To Whom Should We Pray?

I was recently asked about to whom we should pray, if we were to do it properly.

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We believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but when we pray, who should we address?

As New Testament Believers we look to examples of prayer in the Bible to see how we should pray properly. One of the things that makes this somewhat tricky is that regular prayers are not usually written down, but we do get glimpses of this.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

-Matt 9:7-8

The first thing to note is that when we pray, we should not seek to be impressive in our speech. It is not a formula to make prayer a kind of incantation or computer program where you simply input the right “code” to get what you want. God already knows what you want before you even ask. And it’s not about the specific words you say, in fact, even if you can’t think of the words, God still receives the prayers you need from the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:26-27).

But this brings us to the question “to whom should we pray?”

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven…”

-Matt 6:9

It is proper to pray to God the Father. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Ancient of Days. He is our Heavenly Father who wants to hear our prayers. But God is very different from us, so we can’t communicate with Him very well, that is to say, we don’t speak His language, so we an only pray “in/by the Spirit.”

In fact, the normative expression of prayer in the Bible is:

  • To the Father – the destination of our praters
  • Through the Son – in who’s name and by the authority of we are aloud to pray
  • By the Spirit – how we are able to pray and the means by which our needs reach a holy God

In general, this is how you should look at prayer, going to the Father, with the authority of Jesus, supernaturally because of the Holy Spirit. So many times we hear people praying and they seem to get this confused. They may start out talking to the Father and then say thank you for dying on the cross, etc. Jesus is not the Father, though they are one, and the Father didn’t die on the cross. But, as was said before, it is okay to get the words wrong. In fact, you can’t get the words right without the Holy Spirit anyway.

So, is it wrong to pray to Jesus? Let’s look some interesting points to illustrate the rule and perhaps exceptions:

  • Paul follows the pattern of praying to the Father

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you

-Col 1:3

  • Paul is able to pray because he prays through Jesus Christ

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

-Rom 1:8

  • But Paul also prays to Jesus as the Lord (the LXX analog to YHWH is applied to Jesus in the NT) 

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours… If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!

-1Cor 1:2; 16:22

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

-2Cor 12:8-9

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service

-1Tim 1:12

I know that we like formulas, and we like to get everything down to a technical and exact precision, but that’s just not the way it works. I think this is why we miss much of what God’s Word says to us. We jump from verse to verse to verse as though we can interpret the Bible like an algebraic equation “if verse ‘A’ means ‘X’ and verse ‘B’ means ‘Y’ then verse ‘C’ must mean ‘Z’.” But the Bible has various styles of writing, different genres, and it was not written to a modern western audience as though it is an investigative report for a national newspaper or scientific journal. We put artificial categories and restrictions on what the Bible “must mean” and we miss what the Bible is saying.

So, who do we pray to? We pray to God. The Father is God, and Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is God, but we don’t ever see anyone praying to Him in the Bible, so I think it’s safe to say that we should usually pray to the Father, but it’s good to pray to Jesus to tank Him as well, then the Spirit makes it all good in the end.

What about you? How often do you pray? What helps you to pray?

About John Harris

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

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