Phil asks, “What is the difference between praying in the Spirit and praying in tongues?”
Thank you for your question!
Praying in the Spirit is an attitude and fervency toward prayer that all believers can and should utilize in their prayer lives on a regular basis. Praying or speaking in tongues is a specific spiritual gift given by God for specific people during a specific time and for a specific purpose.
We know that praying in the Spirit is not a specific spiritual gift, because the apostles command all believers to pray in the Spirit. Jude instructs all believers in “Building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).
As a matter of practice, praying in the Spirit is a posture toward prayer that involves every part of your body, soul, mind, and Spirit. It involves tuning your heart to the will of God and allowing the Spirit, who dwells within you, to search your mind and guide your prayers in a way that unites your heart with God’s.
The Bible also makes clear that praying in the Spirit can help us pray when we may not know exactly what to say or when our emotions are too confusing to process. Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
Praying in tongues, however, involves the Spirit speaking through the mouth of a person with words or syllables that the speaker would not be able to comprehend. For that reason, the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues could only be manifested when someone with the gift of interpreting tongues was also present, to make the message clear to both the speaker and the hearer.
There is significant theological debate about whether the gift of tongues has ceased or continues to this day, but most Bible scholars agree that praying in tongues was a specific spiritual gift only given to a few in the church body. But praying in the Spirit is not just possible for all believers, it is commanded.