Many years ago, John R. Rice was preaching at a conference when he opened his address with this prayer: “Oh Father, breathe on me. Lord Jesus, help me to preach tonight. Holy Spirit, give me power.” Immediately afterwards a young preacher chastised Dr. Rice saying “You made a serious mistake when you prayed. The proper procedure is to pray to the Father through the Son and in the Spirit.” Dr. Rice looked at him with a sheepish grin and replied, “Son, I’ve been in that family a long time. I know them all personally.”1
This humorous story begs the question, “To whom should Christians pray?” On the surface, the answer might seem obvious. Christians are to pray to the God of the Bible as opposed to Allah and other false gods, or to Mary and the saints as practiced by Roman Catholics.
However, God has revealed Himself to be a Triune God—one God, three Persons. He is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. To which member(s) of the Trinity should we pray? There are three options: (1) We are to pray only to one Person of the Trinity; (2) We are to pray to all three Persons of the Trinity; or (3) We are to pray to more than one, but not all three Persons of the Trinity. Which option is correct? Which one is best supported with Scripture?
Certainly there is evidence for Christians to pray to God the Father. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, He instructed them to address their prayers to “Our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Jesus modeled prayer life for His disciples by regularly praying to the Father (Matt. 11:25-26; Luke 22:41-44; John 17:1-26). Christians are, in fact, commanded to pray to the Father (Eph. 5:19-20).
Some Christians argue that since Jesus taught His disciples to pray to the Father, we are amiss if we pray to either the Son or the Holy Spirit. While we learn a great deal from the Lord’s Prayer, it does not teach us everything we should know about talking to God. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are commanded to pray continually, giving thanks in all circumstances. Yet, giving thanks to God is never mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer. I like what Dr. Mark Bird had to say about this, “Christ’s words, ‘Our Father in heaven’, don’t keep us from praying to Jesus any more than his words, ‘Give us today our daily bread’, keep us from praying for something to drink.”2
There is just as much evidence for Christians to pray to Jesus as there is for us to pray to the Father. In John 14:13-14, Jesus told His followers, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” In laying out the gospel, Paul gives the assurance that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). And the book of Revelation concludes with a prayer for Christ’s return, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). If you think about it, the invitation to pray to Jesus makes sense. We speak of Christianity not as a religion, but as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. How can you have a personal relationship with someone to whom you never speak?
Although there is clear biblical evidence that Christians should pray to the Father and the Son, there is no explicit teaching that we should pray to the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we are not forbidden to do so. Some Christians might argue that we should not pray to the Holy Spirit because His responsibility is to point to Jesus, never to draw attention to Himself (John 15:26). However, Paul mentions that Christians have fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1). Again, it is hard to imagine that we have fellowship with the Spirit, but are not permitted to speak to Him.
In general, I do believe that it is appropriate for Christians to pray to God the Father (Matt. 6:9) in the name of the Son (John 16:23)3 through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27). This seems to be the biblical pattern prescribed in the New Testament. However, there are times when we might choose to direct our prayers to either the Son or the Holy Spirit because we are concentrating on a specific work one of them has accomplished or has promised to accomplish in our lives. For example, we may pray directly to Jesus, focusing on His Lordship and affirming our commitment to daily take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Furthermore, when given the opportunity to be a witness for Christ, we may ask the Holy Spirit to grant us boldness in the moment (Eph. 6:19-20).
God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all worthy of worship and deserving of our adoration and praise. A personal relationship with God involves communing with Him, voicing commitment to Him, expressing dependence upon Him, and asking for His help in times of need. If we are leaving one member of the Trinity out of our prayer life completely, there may be a problem with our view of that Person. Communicating with each Person in the Godhead is important for us to have fellowship with the Triune God. With these biblical principles in mind, I believe that our prayers need not be restricted to God the Father.
3When Jesus told His followers to pray in His name, He wasn’t asking us to use a particular phrase at the end of each of our prayers, though the expression, “in Jesus’ name, Amen” is certainly appropriate. Jesus tells us to come before God on the basis of His authority. We have direct access to God in prayer because of who Jesus is, what He accomplished for us on the cross, and the promise He gave us (Heb. 10:19-22).