Image for How the Spirit Helps Us Pray to Our Father Who Is in Heaven

How the Spirit Helps Us Pray to Our Father Who Is in Heaven

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He is the editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College. He has a bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). His books include the Popular Handbook of World Religions (general editor), Real Life Theology: Fuel for Effective and Faithful Disciple Making (co-general editor), Mirage: 5 Things People Want From God That Don't Exist, and The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (co-authored with Norman Geisler).

How do we pray to “our Father who is in heaven”? It’s a process that involves God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. It is God’s Son Jesus who taught us to pray to our Father, and it is the Holy Spirit who continually reminds us that he is our Father who loves us and whom we can trust. As we learn to walk by the Spirit, our prayers become bigger, as we focus on God’s kingdom coming and his will being done.

Just Doing Something a Lot Doesn’t Make Us Good at It

Some of the books I enjoy reading are murder mysteries. My favorites are Agatha Christie’s. In most of her books we find out somebody’s been killed, and everyone is left asking who did it. Was it the stepson? Was it the widow? Was it the longtime friend, the daughter of the deceased, the maid, the toxicologist?

Even though I’ve listened to numerous Agatha Christie murder mysteries, by the end of the book when they finally reveal who it was, do you know what I’ve never actually been able to say? I’ve never actually said, “I knew it!” My typical response is more a drawn out, “I’ll be!” It doesn’t seem to matter how many murder mysteries I read, I keep assuming the posture of the clueless bystander.

Just because you do something a lot doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

There’s a statement in Romans 8 which can strike us as a bit of an insult. In the middle of Romans 8:26, the apostle Paul says, “We do not know what we ought to pray for.”


“We do not know what we ought to pray for.”


That’s not very flattering, especially for those of us who pray a lot. Many of us pray quite a few times throughout the day. Paul is implying that, even when we pray, we often don’t even know what we’re even supposed to be praying about.

In other words, just because we pray—even a lot—doesn’t mean we’re good at it.

Teach Us to Pray to Our Father in Heaven

Jesus’ twelve disciples had grown up in homes that taught them to pray. They would have learned how to pray traditional Jewish prayers. Yet when they met Jesus and started hanging out with him, they realized they were not very good at this prayer thing. So, they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

It’s not as though they hadn’t already been praying all their lives. Yet they realized that just because you do something a lot doesn’t mean you’re good at it. And Jesus’ answer was to teach them to pray what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.” This is the version given in the Gospel of Luke:

One of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1b-4)

If we’re honest, we’ll admit we too need help learning how to pray. So, it’s great news when we read in the New Testament that one of the ways the Holy Spirit helps followers of Jesus is by helping us pray.


“One of the ways the Holy Spirit helps followers of Jesus is by helping us pray.”


The Holy Spirit Helps Us Pray to Our Father Who Is in Heaven

Scripture implies that we do not naturally know how to pray well. But that’s not meant to be a discouragement. Rather, it’s meant to encourage us to tap into our source of help for learning to pray. Do you recall the statement from Romans 8 which told us, “We do not know what we ought to pray for”? These words are sandwiched in a verse which actually tells us the solution to our prayer predicament:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

God answers our inability to pray well by giving us the Holy Spirit. Paul follows this verse up with even more encouragement: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Rom. 8:27). The Holy Spirit not only helps us pray to our Father, but he also actively goes to our Father on our behalf. These are incredibly reassuring truths.


“The Holy Spirit not only helps us pray to our Father, but he also actively goes to our Father on our behalf.”


So, how does the Holy Spirit help us to pray to our Father?

The Spirit Invites Us into a Deeper Choice Than Just Good and Bad

As followers of Jesus, we are invited into a new way of living—what Paul calls “walking by the Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:18; Gal. 5:16). This means letting the Holy Spirit lead us. This means allowing the Holy Spirit to grow his fruit in us. And walking by the Spirit and letting him grow his fruit in our lives is how how we learn to pray better.

Here’s how I’ve found that it works out in my own life: I personally have to make a shift. Growing up, it was easy to assume that the main choice in life was between good and bad. I reasoned that the main choice to make is choosing the good instead of choosing the bad. And obviously, that’s important to do. Instead of getting into a fight with your brother, you should forgive. Instead of telling a lie, you should tell the truth. Instead of shoving the mess under the bed, you should pick up your room. You should say no to the bad and say yes to the good.


“Growing up, it was easy to assume that the main choice in life was between good and bad.”


However, it’s more complicated than that. Because what happens when you say yes to the good enough times, especially in public, to where people start saying, “Wow, that’s a good person!”? “That boy is respectful to his teachers.” “That girl knows her Bible.” “That’s a good kid!” Enough of that, and we start to believe it. Yeah, I really am a good person. Great, really. I’m not like those other people. I’m one of the good kids. The result of that way of thinking is that you end up prideful about yourself, looking down your nose at other people. And that’s actually one of the worst character traits to cultivate!

That’s why we have to go deeper than just saying no to the bad and saying yes to the good. That’s why the New Testament gives us a deeper choice than just choosing the good over the bad. The New Testament takes us deeper by presenting it as a choice between obeying your flesh—just doing whatever your desires tell you to do—and walking by the Spirit. Walking by the Spirit means letting the Holy Spirit lead you, wanting what he wants, and letting him grow the fruit of the Spirit in your life.

Obeying your flesh or walking by the Spirit—that’s the central choice when it comes to how we live. Paul paints the contrast in Galatians 5:16-17:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.


“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”


What does each path get you? Here’s the fruit of obeying your flesh:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Here’s the fruit of walking by the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22-25)

So, do you want to learn to pray to our Father who is in heaven? The key is to walk by the Spirit.

Walking by the Spirit Is Key to Praying to Our Father Who Is In Heaven

How does walking by the Spirit connect to prayer? Here’s how: If I’m just obeying my flesh, my prayers are going to be pretty selfish. Yet, if I’m walking by the Spirit, my prayers are going to be far more substantive. Romans 8:5 explains,

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

If I’m walking by the Spirit, with him leading me and growing his fruit in my life, then I’m going to increasingly desire what he desires. What he wants is what I’m going to be praying for.


If I’m walking by the Spirit, with him leading me and growing his fruit in my life, then I’m going to increasingly desire what he desires.


As I walk by the Spirit, my prayers will get bigger. I’ll begin caring about things bigger than my own comfort, my own status, my own wants. I’ll start caring about his kingdom coming and his will being done.

The Easy Prayers to Pray

If I’m being honest, for the most part, it’s not hard for me to pray the last half of the Lord’s Prayer. “Give us today our daily bread”? We pray for God’s provision all the time. “Forgive us our debts”? That’s not hard for me to pray, because when I’ve done something stupid, I can go to God and say, “Please forgive me.” That’s not hard to pray. “Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us.” That’s also an easy one to pray because it’s a crazy world out there, and I need his help navigating it. It’s not hard for me to pray things like, “Give to me.” “Forgive me.” “Help me.” “Deliver me.”

But do you know what’s kind of hard for me to want to pray? It’s the first two lines of the Lord’s prayer.

It’s the verses that aren’t about me:

“Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10)

If I’m going to pray and mean those words, I’m going to need serious help.

Seeking the Kingdom of Our Father Who Is in Heaven

The good news is that, when I’m walking by the Spirit and letting him lead, then I’m actually able to want to pray those first two lines of the Lord’s Prayer. If I’m walking by the Spirit, wanting what he wants, then my prayers refocus from my comfort to his kingdom. My prayers expand from, “Help me” to “Praise King Jesus.” My prayers go from, “Make me happy” to “Make disciples of all nations.”


“If I’m walking by the Spirit, wanting what he wants, then my prayers refocus from my comfort to his kingdom.”


When I’m walking by the Spirit, then I start wanting to pray, “Hallowed be your name. Your name be set apart as famous. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.”

How does the Holy Spirit help us pray to our Father in heaven? He takes our tiny me-centered prayers, and he stretches them to where our prayers become much bigger than us.

Where Prayer to Our Father Who Is Heaven Starts

If we stopped this article right here, we’ve already got quite a bit mileage for helping us learn how to pray better. We’ve learned:

  • It is easy to pray me-centered prayers.
  • When we walk by the Holy Spirit, we learn to pray for what he desires.
  • The Spirit teaches us to pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done.

Even still, prayer can feel more like a duty we must do, an item we must check off the to-do list, than something we can’t get enough of. True, it’s easy to be motivated to pray when we have a pressing need. But why pray at other times? What’s the motivation for connecting with God though prayer when there isn’t a family emergency or a potentially scary upcoming trip to the doctor?

Theoretically, it makes sense that we should want to walk by the Spirit so we can learn to pray kingdom-minded prayers. But amid the busyness of life, is there any pressing motivation for reorienting our lives toward these spiritual pursuits?


“Amid the busyness of life, is there any pressing motivation for reorienting our lives toward these spiritual pursuits?”


Again, this is where we turn for help to the Holy Spirit. He not only teaches us to pray the first two lines of the Lord’s Prayer, reorienting the focus of our prayers. He also teaches us why we should want to pray in the first place.

How does he do that? He does this by wanting to pray the Lord’s Prayer’s first two words.

Our Father Who Is in Heaven

Again, in Romans 8, Paul’s discussion on how the Holy Spirit helps us pray reveals to us how the Holy Spirit helps us pray the first two lines of the Lord’s Prayer.

Yet, even more fundamentally, the Holy Spirit helps us pray the Lord’s Prayer’s first two words: “Our Father.” How does he do this? Romans 8:14-16 explains,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Rom. 8:14-16)


“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”


If anything helps me to want to pray, it’s knowing that God isn’t only a Judge I’m going to stand before. He’s not only a Creator who created humans a long time ago, and I’m just one of the billions who came from that. It’s knowing that God is my Father.

If anything helps me to pray, it’s knowing that, when I pray, I’m going to my Father. The Holy Spirit opens my eyes so I can see that.

One of the Holy Spirit’s primary goals is to remind us who we are in relation to God. You know who you are, right? You’re not a failure. You’re not your past. You’re not your number of YouTube views or Facebook likes. You’re not your salary numbers, your physical weaknesses, your embarrassing moments, or your awkwardness in conversation.

So, what are we? The Holy Spirit reminds us that you and I are children of God. We’ve been adopted into his family. We’re royalty.


“The Holy Spirit reminds us that you and I are children of God.”


As in, you can go to God anytime and he wants to hear from you. Why does he want to hear from you? It’s because he’s your Father.

Learning from the Spirit that God is my Father teaches me how to pray, but it does more than that: It makes me want to.