Addressing Prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ
by Ken Cooper, Bromborough
Prayer is one of the most important yet most neglected activities in the Christian life. It is both an individual and collective exercise. There are few, if any, who would feel that they have reached a satisfactory level in this aspect of Christian living. When we read the prayers of scripture we realise how we often fall short. We lack faith and vision, are too narrow in our requests and we do not fully grasp the greatness of God who answers all our prayers and can meet all our needs. Conversely at times we do not pray for the local issues and the little things that can make a great difference in our daily lives.
Prayer is a form of service to God and an essential part of all other service. It is an expression of dependence and an indication of our own inability and weakness. The Lord Jesus prayed when on earth and taught us about prayer. It is God’s desire that we all speak to Him about every circumstance of life.
The Scriptural Pattern
Nowhere in scripture is prayer or worship offered to the Holy Spirit. This is sufficient ground for stating that prayer for and to the Holy Spirit is unscriptural. This does not reduce the Holy Spirit to a lesser part of the Godhead for He is co-equal, co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father and Son. The omission of prayer to the Holy Spirit is consistent with the different functions and relationships within the Godhead
Generally prayer is addressed to the Father (Gal.4:6; Jn.14:13). This is a reflection of the new relationship between God and the believer created by Christ’s redemptive work. Prayer is offered in the name of Christ and this reflects His place in the matter of communication between man and God. Prayer is prompted by the Spirit and offered by His leading and help. Prayer and worship to God the Father is entirely acceptable and appropriate.
The content and purpose of prayer should be to influence the person to whom it is primarily directed. This raises the question as to whether it is appropriate to pray to the Lord Jesus.
Prayer to the Lord Jesus
Notwithstanding the approach adopted by many, there is no scripture which explicitly forbids prayer to the Lord Jesus. There are occasions in scripture when the Lord Jesus was addressed in worship. This opens up the question as to whether this is an appropriate practice today.
As indicated there are many who strongly advocate that the scriptural pattern for public prayer and thanksgiving is to approach God through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is argued on the basis that:
- This is the order given in Ephesians 2:18: “For through Him (the Lord Jesus) we both (Jewish and Gentile believers) have access by one Spirit unto the Father”
- God is the object of worship and Christ is the theme of worship
- This pattern accords with the functions and place of each Person in the Godhead
- The Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest and way to the Father
Regrettably this had led to a measure of intolerance concerning those who feel at liberty to pray publicly to the Lord Jesus in our day.
We must not go beyond what scripture indicates. We must not lay down rigid rules unless there are clear statements to support them. Nor must we be overly prescriptive on matters where there is legitimate scope for alternative views and practices. Extremes are best avoided. We must be particularly cautious not to legislate on matters of personal exercise and conviction unless failure to do so would give rise to practices that are expressly contrary to scripture. We must be careful that we do not simply follow the “commandments of men”. We must not make the issue in question a ground for party spirit or schism.
In dealing with the issue of prayer to the Lord Jesus a number of questions arise:
- Should we distinguish general prayer from worship and thanksgiving?
- Is prayer to the Lord Jesus inconsistent with His ministry as our Great High Priest?
- Does John 4 (vv 21-24) rule out addressing prayer to the Lord Jesus?
There is a difference between general prayer and worship. This is evident from the use of different words for different approaches in prayer. However there is no such clear demarcation when it comes to addressing the Lord Jesus. Both prayer and worship are addressed to Him.
The first question raises the issue as to the true character of worship. Worship can or perhaps should include a direct address to the One worshipped. Worship is an expression of personal appreciation. There is no doubt that in worship we should express to God what we have been enjoying of Christ, but this does not exclude speaking to Christ Himself to tell Him of all that He means to us. If prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit and His work is to glorify Christ, this can be achieved through the lips of His people in direct address to Him.
In the New Testament the Lord Jesus was a true and proper object of worship. At His coming to earth wise men “fell down and worshipped Him” (Mt. 2:2&11). There are a number of occasions in His life, before His death and resurrection, where the glory of the Lord Jesus was revealed and this drew out adoring worship (see Mt 8:2; 9:18; 14:33 and 15:25). These were acts of deep reverence for the Lord. The healed man in John 9:38 believed and “worshipped him”. The Lord was also worshipped after His resurrection in Matthew 28:9 by the women who came to the tomb. Another occasion arises in Luke 24:52 when “they worshipped him”. In John 20:28 Thomas addressed Him “My Lord and my God”. These occasions were direct and personal. On each occasion the Lord did not reject such worship but accepted it as His rightful due. In the book of Revelation there are those who fall down before the Lamb (see 5:8, 12, 13) and divine worship is rendered to the ascended Christ. The scriptures conclude with a direct prayer to the Lord: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
The second question is based on the argument that the Lord Jesus is our great High Priest, the One who presents our worship to God. This is not doubted. But this seems rather a superficial reason for avoiding direct address to the Lord Jesus. As indicated scripture does not preclude direct worship and address to the Son.
The third question suggests that practice today is exclusive and there is only one possible mode of address. In John 4 the Lord indicates that it is the Father who is seeking worshippers. However to insist that this only means the Father is to be worshipped discounts New Testament practice both before and after the Lord’s resurrection. It implies that worship since the Lord’s ascension and before our going to glory is to be of a different order. It is argued by some that worship can only now be to the Father “in spirit and in truth”. If this is pursued exclusively it is argued that we should not address the Lord Jesus in prayer. But we must not suppose that worship of the Father precludes worship of the Son, nor worship addressed to God Himself as God. In fact John 4 clearly endorses worship of God.
New Testament Practice
Some accept that although the Lord Jesus was worshipped while on earth and is worshipped in Heaven, this is no longer appropriate in the day of salvation. This seems particularly strange as there were occasions in the New Testament when the Lord Jesus was worshipped after His ascension and these incidents give us sufficient authority for the practice today.
In Acts 7:59 Stephen spoke to the Lord Jesus in prayer, an action which was prompted by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 9, Paul addressed the Lord (see vv 5-6). Again in Acts 9, Ananias spoke to the Lord in prayer (see vv 10-16). In 2 Corinthians 12:8 we learn that Paul spoke to the Lord three times concerning his “thorn in the flesh”. In 1 Timothy 1:12 he refers to speaking to the Lord directly. There were also occasions when the Lord was addressed by a company. Reference should be made to Acts 1:24; Acts 13:2; Eph.5:19 and Col.3:16.
Calling on the Lord’s name is an essential ingredient of Christianity (see Acts 9:14 & 21; Acts 2:21; Rom.10:13; 1 Cor.1:2; 2 Tim.2:22). These are not just actions of individuals but companies. They are not isolated occasions but in some cases refer to repeated actions. There are also a number of Old Testament verses which show us that calling on the Lord’s name involves acknowledging His person and constitute an expression of worship (see for example Ps.116:17).
There is no commandment in scripture that the Lord Jesus should not be addressed in worship. There is no indication that our manner of approach should be different at the Breaking of Bread than on other occasions. Indeed there are many examples in the New Testament when prayer was addressed directly to Him. Worship of the Lord Jesus is an appropriate response by those who love Him. It is not for men to hinder others from so doing by their teaching. William Hoste once stated “wherever today God is worshipped, our Lord Jesus Christ receives His part”. We rightly take up words in song which are addressed to the Lord Jesus and neither should we be hesitant in speaking directly to Him in prayer and worship.