As a young Christian, I would often go to a weekly prayer meeting at the local church I attended. It was there that I first noticed how many people began their prayers by addressing God as “Lord Jesus” or “Jesus” or “Christ,” rather than by addressing Him as “Our Father” or “Our God.” I wasn’t sure whether or not it was right for us to pray directly to the Son and Spirit or whether we should specifically address the Father. Occasionally, someone—with whom I was praying—would address God with the trinitarian formula, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” For whatever reason, I was more comfortable with that sort of address than I was with the singular address to the Son or Spirit. But, was I right to be uncomfortable when prayer was addressed in this way?
I was fully convinced from the Scriptures that the Son is God in every way that God is God. After all, the the Apostle Paul explicitly tells us that Christ has eternally been in “the form of God” (Phil. 2:5). B.B. Warfield explained the significance of that phrase when he wrote:
“‘The form of God’ is the sum of the characteristics which make the being we call ‘God,’ specifically God, rather than some other being—an angel, say, or a man. When Our Lord is said to be in ‘the form of God,’ therefore, He is declared, in the most express manner possible, to be all that God is, to possess the whole fullness of attributes which make God God” (B.B. Warield, The Person of Christ).
I was also fully convinced from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is a personal being rather than an impersonal force—he is the same in substance, equal in power and glory, with the Father and the Son. The writer of Hebrews appealed to the Spirit’s personal and divine authorship of Psalm 95 when he wrote, “As the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice…’” The Spirit actively speaks through the Scriptures that He Himself inspired through the prophets. When Simon Peter brought the indictment against Ananias and Sapphira for their lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11), he said, “You have not lied to men, but to God.” Additionally, when the Apostle Paul gave the elders in Ephesus his parting admonition, he charged them in the following manner: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” The Holy Spirit is a personal and active member of the Godhead, appointing men to be shepherds of the flock of God.
Still, for right or wrong, there was something about hearing others address the second or third members of the Godhead that left me unconformable. In turn, I set out to study this issue in order to see whether or not my suspicions were right. What I needed then was to be settled about the following questions: Can we address God generally in prayer? Should we only pray to the Father in the name of Jesus? Is it right to pray to directly to Jesus? Is it right to pray directly to the Holy Spirit? Serious-minded Christians have, no doubt, considered these and related questions when they have approached the subject of prayer. The fact of the matter is that Scripture treats this subject both with more care and less specificity than one might suppose. A brief survey of pertinent passages will prove to be extremely beneficial as we seek to draw conclusions about the person(s) of the Godhead to whom we should address our prayers.
Old Testament Prayers
In the Old Testament era (prior to the full unfolding of the mystery of God’s triunity), believers addressed God in prayer, employing the many names by which He revealed Himself to them redemptive history. The names that God revealed to His people carried with them significance in relation to either His attributes or acts. Here are a few of God’s names that we find believers using when addressing God or speaking about Him in the Old Testament:
- El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)
- El Elyon (The Most High God)
- Adonai (Lord, Master)
- Yahweh (the Covenant Lord, Jehovah)
- Jehovah Nissi (The Covenant Lord My Banner)
- Jehovah-Raah (The Covenant Lord My Shepherd)
- Jehovah Rapha (The Covenant Lord That Heals)
- Jehovah Shammah (The Covenant Lord Is There)
- Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Covenant Lord Our Righteousness)
- Jehovah Mekoddishkem (The Covenant Lord Who Sanctifies You)
- El Olam (The Everlasting God)
- Elohim (The Creator God)
- Qanna (Jealous)
- Jehovah Jireh (The Covenant Lord Will Provide – יְהוָ֖ה יֵרָאֶֽה)
- Jehovah Shalom (The Covenant Lord Is Peace)
- Jehovah Sabaoth (The Covenant Lord of Hosts)