A podcast listener named Joe writes in to ask a perplexing question faced by us all: “Should I pray to Jesus, or to the Spirit, or to the Father?”
It is remarkable how many people over the years have asked me this question. It is just one of the most common and it is a good one. And I think I understand why it comes up so much — because we have traditions that most of us grew up in and we wonder, well, is that tradition the only permissible way?
For example, most of us — it is true for me and my family — most of us in the evangelical family probably grew up beginning our prayers with “heavenly Father” or “our Father” or “dear Father” and ending them with, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” That is a liturgy that we just learned. Pray to the Father, close in Jesus’ name. Amen. And, frankly, I am going to argue that is a great tradition. I think children should grow up with that form as the main form of their prayer. Pray to God the Father in the power of God the Spirit, in the name or by the authority and the merit of God the Son. That is the trinitarian structure mainly of prayer in the Bible.
Focus on the Father
And so it is not surprising that it is profoundly rooted in Scripture:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. (Hebrews 4:14–16)
“Pray to the Father in the power of the Spirit, in the name or by the authority and the merit of the Son. That is the Bible’s trinitarian prayer structure.”
We only can come to God in prayer pleading for grace, because we have a high priest, which is why we pray in Jesus’ name. I would never let my kids — at least I tried not to — use “in Jesus’ name, amen” as a throwaway phrase at the end of prayer. I told them, don’t slur that, don’t rush that. These words express something glorious and essential. We have no access to God without Christ and his name. And so when we pray in Jesus’ name we are saying that to the Father. I am coming not in my own name, not in my own merit, not in my own worth. I am coming because Christ loved me. Christ died for me. Christ rose for me. Christ intercedes for me. That is what that little phrase carries. And it is just huge.
And Paul draws in the third member of the trinity in Ephesians 6:18: “praying at all times in the Spirit.” Or Jude 1:20: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,” which I think means, realize that your heart would never have an inclination to pray to God for true blessing apart from the humbling, transforming, faith-giving work of the Holy Spirit. So confess this. Say this to the Lord and to yourself. I rely upon the Holy Spirit when I pray in Jesus’ name to the Father. And, of course, Jesus put it totally plainly in John 15:16: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you.”
Don’t Neglect the Son and Spirit
Now having said “amen,” that is the basic right, good tradition. I want to also say it is good and it is healthy to speak to Jesus as your friend and Savior and Lord and guide and to the Holy Spirit. Even though some manuscripts are different here, the best one, most of the modern translations translate John 14:14 like this. Jesus said: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” And Revelation 22:20: We are speaking to Jesus when we say, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’” And we respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Or 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.” And then we talk to the Lord: “Our Lord, come!”
“We have no access to God without Christ and his name. And so when we pray in Jesus’ name we are saying that to the Father.”
And, frankly, my own soul says: If I grieve the Holy Spirit — which it says I do in Ephesians 4:30 — I think I should say I am sorry to the Holy Spirit. I mean, it is just strange if he is a person and I have grieved him that I would just ignore talking to him and go to the Father and say: I am sorry I grieved your Spirit. Well, that is okay, but there is something profound in the trinitarian reality of the personhood of the Son and the Spirit that we would treat them as persons.
So my conclusion is: Let your normal, regular praying be prayer to the Father through the Spirit in the name of Jesus, but realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are persons and to speak to them as a saved sinner would, cannot be unnatural.