Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is it biblical to pray directly to the Holy Spirit?

Question: Is it biblical to pray directly to the Holy Spirit?

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."

The problem with the young man's comments is that he betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Scritpure. Notice his statement: "Pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. While that is a nifty use of English prepositions, it doesn't really square with the Biblical evidence. 

When we look at the biblical data, we must immediately admit we have no example or command in Scripture to pray to the Holy Spirit. Of course, there is no verse that says we cannot either. Yet we should understand that the default pattern of prayer for a New Testament believer is to address our prayers directly to the Father. Jesus even teaches us that we should pray this way (see Matt 6:9-13). But the New Testament does give many examples of believers praying directly to Jesus:

  1. John tells us we can pray to Jesus:  1 John 5:11-15 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
  2. Paul prayed to Jesus, and specifically mentions having done so at least 3x regarding a specific issue (2 Cor 12:7-9).
  3. Paul assumed the Corinthian believers regularly pray to Jesus: 1 Corinthians 1:2 – "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.
  4. Paul commands us to sing praise (musical prayers) directly to Jesus: Ephesians 5:19 – “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”
  5. Peter urges Simon the Sorcerer to pray to Jesus (note: the KJV renders this differently, but the Greek clearly says “tou kuriou”, or "to the Lord”): “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22).
  6. The apostle John ends the book of Revelation with a prayer to Jesus: “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).
  7. Stephen, just before his death, prays directly to Jesus: “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”(Acts 7:57).
  8. The 11 apostles prayed to regarding whom should replace Judas as the 12th apostle: “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen” (Acts 1:24)
As Scripture allows us to pray to two members of the Trinity, many assume that it is therefore equally appropriate to pray directly to the Holy Spirit. Scripture never actually forbids prayer to the Holy Spirit, so calling it an "unbiblical" practice is essentially an argument from silence, which is not very convincing. Also, from a theological and Trinitarian point of view we must understand that the Spirit is fully God, and therefore worthy of our worship and prayer. Thus, forbidding this practice outright perhaps displays a distorted view of the Trinity. We probably even see allusions to this type of prayer in Isaiah 6:3 (cf Rev 4:8) where the angels sing "Holy, holy, holy". Most interpreters of Scripture see the three "holy's" as a reference to the Trinitarian nature of God. The prayers of believers are, ultimately, received by the Trinitarian God.

But if we take the biblical record seriously we must admit that the Spirit's divine power relating to prayer is most clearly displayed by aiding and empower our prayer life...even to the point of uttering prayers on our behalf (cf Romans 8:26). In similar fashion, Jesus' divine power is displayed by serving as the mediator between us and the Father. However, though Jesus takes us to God in prayer, we are still clearly allowed to pray to Jesus. Many apply the same argument to the Holy Spirit.

So, the greatest argument in favor of praying to the Spirit is appeal to the clear biblical witness that we can and should pray to Jesus. While not the most convincing evidence, it does suggest we go too far by openly declaring such a practice to be 'unbiblical'. We dare not forbid what God hasn't forbidden...though I would suggest caution on a spiritual practice on which Scripture is silent.

We should follow the pattern of prayer set by Jesus and the Apostles in Scripture. In general, our prayers should be directed to the Father in Jesus' name. Yet it is clearly appropriate and expected that we would also pray to our Lord Jesus. Perhaps the same is true of the Spirit. 

9 comments:

  1. That means that anything the Bible does not psecifically say can be done!
    Why not just do as He says in simple obedience & not work out another way He doesnt tell us. the Church is full of that stuff

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    1. Anonymous, the problem is that YOU already do LOTS of stuff that is not found in the Bible. I assume you go to church each Sunday in a building somewhere, which hands out bulletins and uses piano/guitar to help lead congregational signing. They have you read out of your hymnals or look at the powerpoint projector, and then everyone reads a printed copy of the Bible. As you exit, there is a track rack where you are encouraged to grab some tracks and hand them out to co-workers. On your way home, you listen to Christian radio. The church has never limited itself to only what is written in scripture, but whatever we do must be in the spirit of scripture.

      As far as prayer goes, my post was very clear that praying to the Father is the biblical command, while praying to the Son is is clearly seen many, many times In the New Testament. Thus, it is biblical to pray to both. I also urged caution regarding praying to the Spirit, though also said those who say it is wrong go too far.

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    2. Hey Josh,

      I couldn't help but think of a dear gentleman in our church who, when I ask him to pray, always opens his prayer with the Triuneness of God in mind by saying something like, "Dear heavenly Father, Blessed Son, and Precious Holy Spirit, God in three persons..." I love it! I had initially been put off by it because of the teaching in Scripture of "how to pray". But I have appreciated it more and more as I hear it. Thanks for the article. Blessings!

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    3. Hey Josh,

      I couldn't help but think of a dear gentleman in our church who, when I ask him to pray, always opens his prayer with the Triuneness of God in mind by saying something like, "Dear heavenly Father, Blessed Son, and Precious Holy Spirit, God in three persons..." I love it! I had initially been put off by it because of the teaching in Scripture of "how to pray". But I have appreciated it more and more as I hear it. Thanks for the article. Blessings!

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  2. Great article Josh... I totally agree and love the reminder to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent!

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  3. if the Holy Spirit is fully God (as Jesus is God) I can't for the life me understand why we couldn't address Him directly... now if it is an impersonal force (as Jehovah witnesses beleive) then one should not even think about addressing "it".... so which is it?

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  4. aianik, clearly the first option since the Holy Spirit is fully God. The second option comes to us from a cult, and is deeply anti-biblical.

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  5. My question is not "Can I pray to Jesus or Holy Spirit?" but, rather, when should I pray to Jesus or Holy Spirit over the Father? I agree that Father should be our default since it was what Jesus did exclusively. If I am in need of a guide, then I think it would be best to speak to Holy Spirit who was, in Scripture and in Jesus' words, described as one who would guide me into all truth. If I am in need of a friend, Jesus would make sense. If I need a daddy... well that one is quite obvious.

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  6. In Ezekiel 37 in the account of the ressurection of dry bones, when The Lord God tell's Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind.........and the breath came into them & they lived, is this not referring to the Holy Spirit & did not Ezekiel not only pray to Him but do so at God's command ?is it not a picture of the new testament covenant ?

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