentimes even when there is great loyalty to the letter of the Word, worship may not be "in the Spirit," i. e., inspired and directed by Him. To worship aright, as Paul puts it, we must have "no confidence in the flesh," that is, we must recognize the utter inability of the flesh (our natural self as contrasted to the Divine Spirit that dwells in and should mould everything in the believer) to worship acceptably. And we must also realize the danger that there is that the flesh intrude itself into our worship. In utter self-distrust and self-abnegation we must cast ourselves upon the Holy Spirit to lead us aright in our worship. Just as we must renounce any merit in ourselves and cast ourselves upon Christ and His work for us upon the cross for justification, just so we must renounce any supposed capacity for good in ourselves and cast ourselves utterly upon the Holy Spirit and His work in us, in holy living, knowing, praying, thanking and worshipping and all else that we are to do.