Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who Do You Pray to?

The Bible teaches that we should pray to the Father or the Son in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. To the Father we pray as the Lord taught His disciples in Matthew 6:9 “Our Father in heaven…” Stephen, as he was being martyred, prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). In Revelation 22:20, we the aged apostle pray, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” The apostle Paul himself prayed to “the Lord” on occasion (2 Cor. 12:8, a title Paul frequently applied to Jesus). Examples like this give us a precedent for doing the same. It is good, right and proper to pray to Jesus. 

We are also to pray in the name of Christ. Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to always give “thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Jesus assured His disciples that whatever they asked in His name, meaning in His will, would be granted (John 15:16, 16:23). You’ll remember that the Lord Jesus told His apostles, “Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John 16:23). He didn’t say we’re to ask the Holy Spirit, but we’re to ask the Father. We never see an instance in the Bible where anyone prays to the Holy Spirit. Why is that? The answer is that the Holy Spirit does not bear witness of Himself. He bears witness of the Son (John 15:26). When I pray to the Holy Spirit, I rob myself of the Great Intercessor, that is, the Lord Jesus who is our Great High Priest and it denies the Holy Spirit His purpose! What is that? The Holy Spirit is sent into the world, according to John 16, to glorify the Son. And He glorifies the Son by leading us to the Son and causing us to see the Son as the ground for our access to the Father. The Son came to die for our sins in order to bring us to God. The Holy Spirit’s function is to point us to the Person of Christ and to empower us to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit never draws our attention to Himself or exalts Himself. His desire is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ (John 16:13-15)!

We are told to pray in the Spirit and in His power. The Spirit helps us to pray, even when we do not know how or what to ask for (Romans 8:26, Jude 20). But we are never instructed to pray specifically to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us pray. If the Spirit Himself helps us pray, is He helping us pray to Himself? The Spirit is obviously not going to pray to Himself. There is not one example of this in the entire New Testament! Perhaps the best way to understand the role of the Trinity in prayer is how Paul put it in Ephesians 2:18, “Through [Jesus] we… have access to the Father by the one Spirit.” We pray to the Father, through and in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. All three are active participants in the believer’s prayer. When Paul explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, one of the things he emphasizes is how the Spirit gives us confidence to approach God in prayer. In fact it is by the Spirit that we cry, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6; Rom 8:15). This is not incidental. Jesus Himself cried out these same words in his own prayer (Mark 14:36). The Spirit is moving Christians to address Father in the same language that God the Son uses. Prayer is a way of expressing the sonship we have through Jesus.

It is also important to mention to whom we are not to pray to. Some non-Christian religions encourage their adherents to pray to a pantheon of gods, dead relatives, saints, and spirits. Some are taught to pray to Mary and various saints. Such prayers are not scriptural and are, in fact, an insult to our heavenly Father. To understand why, we need only look at the nature of prayer. Prayer has several elements, praise, thanksgiving, worship. When we praise God, we are worshipping Him for His attributes and His work in our lives. When we offer prayers of thanksgiving, we are worshipping His goodness, mercy, and loving-kindness to us. Worship gives glory to God, the only One who deserves to be glorified. The problem with praying to anyone other than God is that He will not share His glory. In fact, praying to anyone or anything other than God is idolatry. “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

There are other elements of prayer such as repentance, confession, and petition. We repent knowing that God is a forgiving and loving God and He has provided a means of forgiveness in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. We confess our sins because we know “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We come to Him with our petitions and intercessions because we know He loves us and hears us! 

The greatest need of the present-day church is prayer. Prayer should be the vital breath of the church, but right now it is gasping for air. One of the great Bible teachers of the past said that the church goes forward on its knees. Maybe one of the reasons the church is not going forward today is because it’s not in a position to go forward, we are not on our knees in prayer!      

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