Can we pray directly to Jesus or the Holy Spirit or should we always pray to the Father first in Jesus’ name through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit?
Thanks for your great question. Over twenty years ago I began to maintain the legitimacy of praying to the Spirit along with the Father and the Son. Most were blessed, but I did receive some push back. I mentioned this to an older preacher named Charlie Kittrell, who saw many answers to prayer that brought glory to the Lord. He responded, “What! I’ve been praying to the Spirit for fifty years!” To answer your question, I am going to use pages 49-63 from my book entitled Friendship with the Holy Spirit. Here it is:
Foundational to any healthy relationship is open communication. Since this is the case and yet a most confused point in many people’s minds, we will attempt to be thorough on this truth.
Does the Holy Spirit communicate with us? The Scripture says explicitly, “The Spirit . . . beareth witness with our spirit” (Rom. 8:16). Notice with what He bears witness: our spirit. He speaks to our inner man, not our outer man. Understanding this can help protect against counterfeits, which we’ll address more fully in chapter 7. But the Holy Spirit does communicate to individual believers.
Is this communication to be only a one-way communication, or should we communicate with the Holy Spirit? Well, is the Spirit God? Is He a person? Then the answers ought to be obvious. Sadly, for many this is not the case, and therefore they do not treat the Holy Spirit as a person. They may acknowledge intellectually the personhood of the Spirit, but in practice they really do not depend on this reality. They overlook the practical ramifications of “the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19).
A friend of mine once heard Walter Wilson state the matter with so much common sense: “Personal presence automatically carries with it privileges of conversation.” We do not have to get permission to talk to a person. If we cannot communicate with the Holy Spirit, then what is the Holy Spirit to us but a mere force or a mysterious power or an inanimate object?
What kind of marriage would a couple have if only one partner did all the talking? Setting all fun aside, this kind of marriage partnership would be unhealthy and weak. To have a good relationship, each partner must relate. Two-way communication is necessary for a strong, healthy relationship.
Yet does the Bible teach us to communicate with the Holy Spirit? The answer is yes—both explicitly and implicitly. On the explicit level, our text, an inspired benediction says, “The communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” Clearly it is God’s will for each believer to commune with the Spirit. To actually “commune,” to “fellowship,” to “share together,” and to “function together as one” inherently demands two-way communication. Communication must be mutual, or it is not communion. If words have meaning and language has integrity, then in order for the communion of the Holy Spirit to be with us as individuals, we must join in this relationship of God with men. Isn’t it absolutely amazing that God desires companionship with us? What a great salvation!
On the implicit level, in the longest treatise on the Holy Spirit given by Christ Himself in John 14–16, Christ says, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter . . . even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). The word “another” means “another of the same kind.” Then Jesus says in the next verse, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). The Spirit brings Christ to us. To despise or slight the Spirit is to despise or slight “Christ in you.”
Another of the same kind has come to stand in Christ’s stead and yet to bring Christ to us. Did not the disciples interact with Jesus as a person? Did they not communicate with Him? Since the Spirit is another of the same kind, should we not interact with the Spirit today as the disciples of old did with Christ?
The Issue is communication, not necessarily praying. In a marriage relationship, when a husband and wife communicate with each other, they are not praying to each other (unless perhaps the wife is asking for the wallet!). The issue is interaction through communication.
However, is it improper to ever (I did not say only) address the Holy Spirit in prayer? Is He God? Is He a person? Then again the answers should be obvious. Many get hung up here, and in the name of honoring Jesus or the Father, they dishonor the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of the Father. Is this not a contradiction? Let’s take just a moment to clear up some of the confusion.
In Ezekiel 37 God commanded the prophet Ezekiel to pray to the Holy Spirit: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezek. 37:9). God defines the breath as “my spirit” (Ezek. 37:14). This prayer was to the Spirit of God. This example should settle any questions about the legitimacy of at least some prayer being made to the Spirit.
I suppose the greatest objection to ever directly addressing the Spirit comes from a misunderstanding of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father . . .” (Matt. 6:9). Some conclude from this that we are to address only the Father, but this conclusion is problematic in several ways. First, if this means that we can address only the Father, then to be consistent we could not ever address the Son. Do not many people get saved by asking Jesus to save them? Second, if we are to take from this that we can only say “our Father” when we pray, then to be consistent we could only pray the exact words of the Lord’s Prayer. This of course would be the vain repetitions of the Roman Catholic “Our Fathers.” Third, to take from this that we can only say “our Father” is to miss Christ’s opening concept, which we see in His words “After this manner therefore pray ye.” The issue here is manner, not vain repetition.
The fact is, many people at the time of Christ did pray to Jesus (not the Father) to have mercy on them. As he began to sink, Peter prayed directly to Jesus, “Lord, save me” (Matt. 14:30). The lepers cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). Interestingly, there is no Old Testament teaching to support this. People at the time of Christ’s incarnation had only the Old Testament. Yet even though praying to Jesus was not taught in the Old Testament, many at the time of Christ prayed directly to Him, as we have just noted. Not to have prayed to the present Jesus would have revealed a low view of who He is.
Likewise, though there is little in the New Testament regarding praying to the Spirit, not to pray to the present Holy Spirit is to reveal a low view of who He is. Should not we who live in the age of the Spirit cry out to the Spirit as our Helper in time of need? Some object, saying that people cried out to Christ because He was personally standing there with them. But is not that the whole point? The Holy Spirit is just as personally present as Christ was in New Testament times, not only with us but in us. Not to apprehend this truth is to miss the blessing of the indwelling Christ.
The book of Acts records thirteen prayers. Twelve are addressed to “Lord” as opposed to “our Father.” Some contexts infer Christ, and in one instance Christ is expressly named. The truth is that the title “Lord” encompasses all three persons of the Godhead and can be used specifically with any one person, including the Holy Spirit. The Scripture declares, “The Lord is that Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17). Paul under inspiration said, “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5). The implication is “May the Lord . . . ,” which is essentially a prayer. Since the Father and the Son are named in the last two phrases, the implication is that “the Lord” in the first phrase to whom Paul prayed refers to the Spirit.
Jesus said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38). Who is the Lord of the harvest? The context definitely leans toward the idea that Christ is here referring to someone other than His own person. Who descended in mighty power on the day of Pentecost so that three thousand people were harvested? We are explicitly told that it was the Spirit (see Acts 2). Who told Philip to “go near, and join [himself] to this chariot” so that the Ethiopian eunuch was harvested? We are explicitly told that it was the Spirit (Acts 8:29). Who said to Peter, “Go with them, doubting nothing” so that Cornelius and his household were harvested, thus opening the way to the Gentile harvest? We are explicitly told that it was the Spirit (Acts 10:19–20). Who said to the church at Antioch, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them,” which led to the first missionary journey of multiple harvests? We are explicitly told that it was the Spirit (Acts 13:2). Who forbade Paul to minister in Asia and Bithynia in order to get them into the Macedonian harvest? We are explicitly told that it was the Spirit (see Acts 16:6–7). So who is the Lord of the harvest? The book of Acts certainly implies that the Lord of the harvest is the Holy Spirit. And Jesus told us, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.”
The hymn writers of the past reflect a proper understanding of appropriate times to address the Spirit in prayer. For example, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart,” “Breathe on Me Breath of God,” “Spirit of the Living God, Fall Fresh on Me,” and “Holy Ghost, with Light Divine.” Charles Wesley wrote “Come, Holy Ghost, our Hearts Inspire,” “Come, Thou Everlasting Spirit,” and “Spirit of Faith, Come Down.” Isaac Watts wrote, “Eternal Spirit! Praise We Bring.” All these examples directly address the Holy Spirit in prayer. Were all these hymn writers misled? Are congregations sinning every time they sing one of these prayers? Obviously former generations had a better understanding of this issue than the present generation does.
This is not at all to diminish the Father. He is “our Father,” and much of the time, if not most of the time, we most certainly will beseech Him as such. In fact, the Spirit enables us to do so. “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Also, this in no way should imply a minimizing of the Son. Oh, “that in all things He might have the pre-eminence” (Col. 1:18)! This is to say that where applicable, we must stop slighting the blessed Holy Spirit, who is both the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of the Son. This is not a matter of getting out of balance but rather of getting back into balance.
All three persons of the Godhead are often mentioned regarding a specific matter in Scripture, but one is emphasized as the prominent person in that particular matter. This both reveals the oneness of God and yet the distinctiveness of each person. When the Spirit is emphasized regarding a matter, we may properly address Him about that matter. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter. How can He truly be the Comforter if we cannot bare to Him our tale of woe? As the Paraclete, He is the Helper. Should we not cry out to Him for help in time of need? He is the Lord of the harvest. Should we not talk to Him about guidance and enablement regarding our partnership with Him in the harvest? He is the great Teacher. Should we not ask the author of the inspired Word for illumination of the sacred page? This is the cry of the psalmist: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Ps. 119:18). When the Spirit is the direct agent involved in a matter, then He may be addressed in our praying just as we would address the Father or the Son in matters that relate directly to either the Father or the Son. Quite frankly, as we go throughout the day and cry out “Lord, give me wisdom,” who are we talking to?
Once when I was in Ireland, a man asked me, “Can we just say ‘Lord’ and let God address it to the appropriate person?” I love the simplicity of this question. There is a sense in which addressing any one person of the Godhead is addressing all three, since we are dealing with one God. The problem comes when people willfully neglect the Holy Spirit.
Again, however, the real issue is not prayer as such but rather communication. The Holy Spirit is a person and must be treated as a person. Suppose you are visiting a museum that specializes in ancient artifacts. Suppose three others are making the visit with you, but one of them is appointed as your personal guide. Would it be right to speak only to the other two tourists and never to your personal guide, who is in regular communication with you? Yet is this not what many do to the Spirit?
Jesus said, “It is expedient for you [to your advantage] that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). What a statement! Jesus said it is more advantageous for us if He departs so that His Spirit could come and be our personal companion. For us to ignore this personal relationship with the Spirit is to despise our Savior’s throne gift: the gift of the Spirit that He sent from His throne on the Day of Pentecost.
An evangelist friend of mine, years ago, heard Walter Wilson preach. Wilson began by asking those in the audience how many of them had spoken to the Holy Spirit that day. There was little response. Then he told the people that since the Holy Spirit is a person who lives in us, He is always with us, and to have a person always with us and yet never speak to Him is not very nice! This little anecdote certainly helps put the issue into perspective. As a preacher I knew once said, “When you know the family, you can speak to all the family members!”
In light of the overreaction in our day to strange fire, I recognize that many perhaps have never thought much about interaction with the Holy Spirit and are not willfully neglecting Him. This is one matter. It is entirely another matter to willfully neglect interacting with the Holy Spirit as a person. When this is the case, it reveals on the part of the one involved a lack of honoring the Spirit as truly God and a lack of treating the Spirit as truly a person. This reveals a lack of understanding of the genuine Spirit-filled life of Galatians 2:20: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” When this is the case, it keeps God’s people from accessing the victory of Christ for holiness and service.
For further study on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, see Friendship with the Holy Spirit: The Revival Relationship.
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