Are prayers directed to Jesus biblically appropriate?
In prayer, should we pray only to God the Father? Or are we permitted to pray to Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, as well?
I am inclined, thus far, to agree with the former because nowhere in Scripture is there a commandment to pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but there is plenty of commandments to pray to the Father. And, as much as my knowledge admits, there is not a single example of any Christian in the New Testament making a prayer to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are to give thanks in the Spirit or in Jesus, but we are always commanded to direct that thanks to the Father.
But I am very concerned about this because the heart of the question is this: What is an acceptable prayer? We would all hate to pray in a certain way, only to later find that we have been offering unacceptable prayers.
But on the other hand, if I have concluded that we should only pray to the Father, and the Bible permits us to pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, then I have been deprived of a fuller relationship with the Trinity.
What are your thoughts on this matter?
My response follows:
I believe that as followers of Christ we are regularly to direct our prayers to the Father (Matthew 6:9) in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14) by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 6:18). This normal model of how prayer is to be conducted is especially important in the local congregation, as in praying this way we teach one another about God through exploring the roles taken by the distinct Persons of the Trinity.
I do believe that Christians have the freedom to pray to Jesus, however, as I will explain below:
Though there are no commands to pray to Jesus Christ in the New Testament, there are, I believe, some clear examples of prayer to Jesus; many of these are indicated by David Peterson in his book Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (148-149):
Prayer to Jesus as Lord was offered by Stephen (Acts 7:59-60), in a way that is striking when compared and contrasted with the prayers of Jesus to the Father (Lk. 23:34, 46). Ananias also prayed to Jesus as Lord (9:10-17, where v. 17 shows that the ‘Lord’ addressed was Jesus) and designated the followers of Jesus as those who call on his name (9:14; cf. 22:16). Again, it is most likely that Jesus is the Lord addressed in prayer by the disciples in 1:24. Paul is represented as calling upon him as Lord on the Damascus road (9:5; 22:10; 26:15-18) and in a subsequent vision in the temple (22:17-21). In this connection it is interesting to note that Paul habitually associated the name of the Lord Jesus Christ with that of God the Father in his prayers (e.g. Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 1 Thes. 3:11-13; and 2 Thes. 2:16-17, addressed first to ‘our Lord Jesus Christ himself’). Christians could also be defined by Paul as those who ‘call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1:2, cf. Rom. 10:9-13), adapting an Old Testament expression to indicate that Jesus Christ was the one in whom they put their trust for salvation and to whom they prayed (e.g. Gn. 12:8; Pss. 50:15; 105:1; Je. 10:25; Joel 2:32).
It is also important to note that the second-to-last verse of the Bible contains a brief prayer to Jesus: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20b). The church in the immediate sub-apostolic era apparently continued the practice of praying to Jesus, as their activities were described by Pliny the Younger (who was himself a pagan) as follows: “...it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god…” [Pliny, Epistle 97].
So, in conclusion, I do think that Christians today are biblically justified in heartfelt prayers to our Lord Jesus, although the more normal pattern is to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name.
As far as I know, there is indeed no command or example of prayer to the Holy Spirit, and I believe His role is to convey and sanctify our prayers rather than to receive prayer as directed to Him.