Can one pray to idols? Can one pray to the “Virgin Mary”? Can one pray to angels? Hopefully, your answer is the same as mine – “Surely not – God forbid!”
What if I were to ask if one can pray to Jesus? What would your answer be now? Would it be “Yes”, “No”, or “I’m not sure”? In this article, I hope to make it plain that our prayers are directed to God the Father, and not Jesus Christ His Son.
WORSHIP MUST BE AUTHORIZED, AND PRAYER IS WORSHIP
The word “worship” comes from the Greek word “proskuneo”, which means “to kiss towards, in token of reverence”. When we worship God, we are showing our utmost respect and honour towards Him. Our worship must be authorized – Jesus Himself said that the Father was seeking for true worshippers to “worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), and that Truth comes from the Father’s word (John 17:17). The apostle Paul reminded the Colossians that “whatsoever ye do in word or deed (which would include worship), do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (i.e. by His authority)” (Colossians 3:17). Since worship must be authorized by God’s word, and prayer is worship (cf. Acts 2:42), we must find a Bible-based answer (and a Bible-based answer ONLY) to see if we have the authority to pray to Jesus.
JESUS’ ”MODEL PRAYER”
Our Lord Jesus, during His “Sermon on the Mount”, provided a “Model Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer was not meant to be recited verbatim, but was meant to provide a pattern for an acceptable prayer – “after this manner therefore pray ye…” (Matthew 6:9). Notice that the prayer opened with the following words: “OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN…”.
If Jesus wanted to endorse prayer to Himself, why did he specify in the “Model Prayer” that prayer was to be directed to God the Father? Furthermore, in a different time and place, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus provided them with a similar pattern (Luke 11:1-4), which also began with the words “OUR FATHER WHICH ART IN HEAVEN”.
JESUS’ INSTRUCTIONS TO THE APOSTLES
Out of the four gospel accounts, John 13-17 provides the most detailed account of Jesus’ words to the apostles on the night that He was betrayed. In this passage of Scripture, Jesus provides various instructions and reminders to the apostles, being mindful that “His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father” (John 13:1, referring to His imminent death). In John 15:16, Jesus tells the apostles that “whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
Subsequently, Jesus reinforced this by saying in John 16:23 that “in that day ye shall ask me (Jesus) nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you.” The apostles affirmed in John 16:29 that Jesus spoke “plainly”, that is, clearly and unambiguously. Jesus’ instructions on prayer, that it should be directed to the Father, still ring out plainly and clearly today!
THE APOSTLES’ INSTRUCTIONS ON PRAYER
We are mindful that after the ascension of Christ into Heaven, the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father to the apostles to “teach them all things” (John 14:26) and to “guide them into all truth” (John 16:13). Thus, we should also look to the apostles to see what they had to say on the topic of prayer.
We see the words of Paul to the Ephesians, when he said that we should be “giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
We see John stating in 1 John 3:21-22 that we have “confidence toward God (i.e. the Father – cf. 1 John 3:23), and whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
The apostles spoke plainly too – that prayer ought to be directed to God the Father.
AN OBJECTION CONSIDERED
There are a variety of objections raised by those in “Christendom” when someone proposes that prayer should not be directed to Jesus. Due to time, let us consider just one of them: Stephen allegedly praying to Jesus.
In Acts 7:59-60, Stephen, the first recorded martyr, said “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”, and “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” While some have claimed the right to pray to Jesus from this account, we see that Stephen was “full of the Holy Ghost”, and that he “looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). In other words, this was a miraculous event, where Stephen was effectively speaking to Jesus in person. Today, the age of miracles has ceased, and we are no longer able to look directly into heaven and see Jesus standing on God’s right hand. We cannot appeal to this passage for authority to pray to Jesus.
JESUS’ ROLE IN PRAYER
If we do not direct our prayers to Jesus Christ, then what is His role in our prayers? Again, we must turn to the pages of Scripture to find an answer to this question.
Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). A mediator serves as a bridge between two formerly hostile parties – access is now restored. Our sin separated us from God and condemned us to eternal hellfire (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23), but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, enables us to be reconciled with the Father (1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 9:15). It would be absurd to claim that we can pray to Jesus, for if that were so, then that would mean that Jesus would be His own Mediator between us and Himself.
Jesus is also our Advocate (1 John 2:1). An advocate is one who makes a plea on behalf of the cause of another. Notice in 1 John 2:1-2 that Jesus is our Advocate with the Father, because He is the propitiation (i.e. atonement, sacrifice) for our sins. Jesus took the penalty of sin (spiritual death) upon Himself (cf. Romans 5:8), and that gives Him the right to plead our case before the Father. It would be ridiculous to claim that we can pray to Jesus, for if that were so, then that would mean that Jesus is advocating (pleading) our case before His own self.
CONCLUSION – WE PRAY TO GOD THE FATHER, IN JESUS’ NAME
Brethren, it is imperative that we rely on the authority of the Scriptures when learning whom to pray to. The Scriptures plainly teach that Jesus taught us to pray to the Father. The Scriptures plainly teach that the apostles taught us to pray to the Father. The Scriptures plainly teach that Jesus is not the correct recipient of our prayers, but that He instead performs the functions of Mediator and Advocate on our behalf, when we bring our prayers before God the Father.
Let us respect God and His inspired Word, and let us pray only to the Father. I would like to conclude with this passage from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:7-11)