When we pray, we are in communication with God and since God is three Persons in one, we need to understand the role of each Person of the Trinity in prayer. This article, written by Dr. Mark Bird, looks at the role of the Father, the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit in prayer, some theological considerations and how saints in the past prayed to 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.” Matt. 6:6. And, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name . . .’” Matt 6:9. 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!” Matt 7:11.
Jesus prayed to the Father frequently. Matthew 11:25–26 (about parables); Matthew 26:39–42 (in Garden of Gethsemane); Matthew 27:46 (“My God, why has thou forsaken me”); Luke 23:34 (“Father, forgive them . . .”); Luke 23:46 (“Father, into thy hands”); John 11:41–42 (resurrection of Lazarus); John 12:28 (“Father, glorify thy name . . .”); John 17 (the High Priestly prayer). 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 three times Paul tells us to give thanks to God, “even the Father” (Eph 5:20; Col 1:12; Col 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.”
Acts and the Epistles provide a number of good examples 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.
Petition: 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.” Acts 4:24–30.
Intercession: 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. Ephesians 1:16–17.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you. Colossians 1:3; Romans 1:8
Praise/Worship: 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. Romans 16:25 – 27.
Benediction: 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. Romans 15:5-6; 15:13; 15:33.
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, 18:19). He is the rewarder of those who seek and obey him (Matthew 6:4; Hebrews 7:11).
The role of the Son (Jesus)
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.” John 14:6.
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. 1 Timothy 1:5–6.
He is also our advocate (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. Romans 8:34.
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 (Hebrews 4:14-16).
We call on Jesus for salvation
Because Jesus is our mediator and Saviour, 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 (supported in Acts 10:38–43). 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, worshipping Him and submitting to Him as Lord. Paul associates the receiving of salvation with calling on Jesus, who is the Lord. One who receives Jesus (John 1:12) will be calling on the Lord Jesus for salvation.
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” (1 Corinthians 1:2). According to the apostle Paul, New Testament Christians were everywhere calling on (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 [“call on” means to address, or to pray to] the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” 1 Corinthians 1:1–2.
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 are only able to come to God 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 authorised to come in faith, believing that he will fulfil 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.” John 16:3.
Jesus also said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:13–14 ESV. Jesus here says that he would answer prayer when we asked Him anything in His name. So Jesus authorises 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.
This is only a shortened version of this article. You can read the full article by downloading the PDF below.