Who do you address when you pray? Do you address God? The Father? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? All three at the same time? Some religious groups teach that Christians should not pray to Jesus. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Most of the prayers in the Bible are addressed to God the Father. Because of the Lord’s prayer and the many Biblical examples of prayer to God the Father, some churches have taught that prayer must always be addressed to the Father. The Bible clearly teaches the Christian to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, but what about praying directly to Jesus?
This may seem like splitting hairs, but evaluating prayer habits is profitable. If the Bible teaches anything the proper way to pray, then Christians should desire to know and follow the instruction of Scripture.
Because God is a Trinity, there is a sense in which all prayer is addressed to the Father, the Son and the Spirit. However, because God is a Trinity there is a significant sense in which prayer is addressed specifically to one member of the Godhead. Christians cannot say that because of Trinity it does not matter which Divine person we address in prayer. The Christian must approach God in the way He prescribes. God never allowed people to approach Him any way they desired. From the very beginning God defined the way in which man must come to Him. Entering into the presence of God must always be in accord with the specific instructions laid out by God.
Does the New Testament teach the Christian to pray to Jesus? Yes, it does. In the New Testament the majority of uses of the title “Lord” are in reference to Jesus. Acts 2:36 says, “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In those places where a prayer is addressed to “the Lord” it is likely that prayer is addressed specifically to Jesus, God the Son. The New Testament contains several specific examples of prayer to Jesus. When Paul prayed to the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh, the context of 2 Corinthians 12 makes clear that Paul was praying to Jesus. When Stephen was being stoned to death he prayed, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59) In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul speaks of Christians as those who, “call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Bible ends with a prayer to Jesus. “Even so come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) Prayer to Jesus is modeled in the Bible. Prayer to Jesus is right and proper.
However, a disclaimer is necessary. The majority of prayers in the Bible are to the Father. Some are to Jesus. None are to the Spirit. Thus, the old formula, “Praying to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit” should be the pattern of Christian prayer. If the believers prayer is shaped by the Bible, then the Bible’s emphasis in prayer will also be the Christian’s emphasis in prayer.
The calls for increased gun control were repeated in the days following the mass murder at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Various individuals on Twitter drew the ire of Christians by asserting that more was needed than prayer. Things were said like, “If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn’t people at a church service be safe? Please make gun laws.” “They were praying when it happened. They don’t need our prayers. They need us to address gun violence”
Aside from the failure to realize that one can pray and address the causes and solutions to mass shootings these kinds of statements reveal a deeper misunderstanding of prayer. Wil Wheaton, known to Star Trek fans as Wesley Crusher, drew much hostility when he tweeted, “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Does the failure of prayer to protect a church from a murderous maniac prove that prayer does not work?
The failure of prayer to stop tragedy from occurring shows that what is commonly understood as prayer does not work. In America prayer is viewed as a means of getting protection, healing, provision, security or guidance. God is seen as the celestial Santa Clause who gives the devout what they want when they ask Him. The God of most Americans answers prayers like the Jesus in the country song, “Jesus take the wheel.” When the car starts to slide off the road just ask Jesus to take control and He’ll keep you from harm.
The God of the Bible promises to answer prayer but He never promises to keep Christians from harm, suffering, difficulty or tragedy. God promises to answer prayer if it meets certain criteria. The prayers God answers are those that are in accord with the character and purpose of Jesus and are prayed by a child of God through the mediation of Jesus. God does not promise to answer the prayers of the unsaved nor will he hear prayers offered to saints, relatives, spirits or dead people. (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23). God only answers prayers prayed in Jesus name and prayers that are according to His will. God will answer those prayers that are seeking His will and that are in keeping with the eternal purposes of God. (1 John 5:14-15)
God never promised to protect His children from every bad thing that could happen. God promised the opposite. “No man should be moved these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” (1 Thesalonians 2:3) God is not working to protect His people from all bad situations. God is working through bad circumstances to perfect Christians. Biblical prayer claims the promises of God. God promises to make His children like Jesus and He uses every trouble to fulfill that promise in those who love Him.
Prayer is not a magic formula to make life better. Prayer does not protect from all bad circumstances. Prayer is a bowing of the person’s will before the perfect will of God. Prayer asks for Divine favor and trust God’s goodness in all things. God works through prayer to perfect His people.