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:
- 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.
- Paul prayed to Jesus, and specifically mentions having done so at least 3x regarding a specific issue (2 Cor 12:7-9).
- 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.
- 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”
- 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).
- The apostle John ends the book of Revelation with a prayer to Jesus: “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
- 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).
- 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.