Who Do We Pray To?

  • Question from MF, USA

    Why, if The Holy Spirit is among us since Christ’s ascension into heaven, do we not pray to that figure but instead to Jesus – who is not currently among us and won’t be until he “comes again”?

    There are a couple of theological points to make here. Firstly, in a Christian, Trinitarian model, praying to one person of the Godhead is the same as praying to all, due to the essential Unity of the Trinity (one God in three persons). This might sound confusing (and provoke all kinds of further questions), but it is worth bearing in mind. In technical doctrinal terms this is called coinherence, ‘perichoresis’ or mutual indwelling.

    The second point is that we have a number of models of prayer in the New Testament. Jesus began his instructional prayer pattern ‘Father in Heaven’ (Matthew chapter 6, verse 9). In the first chapter of Acts, Peter addresses his prayer ‘Kyrios’, the Greek word for Lord used of Jesus earlier in the same section, which has led commentators to believe the prayer was addressed to the ascended Jesus (c.f. chapter 1 verse 6 with verse 24). However, this initial section of Acts immediately precedes the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

    In Ephesians chapter 6, verse 18, Paul urges the Christians receiving his epistle to pray in the Spirit, not to the Spirit. The Spirit therefore acts as a guide to the Christian regarding what to pray, described in Romans chapter 8, verse 26 as the Spirit interceding. Paul’s understanding of Christian life was of a Spirit-led, Christ-centred, life so prayer naturally involved the Spirit.

    Given these New Testament models, there has been a recent increase, in churches that style themselves as Spirit-led at least, to directly appeal to the Holy Spirit (as in the form of ‘Come Holy Spirit’ etc.). Whether this is doctrinally correct is moot given the first theological point made above. It probably has more to do with the intention of the person praying the prayer. If the person wants a manifestation of the Spirit’s power, or some kind of ‘sign’, then it would be obvious to address it directly to the Spirit. From a confirmed Trinitarian point of view, perhaps prayer should be addressed to all three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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