As a young Christian, I would often go to a weekly prayer meeting at the local church I attended. It was there that I first noticed how many people began their prayers by addressing God as, “Lord Jesus” or “Jesus” or “Christ,” rather than by addressing Him as “Our Father” or “Our God.” I wasn’t sure whether or not it was right for us to pray directly to the Son and Spirit or whether we should specifically address the Father. Occasionally, someone–with whom I was praying–would address God with the trinitarian formula, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” For whatever reason, I was more comfortable with that sort of address than I was with the singular address to the Son or Spirit. But, was I right to be uncomfortable when prayer was addressed in this way?
I was fully convinced from the Scriptures that the Son is God in every way that God is God. After all, the the Apostle Paul explicitly tells us that Christ has eternally been in “the form of God” (Phil. 2:5). B.B. Warfield explained the significance of that phrase when he wrote:
“‘The form of God’ is the sum of the characteristics which make the being we call ‘God,’ specifically God, rather than some other being – an angel, say, or a man. When Our Lord is said to be in ‘the form of God,’ therefore, He is declared, in the most express manner possible, to be all that God is, to possess the whole fulness of attributes which make God God” (B.B. Warield, The Person of Christ).
I was also fully convinced from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is a personal being rather than an impersonal force–he is the same in substance, equal in power and glory, with the Father and the Son. The writer of Hebrews appealed to the Spirit’s personal and divine authorship of Psalm 95 when he wrote, “As the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice…’” The Spirit actively speaks through the Scriptures that He Himself inspired through the prophets. When Simon Peter brought the indictment against Ananias and Sapphira for their lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), he said, “You have not lied to men, but to God.” Additionally, when the Apostle Paul gave the elders in Ephesus his parting admonition, he charged them in the following manner: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” The Holy Spirit is a personal and active member of the Godhead, appointing men to be shepherds of the flock of God.
Still, for right or wrong, there was something about hearing others address the second or third members of the Godhead that left me unconformable. In turn, I set out to study this issue in order to see whether or not my suspicions were right. What I needed then was to be settled about the following questions: Can we address God generally in prayer? Should we only pray to the Father in the name of Jesus? Is it right to pray to directly to Jesus? Is it right to pray directly to the Holy Spirit? Serious-minded Christians have, no doubt, considered these and related questions when they have approached the subject of prayer. The fact of the matter is that Scripture treats this subject both with more care and less specificity than one might suppose. A brief survey of pertinent passages will prove to be extremely beneficial as we seek to draw conclusions about the person(s) of the Godhead to whom we should address our prayers.
Old Testament Prayers
In the Old Testament era (prior to the full unfolding of the mystery of God’s triunity), believers addressed God in prayer, employing the many names by which He revealed Himself to them redemptive history. The names that God revealed to His people carried with them significance in relation to either His attributes or acts. Here are a few of God’s names that we find believers using when addressing God or speaking about Him in the Old Testament:
- El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)
- El Elyon (The Most High God)
- Adonai (Lord, Master)
- Yahweh (the Covenant Lord, Jehovah)
- Jehovah Nissi (The Covenant Lord My Banner)
- Jehovah-Raah (The Covenant Lord My Shepherd)
- Jehovah Rapha (The Covenant Lord That Heals)
- Jehovah Shammah (The Covenant Lord Is There)
- Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Covenant Lord Our Righteousness)
- Jehovah Mekoddishkem (The Covenant Lord Who Sanctifies You)
- El Olam (The Everlasting God)
- Elohim (the Creator God)
- Qanna (Jealous)
- Jehovah Jireh (The Covenant Lord Will Provide – יְהוָ֖ה יֵרָאֶֽה)
- Jehovah Shalom (The Covenant Lord Is Peace)
- Jehovah Sabaoth (The Covenant Lord of Hosts)
The Wisdom Literature
In the Psalms, David often addressed God in a variety of ways. Sometimes he made his prayer to Elohim (i.e. the Creator God). At other times he appealed to Yahweh (i.e. Jehovah – the Covenant Lord), especially whey he cried out for salvation or deliverance. Of course, David also addressed God with the name Adonai (i.e. Lord, Master). The author of Hebrews highlighted the fact that the dialogue between Yahweh and Adonai (“the Lord said to my Lord”) in Psalm 110:1 revealed the mystery of the Trinity. It does so by showcasing the communion that exists between the first two persons in the Godhead (Matt. 22:41-46; Heb. 1:13). We learn from that passage that the members of the Godhead exist in perfect unity; yet, maintain their distinction in personal subsistence. The various use of names teaches us that, even in the Old Covenant economy, the different members of the Godhead can be addressed in prayer.
Before and during Israel’s exile in Babylon, the prophets addressed God in a variety of ways that are instructive to us regarding our prayer life. Many times, the prophets addressed God in prayer as the Covenant Lord (i.e. Yahweh) and sometimes as the Mighty One or the Creator (i.e. Elohim). One of the most significant prophetic prayers is found in the prophecy of Ezekiel. When the Lord called Ezekiel out to the valley of dry bones (a symbol of the spiritual deadness of the covenant people), He commanded Ezekiel to “prophecy to the Spirit and say…'” There the Lord commanding Ezekiel to pray to the Spirit. Apart from being a proof text for the deity of the Holy Spirit, this passage teaches us that it is right for us to pray directly to the Holy Spirit for His promised work of regeneration.
Jesus’ teaching about prayer is most instructive. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to address their prayers to God the Father: “In this way pray, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven…” Westminster Larger Catechism 189 explains the significance of this in the following way:
“The preface of the Lord’s Prayer (contained in these words, Our Father which art in heaven, teaches us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein; with reverence, and all other childlike dispositions, heavenly affections, and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension; as also, to pray with and for others.”
Additionally, Jesus addressed all of his prayers to the Father. Whether it was in the High Priestly prayer in the Upper Room, in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the cross, Jesus always began his prayers by calling on God the Father. This is, no doubt, on account of the fact that he had come to do the will of his Father and to glorify his Father in the mission on which he was sent by the Father. In the economy of redemption, the second person of the Godhead prayed to the first person of the Godhead
In the Upper Room discourse, Jesus taught his disciples the significance of praying “in his name” when he said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do” (John 14:13), “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16), and “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23). In this way, Jesus was highlighting his role as the mediator between God and man. The same Christ who said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” taught us that the Father only hears us when we pray to Him through the mediatorial work of the Son in accord with the truth of His word.
The Apostolic Prayers
When we move into the early days of the New Covenant era, we find Stephen–the first Christian martyr–crying out as he was stoned, “Lord Jesus, into your hands…” Here is the first reference we find in the New Testament in which we see that it is altogether right for believers to pray directly to the Son of God. Jesus is God and as such deserves the same worshipful approach as the Father. Saul of Tarsus, in his conversion prayer, also prayed directly to Jesus. When he heard the voice from heaven, he said, “‘Lord, who are you?” The response? “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
In the New Testament epistles, we find that the majority of prayers are addressed directly to the Father. For instance, the Apostle Paul explained his prayerful commitment for the well being of the members of the fledgling church when he said, “I bow my knees to the Father…” (Eph. 3:14). In calling his readers to pursue a life of holy living, Simon Peter wrote, “If you call on the Father…conduct yourself throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear.” There are numerous other places in the NT that lead us to conclude that ordinarily, the Father is the proper subject of address in prayer.
Though this is much more that the Scriptures have to teach us about this subject, I have come to the settled position that it is right for us to address each and every person of the Godhead in prayer–honoring each one as the infinite and eternal God. We would err if we did not treat the Son and Spirit as co-equal members of the Godhead in this way. However, in the economy of redemption, the ordinary way in which God is to be addressed in prayer is as “our Father,” even “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in the name of Jesus (i.e. through his mediation) by the power of the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle puts it, “Through him (i.e. Christ) we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18).