In a Bible Study I was leading recently, a question was written on a card and handed to me. I took it home, read it, and prayed for wisdom to answer it. Here’s the question: “Jesus teaches us to pray to Father God. Why does it seem that a lot of people then pray to Jesus?” Basically, I think what was really being asked is, "Is it okay to pray to Jesus?"
Apparently, there is some teaching out there (even among evangelicals) that all prayer must be directed to God the Father. What is taught is that we should not pray to Jesus. The argument made for this position is that the Lord’s Prayer is addressed to the Father and not to the Son. But, is that what the Bible teaches? Is that what Jesus taught?
Prayer is directed to the triune God who is one
The Bible teaches that prayer is a conversation with God, someone who loves you dearly, who wants a relationship with you. We have a triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can pray to one or all three because all three are one. It is through Christ that we have access to the Father. And we pray in the Spirit to the Father. 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. All the members of the Trinity share the same desires, one of which is to have a personal relationship with us. There is no jealousy in the Trinity. All receive our worship equally. All receive our prayer equally.
Prayer is not a formula
The first statement in the question above is true but not entirely true. Does Jesus "teach us to pray to Father God?" In a sample prayer, Jesus taught the Jews to pray to God as their Father, emphasizing their relationship with Him. That prayer is not a formula but a sample of conversational prayer. If we look at “The Lord’s Prayer” as a formula, we would need to eliminate using the words “in Jesus’ name” in our own prayers since they do not appear 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. And, Jesus Himself did not follow the formula in His own prayer in the garden (John 17). Neither does Paul in His letters, which are Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture.
Jesus also taught His disciples that when they prayed in His name (Jesus’ name), He would answer their prayers (John 14:13-14). In Acts, we read that Stephen prayed to Jesus as he died (Acts 7:59). Paul prayed to Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 and encouraged Christians to call on Jesus as well as God the Father.
Prayer with Jesus encourages the relationship He wants with us
Because Jesus is interested in having a personal relationship with each of us, that naturally involves communing with Him, expressing commitment to Him, expressing one’s dependence on Him, asking for His help, etc. It is important to cultivate a healthy relationship with Jesus, as well as with the Father. Taking requests to Jesus himself is modeled in Scripture, and addressing Jesus in praise and adoration is commanded.
Therefore, our prayers need not be restricted to God the Father. As God, Jesus is worthy of praise and is able to answer prayer. All persons of the Trinity may be included without hesitation in our prayers to God.
As my dear friend Sue Bohlin puts it,
“Prayer is exciting, vibrant communication with God. The goal of prayer is intimacy with God. The power of prayer is not found in the feelings, intonations, volume, or vocabulary that we conjure up. The power is not in us; it is in God.”