Once while doing a weekend seminar on the cults, I took a few students on a field trip to a Kingdom Hall. That Sunday morning, a Jehovah’s Witness leader gave the Bible lesson on prayer. One of his major points was that “Jehovah has not delegated prayer to the angels or to Jesus. Jehovah has reserved prayer only for himself.” After the service, I asked the leader to explain why we should only pray to the Father, and not to Jesus. He said that it was because “Jesus is not Almighty God, and only God is to be worshiped.” Of course, we evangelicals reject that reason for not praying to Jesus. But does it follow that because we believe that Jesus is divine, we can or should pray to him? Or do the Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right practice even though it is justified by erroneous theology? Are there other reasons to pray only to the Father?
One of the students I taught at that weekend seminar told me that for years she had taught her kids only to pray to the Father, since that is what she was taught by an influential evangelical teacher. But she said that this family practice gradually lapsed into prayers to both the Father and the Son since praying to both seemed so natural for them. My student wanted to know what I thought about the issue. Other students and friends have asked in one way or another: “Is it wrong to pray to Jesus?” This paper will respond to that question.
I will answer this question by first exploring how the NT authors relate prayer to the members of the Trinity. This will include a discussion of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. I will address the objection that Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer that we should only pray to the Father. Then in the theological section, I will show how Trinitarian prayer includes prayer to Jesus (as well as the Holy Spirit). Thirdly, I will highlight some of the church’s practice through history. I will end with a few suggestions for implementing Trinitarian prayer (including prayers to Jesus) in your church and home.
Though the focus of this paper is on prayer to Jesus, one could hardly address the subject adequately without addressing the role of the Spirit and the Father in prayer. It’s the identity of Jesus as a member of the Trinity that makes this issue important, so the subject should be approached from a Trinitarian perspective. I would like to show how our view of the members of the Trinity should shape our view of prayer.
What the New Testament Says About Prayer and the Trinity
For the sake of this discussion, I will acknowledge five kinds of prayer: petition, intercession, thanksgiving, praise/worship, and benedictory prayer. Where possible, I will give at least one New Testament example of each form of prayer that is addressed to each member of the Trinity.
The Role of the Father
The New Testament portrays God the Father as the primary recipient of human prayer. Jesus instructed, “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret.” And, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name…’” And, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Jesus prayed to the Father frequently (I counted at least 7 distinct times mentioned in the gospels). Of course, he would not have prayed to himself, but it is interesting that Scriptures reveal no times that he explicitly prayed to the Spirit, nor does Jesus explicitly instruct us to pray to the Holy Spirit.
At least 3 times Paul tells us to give thanks to God, “even the Father” (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 1:12; Colossians 3:17). Paul also tells us to bring our petitions to the Father: “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”
I found a good number of instances in Acts and the Epistles in which the Father is addressed in prayer, though prayers of petition to the Father are rare. I will now give an example of each form of prayer directed to the Father.
And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them… ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ.’ For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed… And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.”
“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you…”
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”
“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus,so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Not only is the Father the primary recipient of human prayer, but he is also the primary recipient of the Son’s intercession (Romans 8:34; John 14:6) and the Holy Spirit’s intercession (Ephesians 2:18; Romans 8:15, 26), which we will discuss in the next sections.
The Father also plays a major role in answering prayer (Matthew 7:11 and Matthew 18:19). He is the rewarder of those who seek and obey him.
Role of the Son
One of the roles of Jesus is as the mediator between us and God the Father.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
He is also our advocate (I John 2:1), and he intercedes for us.
“Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”
Jesus is our high priest who made propitiation for our sins, rose from the dead, and now intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Because of his role as mediator/high priest/intercessor we have access to the Father through him (Ephesians 2:18). It is in Christ’s authority (based on who he is and what he did for us) that we come to God. It is because of Jesus and his work that we can have our prayers answered, and come into fellowship with God.
We Call on Jesus for Salvation
Because Jesus is our mediator and Savior, we call on him for salvation:
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;for “whoever will call on the name of the LORD will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10-9-14).
This passage identifies the Lord as Jesus himself. According to this passage, both Jew and Gentile need to hear of Jesus in order to believe on him, and they need to believe in Jesus to call on him, or pray to him, worshiping him and submitting to him as Lord. Paul associates the reception of salvation with calling on Jesus, who is the Lord. One who receives Jesus (John 1:12), inviting Christ into his heart and life (Revelation 3:20) will be calling on the Lord Jesus for salvation.
If you have ever prayed with someone to receive Christ, you may have quoted John 1:12 (“But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he the right to become the sons of God”). Or you may have quoted Rev. 3:20 (“Behold, I [Jesus] stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me”). Using these verses, you’ve encouraged the sinner to open up his heart and invite Christ in to be the Lord of his life. If you believed it were inappropriate to pray to Jesus, you would not ask the sinner to pray to Jesus to invite Him into his life. But believing it is proper to pray to Christ, you encourage the sinner to say a prayer to him. The sinner then makes a life-transforming decision when he addresses Jesus and truly invites him into his heart and life to be his Lord and Savior. This prayer to Jesus will hopefully be the beginning of a lifetime of fellowship between this new Christian and his Savior, whom he will commune with every day.
As it is important to continue to believe (John 3:16-18) and abide in him (John 15), it makes sense that that we would continue to “call on the Lord” (I Cor. 1:2) as we cultivate a personal relationship with him (Rev. 3:20).
New Testament Christians Everywhere Praying to Jesus
According to the apostle Paul, New Testament Christians were everywhere praying to Jesus. “Paul…to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours (I Cor. 1:1-2).” It appears that Paul includes himself among those who called upon the name of Jesus. These prayers directed to Jesus were universal. And the present tense of “call” suggests that the prayers were on-going.
Prayer in Jesus’ name
When Jesus told us to pray in his name, he was actually asking us to come to God in his authority, and by implication, according to his will. We have the right to come to God and receive grace and help because of who Christ is, what he did for us, and what he promised. He has given us “great and exceeding promises” and when we come to God with our requests, we have been authorized to come in faith, believing that he will fulfill what he has promised.
Jesus told us that we can ask the Father for requests in his name to receive answers from the Father. “I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.”
Jesus also said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Jesus here says that he would answer prayer when we asked him anything in his name. So Jesus authorizes us to address him in prayer when we come in his name–in his own authority, and in his will. And he promised that he would answer.
A fellow ETS member read a version of this paper and asserted that though it was appropriate to address Jesus in worship and praise, it was not appropriate to make requests of the Son. He said, “On its face, praying to the Son in the name of the Son is nonsense, analogous to writing a check on Fred’s account, getting Fred to sign it, and then presenting it to Fred for payment. But presenting the check to the bank with Fred having signed it makes perfectly good sense.” However, in John 14:14, Jesus tells us that if we ask him anything in his name he would answer. He says we can pray to the Son in the name of the Son. How could praying to the Son in the name of the Son be nonsense if Jesus told us we can? The check and bank analogy must not explain everything that it means to pray in Jesus’ name. How about using another analogy? Once I wrote a note to my girls to motivate them to clean their room,
Girls, I will take you out for ice cream if you completely clean under your bed. When you are done, bring this note and pictures on a camera to prove your work, and we will go out within two days of the cleaning. Dad
This note was a promissory note with my signature. When one of the girls came to present the note to me, she was coming in my name, or authority. The girls had every right to expect that I would take them out for ice cream when they brought back the note with my promise and my name on it. Jesus gave us some promises as a divine being with the authority to make much greater promises than I could make. We come to him or to the Father in his authority. He has given us the “promissory note” with his “signature” so that we can be assured of the answer to our prayers. Praying in Jesus’ name is praying with the knowledge that we come in his merits, and praying with the faith that he will keep his promises as a good, faithful, and all-powerful God as we pray according to the will of God. Whether those faith-filled words are directed to the Son or to the Father makes little difference, since both the Father and the Son are the one true God. (If we use the phrase “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a prayer prayed to Jesus, we should adjust it a bit and say, “in your name, Amen.”) We can pray to the Son in the name of the Son if we wish (and because of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, we can do that without saying the words, “in Jesus’ name,” or “in your name”).
Examples of Prayers to Jesus
In this section, I will give examples of the 5 different forms of prayer to Jesus in the N.T.
In the gospels, many people asked Jesus for miracles, etc. I counted at least seven distinct times when people cried out to Jesus for mercy, treating him as a divine person, and expected an answer. For an example, look at Matthew 8:2-3:
“And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
This practice of making supplication to Christ carried over into the book of Acts (7:59) and into the Epistles. In II Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul tells about the times he petitioned Jesus to remove the thorn in the flesh from him.
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself. Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
How do we know that “the Lord” is Jesus? Paul responds to the Lord’s “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” by glorying in the “power of Christ.” Paul’s use of Christ supports the conclusion that the person who spoke of his “power” to Paul was Jesus. Paul persisted in his prayer to Jesus (it was not spontaneous) and Jesus replied to him.
“Maranatha” (found in I Cor 16:22), is usually translated as the petition, “Come, O Lord.” “Maranatha” is an Aramaic expression that originated before Christians had spread throughout the Gentile community. It seems that very early on, the Christians were crying out to Jesus, “Come, O Lord!”
The very last prayer in the NT is addressed to Jesus. “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
When Stephen was being stoned, just before he died, he prayed for his persecutors: “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge!” This was right after he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
In the passage below, John may be telling us that we can intercede for a sinning brother by praying to the Son of God.
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 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. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death” (I John 5:11-16).
The pronoun ‘him,’ ‘he’ and ‘his’ in verse 14 seem to be referring to the “Son of God” in verse 13. This means that these requests can be taken to our intercessor and advocate Jesus (I John 2:1).
Paul rejoiced, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (I Timothy 1:12).
In the gospels, Jesus was worshiped. The first reference to prayer in the New Testament is the worship of Jesus by the wise men — “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11). I counted at least five other distinct events of worship of Jesus in the gospel records. There is also worship of Jesus (the Lamb) by the redeemed in Revelation. Here’s one of three major events in Revelation in which Jesus is worshiped, and that worship is addressed to him verbally (the Father is worshiped in Revelation about four times):
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Another expression of worship to Jesus (a doxology) occurs in II Peter: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
In II Thess. 2:16-17, Paul blesses the Thessalonians with these words: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father…encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” Paul expected Jesus to answer this request. A similar benedictory prayer (invoking the name of Jesus, as well as the Father) is found in I Thessalonians 3:11-13: “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you.”
The Lord’s Prayer and Prayer to Jesus
In light of the scriptural data that support all sorts of prayer to Jesus, what do we do with Jesus’ instructions to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9)? Does the fact that the model prayer addresses the Father and not the Son mean that we are never to address the Son (or the Spirit) in prayer? No. By giving us the model prayer, Jesus was not limiting our prayers to a certain structure or verbiage. Otherwise, we would need to eliminate using the expression “in Jesus’ name” in prayer since that is not in the Lord’s Prayer. We would also need to eliminate thanksgiving from our prayers, since that does not show up in the Lord’s Prayer. But obviously, we should give thanks to God (I Thess. 5:19). Christ’s words, “Our Father which art in Heaven” do not keep us from praying to Jesus any more than his words “Give us our daily bread” keep us from praying for something to drink. And the Lord’s Prayer does not keep us from petitioning the Son any more than Christ’s instructions to “enter into the closet and pray to your Father in secret” (Matt 6:6) keep us from praying in a public setting. We learn a great deal about prayer from the model prayer, but it does not teach us everything we should know about talking to God.It is appropriate to pray to the Father directly; the Lord’s Prayer clearly shows that. However, just because we are permitted to pray, and even commanded to pray to the Father, that doesn’t mean we are not permitted to pray to the Son.
The Role of the Spirit
The Spirit is seen in the New Testament as an intercessor. Ephesians 2:18 points out that it is by the Spirit (and through the Son) that we have access to the Father. Romans 8:15 says, “You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Paul explains the role of the Spirit in getting us access to the Father: “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered… He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 
The Holy Spirit is an empowerer. In response to prayer, he strengthens us with power in the inner man (Eph 3:16). One thing he empowers us to do is pray. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit” When we pray in the Spirit, we are being helped by the Spirit to pray.
Not only does the Holy Spirit intercede and empower, but he also answers prayer, and may give directives to us in response to prayer. The Holy Spirit is actively involved in our prayer lives, and He speaks to us, giving the guidance and strength that we need. We need his leadership, and we must live and walk by the Spirit.
Examples of Prayers to the Holy Spirit
I couldn’t find an example of an explicit prayer to the Holy Spirit, but II Corinthians 13:14 may include a slightly disguised prayer to the Spirit as part of a benediction.
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
According to Albert Barnes,
This verse contains what is usually called the apostolic benediction – the form which has been so long, and which is almost so universally used, in dismissing religious assemblies. It is properly a prayer, and it is evident that the optative εἴῃ eiē, “May the grace,” etc., is to be supplied. It is the expression of a desire that the favors here referred to may descend on all for whom they are thus invoked.
“[II Cor. 13:14] is a prayer and if it is a prayer addressed to God it is no less so to the Lord Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. If so, it is right to offer worship to the Lord Jesus and to the Holy Spirit.”
Adam Clarke explains the prayer for the communion (or fellowship) of the Holy Spirit this way: “May that Holy Spirit, that Divine and eternal energy which proceeds from the Father and the Son; that heavenly fire that gives light and life, that purifies and refines…comforts and invigorates, make you all partakers with himself!”
Clarke also shows what ‘communion’ likely signifies:
Κοινωνια, which we translate fellowship and communion, signifies properly participation; having things in common; partaking with each other. This points out the astonishing privileges of true believers: they have communion with God’s Spirit; share in all its gifts and graces; walk in its light; through him they have the fullest confidence that they are of God.
So “[may] the fellowship of the Spirit be with you” could be a request to the Spirit that he would commune with us as a divine person with a human person. Even if not a prayer, the verse could indicate the Holy Spirit’s desire to have a personal relationship with us.
Paul uses the same term (Κοινωνια) in Philippians 2:1, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy….” The phrase “fellowship of the Spirit” can be taken as fellowship with the Spirit, which implies communication with him.
There are also Scriptural examples of direct personal communication from the Holy Spirit that imply a response from us. For instance:
“While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 11:2).
This personal direction from the Spirit implies a response from those who have prayed for leadership. The Christians would have responded in a personal way to the Person who told them what to do. It’s very possible that they were even addressing the Holy Spirit when they were seeking direction. Also, Christ’s promise to his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth, and speak of what he has heard (John 16:13) suggests personal interaction with the Holy Spirit, and some sort of dialogue or inquiring. This is also implied by Christ’s reference to the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter,” or “Helper” (John 16:7).
We have seen so far the role of each member of the Trinity in prayer according to the New Testament. We have seen that the “shape” of the NT data regarding prayer involves an emphasis on the Father as the recipient and answerer of prayer, the Son’s role as mediator, intercessor, recipient and answerer of prayer, and the Holy Spirit’s role as one who intercedes, empowers, answers prayer, and leads/guides. I have highlighted the Son’s role as the recipient and answerer of prayer. It is clear that Jesus receives and answers prayer. In this section, I would like to make some additional theological points, which can be inferred in part from the preceding biblical data.
Praying to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit
There is a sense in which all of our prayers, even ones we pray to the Spirit and the Son, are ultimately directed to the Father, who is the Head of the Trinity (I Cor. 11:3). It is through Christ that we have access to the Father. And we pray in the Spirit to the Father. So we are to pray in the Spirit and through Jesus (on the basis of what he has done for us, and in his authority). But when we pray to the Spirit we are still praying to God. And when we pray to Jesus in his authority, we are still praying to God, and in a sense to the Father Himself. We need to remember that the members of the Trinity are one. Where one is present, the others are as well. They all participate in any given divine act, according to their peculiar roles. When we pray to one member of the Trinity, the others hear our prayer as well, and respond in a way consistent with their person.
Each Member of the Trinity is a Divine Person and thus Worthy of Worship
Since all three members of the Trinity are God, then worship is due to each of them, collectively and individually, because of the nature of the Trinity. An orthodox understanding of the Trinity entails the acceptance of each Person as fully divine, fully personal, and fully united with one another as one God. This means that each is worthy of worship, and we should address each member of the Trinity in praise and adoration. Those evangelicals who believe that one should only pray to the Father fail to understand that it is precisely because Jesus is a Divine person that we must pray to him. When a Jehovah’s Witness says that we should not pray to Jesus because he is not Almighty God, we can counter that we pray to Jesus because he is Almighty God, and thus One who expects expressions of worship.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are All Divine Persons
Since the members of the Trinity are persons, they are all capable of having a personal relationship with each other and with the humans they created for that purpose. If all three persons shared in that purpose of creating us for relationship, then it seems that all three of them would be interested in having personal interaction with us. It is not just a “nice thing” for us to communicate with each person in the Trinity; this fits into God’s purpose for our existence. Jesus prayed to his Father that his followers would know both the Father and the Son. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John said, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3b). If the Bible makes a personal distinction between the Father and the Son, and asks us to have a relationship with both, then we should cultivate a personal relationship with each of them, not simply with one or another or with a more “generic” God. And the way to cultivate a relationship with a person is to have communication with him. How could you cultivate a relationship with someone you don’t talk to?
Let’s apply this to the person of Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus naturally involves communing with him, expressing commitment to him, expressing one’s dependence on him, expressing one’s love for him, asking for his help, etc. Someone who is uncomfortable talking to Jesus may actually be in an uncomfortable relationship with Jesus. But it is important to cultivate a healthy relationship with Jesus, as well as with the Father.
I think we can apply this to the Holy Spirit as well. The Spirit is a divine person that has distinctive roles to play in our lives. This being the case, it is appropriate to pray to him about those particular roles, like anointing for preaching. It’s appropriate to thank him for his blessing in our lives. How could we not verbalize our adoration of him? How could we not tell him how much we love him? He’s helped us in so many ways.
Responding to the Word of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Colossians 3:16 calls Scripture the word of Christ. When we read his word and respond to his word, we are in conversation with him. Scripture is also said to be the Spirit speaking (Heb. 10:15-16). If Scripture is the word of all three persons we may converse with all or any of them in reading it. Christ speaks to us through his Word. We respond to him by asking for his help to obey it. We let him know how much we are depending on him.
Don’t Leave Anyone Out
Because prayers directed to the Father are so common in the New Testament, it is certainly proper to address the Father on a regular basis (we should pray to him often). Praying “to the Father, in the Spirit, through Christ” recognizes the structure of the economy of salvation. But I am confident that God is not counting our prayers to each member of the Trinity to make sure we have prayed to each member of the Trinity in proper proportion. The Trinity is not “jealous” of one another. Of course, if we are leaving one member of the Trinity out completely, then there may be a problem with our view of that member of the Trinity. Communicating to each Person in the Godhead is important for having fellowship with our tri-personal God.
Examples of Prayers to Jesus and the Holy Spirit from Church History
The historic understanding of Trinitarian prayer is that prayer is both “to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit” and “to the Father, to the Son, and to the Spirit.” I will show here just a bit of the historical data that supports the idea that all members of the Trinity were addressed in prayer in the Christian tradition.
Proof of early hymns to Jesus (a form of prayer to Jesus) is found in a letter from the Roman Governor Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan (about A.D. 110). Pliny accused the Christians of “singing hymns to Christ as to a god.” This demonstrates that Christians were worshiping Christ very close to the time the church began. These early Christians were verbalizing their adoration of Christ in hymns of praise to him, and risking their lives in doing so.
A hymn that developed perhaps in the later decades of the second century is called the Phos Hilaron. It lauds Jesus as “Joyous light of the holy glory of the immortal Father,” and says to Jesus, “at all times you should be praised with auspicious voices, Son of God, Giver of life.”
Prayers to Jesus were very frequent, even typical, in the early apocryphal Christian writings, including public/liturgical prayers, though they were not commonly used by the second century apologists. Prayers to Jesus became more frequent in certain areas of Christianity after the 4th century.
Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c. 215) included a rare prayer to Jesus toward the end of his work The Instructor. This prayer appeals to Jesus to perfect believers that they would give thanks and praise to “the unique Father and Son, Son and Father…with the Holy Spirit, all in One.” Notice how Trinitarian this prayer is.
When Athanasius was making his case against Arianism in the early 300’s, he pointed out that Christians had prayed to Jesus from the beginning. Athanasius argued that if Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father (homoousios) and was instead only a creature–only of like substance with the Father (homoiousios), then Christians from the beginning would have been committing idolatry by praying to Jesus.
The Nicene Creed, accepted and used in the whole church since the 4th century, says of the Spirit: “who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.” This means that all three members of the Trinity were prayed to.
Here is an example of a prayer to Jesus by one of the great Eastern Fathers of the Church, Gregory of Nyssa, who lived in the mid-to-late 300’s:
I give you the name ‘you whom my soul loves’ because your name is above every name and above all understanding and there is no rational nature that can utter it or comprehend it. Therefore your name, by which your goodness is known, is simply the love my soul has for you. How could I not love you, when you loved me so much, even though I was black, that you laid down your life for the sheep of your flock? A greater love cannot be imagined, than exchanging your life for my salvation” (A Prayer to the Good Shepherd).
The Eastern church has as part of its tradition the invocation of the Holy Spirit in one of its daily prayers:
“Heavenly King, Parclete, Spirit of truth, who art present everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of goodness and Giver of life, come, dwell in us and cleanse us from all stain, and of thy mercy, save our souls, Amen.”
Following are examples of prayers to members of the Trinity written by Augustine of Hippo, a major Western Church Father who lived about A.D. 400.
To the Father
“Beloved Father, You sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we might learn how much you love us. Kindle in us the love of he who was first loved; For while we were still sojourning far apart, Christ showed us a profound example of love. Teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We ask this in Jesus Christ our Lord, the manifestation of divine love. Amen.”
To the Son
“O, Sweet Jesus, may every good feeling that is fitted for Your praise, love You, delight in You, adore You! God of my heart, and my Portion, Christ Jesus, may my heart faint away in spirit, and may You be my Life within me! May the live coal of Your Love grow hot within my spirit and break forth into a perfect fire; may it burn incessantly on the altar of my heart; may it glow in my innermost being; may it blaze in hidden recesses of my soul; and in the days of my consummation may I be found consummated with You!”
To the Spirit
“Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.”
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer contains the following prayers to Jesus:
O Lord, the only‑begotten Son, Jesus Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.
For thou only art holy, thou only art the Lord,
thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost,
art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen
O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Thou art worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
John Wesley (1700’s) compiled a collection of prayers for his friends at Oxford. These prayers were directed to each member of the Trinity. A few examples are:
Glory be to Thee, O most adorable Father, who after Thou hadst finished the work of creation, enteredst into Thy eternal rest.
Glory be to Thee, O Holy Jesus, who having through the eternal Spirit offered thyself a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, didst rise again the third day from the dead, and hadst all power given Thee both in heaven and on earth.
I have sinned, but Thou, O blessed Jesus, art my Advocate! Enter not into judgment with me, lest I die; but spare me, gracious Lord, spare Thy servant whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy most precious blood.
Glory be to Thee, O blessed Spirit, who proceeding from the Father and the Son, didst come down in fiery tongues on the apostles, on the first day of the week, and didst enable them to preach the glad tidings of salvation to a sinful world.
Glory be to Thee, O holy undivided trinity, for jointly concurring in the great work of our redemption, and restoring us again to the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
Another way I have acknowledged the Christian tradition is to consult a songbook which contains many hymns addressed to God (hymns addressed to God are simply prayers set to rhyme and music). I counted roughly 111 songs addressed to deity, with 16 primarily addressed to the Father, 51 songs primarily addressing to the Son, 9 addressing to the Holy Spirit, and 8 addressed to the Trinity (I couldn’t categorize 27 of the songs written to deity).  A few of the songs are very old, one from the 9th century, a couple others from the 12th century, and another translated in the 17th century. Most are from the 18th or 19th centuries. Here are some examples, mostly of prayers to Jesus:
…God only wise. In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.
…Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight.
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
…Forgive our foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful minds;
In purer lives Thy service find; In deeper reverence, praise.
All Glory, Laud, and Honor (800’s)
All glory, laud, and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King.
To whom the lips of children Made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s name comest, the King and Blessed One
Jesus, Lover of My Soul
…let me to thy bosom fly
…Hide me, O my Savior, hide
…Oh, receive my soul at last.
More Love to Thee
…O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee.
Jesus the Very Thought of Thee (Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century)
Jesus, the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest.
Fairest Lord Jesus
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nations
Oh, thou of God, and man the Son.
Thee will I cherish; Thee will I honor
Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
My Jesus, I Love Thee
…I know Thou art mine.
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou.
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
My Faith Looks Up to Thee
…Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray;
Take all my guilt away.
Oh, let me from this day Be wholly Thine!
Away in a Manger
…Be near me Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me I pray.
Come, Holy Ghost, Our Hearts Inspire
…Let us Thine influence prove:
Source of the old prophetic fire.
Fountain of life and love.
Holy Spirit, Be My Guide
Holy Spirit, my heart yearns for Thee;
Holy Spirit, abide in me.
Make me clean; oh, make me pure!
I must know the double cure.
Fill Me Now
Hover o’er me, Holy Spirit,
Bathe my trembling heart and brow.
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come and fill me now.
Glory Be to the Father
…and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen. Amen.
Modeling Trinitarian Prayers
Since it is so important in worship to glorify Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the practice finds its basis in the New Testament and in the great Christian tradition, I suggest that pastors model this Trinitarian worship in public prayer. Those in the congregation need to know that it is not only appropriate but important to address each member of the Trinity in worship, whether public or private worship. The prayer leader could start by addressing the Father, then address the Son, then the Holy Spirit (according to the order in the Trinity). Each Person in the Godhead should be praised for His unique function in the economy of salvation. The Father could be praised for sending his Son, the Son could be praised for being willing to come and give His life for us, and the Spirit could be praised for his work of guiding believers and convicting sinners. The public worship service could close with a benedictory prayer that includes the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Song leaders could choose hymns and songs that address each member of the Trinity. Notice that many older hymns and many of the newer praise choruses are prayers to members of the Trinity. These hymns and choruses should be used in church, then taken home to be used in private devotions, as each one of us daily commune with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Since Jesus is so interested in having a personal relationship with each of us, we as Christians would make a serious mistake to hesitate to address the Son, and even the Spirit, in prayer. All the members of the Trinity want to have a personal relationship with us. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit speak to us and are eagerly awaiting our response to their overtures. They are worthy of worship, and each ought to be verbally praised. Each deserves expressions of submission to his will, and expects it.
There is no prohibition in the Scriptures against praying to Jesus. Taking requests to Jesus himself is encouraged in Scripture, and addressing Jesus in praise and adoration is commanded. Therefore we should not restrict our prayers to God the Father. As God, Jesus is worthy of praise and claims to answer prayer. He (along with the Spirit) ought to be included without hesitation in our prayers to God.
Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nations,
Oh, thou of God, and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish; Thee will I honor,
Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
Republished from WesleyanTheology.com. This paper was delivered at ETS on November 17th, 2011.
- Barnes, Albert. Notes on the Bible. Retrieved 10-25-2011 from http://barnes.biblecommenter.com.
- Book of Common Prayer (1979 U.S.)
- Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible. Retrieved 10-25-2011 from http://clarke.biblecommenter.com/2_corinthians/13.htm.
- Cole, Graham A. He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Kindle Version.
- Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Zondervan, 1994.
- Holy Bible, New American Standard Version.
- Hurtado, Larry. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
- McGrath, Alister. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought, Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.
- Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995.
- Torrance, James B. Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
- Watson, Richard. Theological Institutes. Nashville, TN: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1883.
- Wesley, John. A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day of the Week.
- Worship in Song Hymnal. Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Company, 1972.
 I went through the entire New Testament looking for examples. I did not count normal conversation between Jesus and his disciples as a form of prayer.
 Matthew 6:6. Verses in the body of the paper are typically quoted from the NASB.
 Matthew 7:11.
 Philippians 4:6. Though the term ‘Father’ is not used here, most likely ‘God’ is referring to the Father, since most of the time in the Pauline Epistles ‘God’ refers to the Father. In my survey of the NT, I have noticed that not only does ‘God’ usually refer to the Father, but ‘Lord’ usually refers to the Son in at least the Pauline Epistles.
 Acts 4:24, 25-27, 29-30. I actually couldn’t find in the NT a petition (as distinct from intercession for others) to the Father, where the Father is specified by name, other than prayers by Jesus to his Father.
 Another example of intercessory prayer to the Father is found in Ephesians 1:16-17 – “[I do] not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him…”
 Colossians 1:3. Also, Romans 1:8 – “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
 Romans 16:25-27.
 Romans 15:5-6. Other examples: Romans 15:13 – “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” and Romans 15:33 – “Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
 Matthew 18:19 –“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.” Other examples of the Father answering prayer include: Romans 7:24-25; I Corinthians 15:57. Notice also James 1:17: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
 Matthew 6:4 and Hebrews 11:6.
 John 14:6.
 I Timothy 1:5-6.
 Romans 8:34. Also, Hebrews 7:24-25 — “but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
 Hebrews 4:14-16 – “Therefore, since 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 cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
 To support this point, in Acts 10:38-43, Peter identifies the LORD (Yahweh) in the OT prophets, in the context of “calling upon the name of Yahweh” as Jesus.
 The word “believe” in John 3:16 and the following verses are in the present tense, which usually indicates on-going action, depending on the nature of the action, the context, and the grammar. This is not an exception to the usual use of the present tense. Leon Morris says regarding the present tense and John 3:18 (He who believes in Him is not condemned: but he who does not believe is condemned already), “The one of whom John writes has passed into a continuing state of condemnation on account of a refusal to enter a continuing state of belief.” Leon Morris, 206.
 “Call on” means to address, or to pray to, as in I Peter 1:17 – “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear (NKJV).
Another place where “call on the Lord” is used is in 2 Timothy 2:22 – “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Paul was probably referring to Jesus with the term ‘the Lord” as in 2 Timothy 1: 2 – “To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” and in 2 Tim. 1:8 –“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.”
 The Greek word here, ἐπικαλουμένοις, is in the present tense, which in this case, gives the verb “to call” a durative sense. The nature of the verb “to call” accords with this use, and nothing in the context or the grammar suggests otherwise. N.T. Christians were likely frequently (continually) “calling” on the Lord. Other texts that describe believers as calling upon the Lord include: Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16.
 John 16:3.
 John 14:13-14. The “Me” in this text is not in all manuscripts but is considered to be original in the critical text. Most modern translations include it. The textual support is: P66 א B S U W Δ Θ Ω 2 10 13 28 33 124 229 263 399 461 475 700 788 944 1006 1190c 1191 1201 1203 1222 1341 1346c 1470 f13 MT e ff2 g1 q. P66 (part of the Bodmer papyri collection) is very early, copied about A.D. 200. The contextual support for the “Me” includes the fact that Jesus said that he would answer the prayer (not the Father).
 There is some data that we can draw from the Old Testament as well. In the Old Testament, it is probably the Son who made himself most known to the saints, in christophanies. John 1:18 states that no one has seen God (the Father) at any time; “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; he has revealed him.” So the O.T. saints were likely communicating with the Son when God showed himself to them. If so, it was the Son who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. It was the Son to whom Abraham prayed when he interceded for Sodom, and it was the Son whom Jacob talked to as they wrestled. The O.T. saints’ communication with the Son can rightly be called prayer to the Son.
Plus, in the Pauline epistles, the term ‘Lord’ (kurios) usually refers to Jesus, while ‘God’ usually refers to the Father. See footnote 5.
 Acts 7:60.
 Acts 7:59.
 He also demanded worship. Jesus told us to honor the Son just as we honor the Father (John 5:23). To honor the Son just as we honor the Father means that we put them on the same level in our minds and hearts, and ascribe to both glory and praise.
 Revelation 5:9-10.
 II Peter 3:18.
 Regarding II Thessalonians 2:16-17, Albert Barnes says, “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself – This expression is equivalent to this: ‘I pray our Lord Jesus, and our Father, to comfort you.’ It is really a prayer offered to the Savior – a recognition of Christ as the source of consolation as well as the Father, and a union of his name with that of the Father in invoking important blessings. It is such language as could be used only by one who regarded the Lord Jesus as divine” (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament.http://barnes.biblecommenter.com/2_thessalonians/2.htm).
 Also, II Thessalonians 2:16.
 “For through Him we…have access by one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18).
 Romans 8:26.
 Ephesians 6:18; see also Jude 1:20.
 Act 13:2.
 Acts 11:12.
 Romans 8:14.
 Galatians 5:25.
 II Corinthians 13:14 (NIV). The “May” is understood.
 Barne’s Notes on the Bible. http://barnes.biblecommenter.com/2_corinthians/13.htm.
 Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible. http://clarke.biblecommenter.com/2_corinthians/13.htm.
 The Nicene Creed makes it clear that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all to be worshiped and glorified.
 The same can be said of the Holy Spirit. Graham Cole, in his tome He Who Gives Life: the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, says, “Questioning prayer to the Holy Spirit may seem inappropriate both on theological and logical grounds. After all, the Trinitarian Christian is praying to one God in three divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, it may be argued, we quite properly may pray to the Spirit because the Spirit is God. Our Trinitarian theology would legitimate such a practice. Indeed if we only prayed to the Father then would our prayer life be in effect Unitarian? J. I. Packer believes there is a case for praying to the Holy Spirit based on the deity of the Spirit and the Spirit’s role in Christian experience” (Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life, p. 84-85, Kindle Version. He cites Packer from his Keep in Step, 261.) Though Cole cautioned against an overemphasis on prayer to the Spirit, as I would, he does recognize its legitimacy on theological grounds.
 John 17:3.
 We have already mentioned the communion that the Holy Spirit seems to desire with us.
 One of my students, who had earlier only prayed to the Father, said that this question revolutionized his prayer life.
 I recently heard Dr. Chris Bounds start a prayer with “Dear Holy Spirit…” as he pled with this member of the Trinity for anointing on the message he was about to deliver. This is probably a fairly common practice among pastors, and one that I would heartily endorse. After all, the Holy Spirit is the divine Person who is designated for that particular role (as the “Helper”), though I believe that the other members of the Trinity would be involved in some way in the anointing activity as well.
 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Also, Romans 10:17 – “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (NASB).
 “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.’”
 For more detail on this, see James Torrance’s Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace, especially page 36.
 These hymns to Jesus are a form of worship referred to in Ephesians 5:19: “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” “The Lord” in this verse is likely Jesus, based on what I earlier said (footnote 5) about the normal use of “Lord” by the Apostle Paul.
 “As indicated in Pliny’s now-famous phrase, one central feature of Christian worship was the chanting/singing of hymns concerned with, and at least in some cases directed to, Jesus. In an analysis that remains essential for scholarship on the subject, [Joseph] Kroll observed that Christian hymnody of the first two centuries was almost entirely concerned with Jesus, a judgment reached later by Deichgraber as well in his study of hymns in the New Testament. The regular inclusion of such hymns in Christian worship clearly signified Jesus’ divine status in early Christian circles” (Hurtado in Lord Jesus Christ, 609).
 Lord Jesus Christ, 610.
 Ibid, 618.
 Ibid, 618.
 Alister McGrath. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought, 26.
http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/1123/Prayer_to_the_Good_Shepherd_Gregory_of_Nyssa.html. This excerpt from St. Gregory of Nyssa’s commentary on the Song of Songs (Cap. 2: PG 44, 802).
Retrieved from: http://www.anastasis.org.uk/small_compline.htm. This prayer is referenced in He Who Gives Life: “May we pray to the Holy Spirit? The Orthodox answer to the question is simply, ‘Of course!’ In fact, the Orthodox prayer book opens with a prayer which invokes the Holy Spirit” (He Who Gives Life, 84).
 Daily Morning Prayers, Rite One, The 1979 U.S. Book of Common Prayer.
 A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day of the Week.
 Worship in Song Hymnal.
 Interestingly, this is somewhat consistent with the findings of scholars that “Christian hymnody of the first two centuries was almost entirely concerned with Jesus.” (Lord Jesus Christ, 609). See footnote 54.
 I found very few songs addressed to the Father in comparison to the songs addressed to the Son. The explanation for this may be that most Christians understand their relationship with God as one mediated through Christ. They are getting to know God the Father by getting to know the Son. This is what God intended. Consider Jesus’ response to Philip’s request, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). In other words, “You need not look any further. If you want to know the Father, get into a personal relationship with me. And through that relationship, you can also have a relationship with the Father.”
 My colleague Allan Brown has written a helpful booklet on Praying Scripture. Under the category of Worship, there are prayers to Father, Son, and Spirit under the headings: Worship God the Father, Worship God the Son, and Worship God the Holy Spirit. These prayers acknowledge the distinct roles of each Person.