When we turn to the subject of prayer, we do so with some ambivalence, conscious as all of us are of our own inadequacies in this area of intimate communication. We all understand keenly the desire felt by the disciples to learn from the Master how to pray acceptably. Like us, the apostles had before them all the examples of prayer, both public and private, in the Old Testament. There were brief, urgent prayers, made on the spur of the moment, as when Nehemiah prayed before Artaxerxes (Neh 2:4). There were more formal prayers made after careful preparation, such as Daniel’s prayer when he tells us: “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan 9:3). And Daniel, too, provides the example of a regular habit of daily personal prayer: “he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Dan 6:10). In so doing he followed the example of David, who declared: “As for me, I will call upon God: and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psa 55:16–17).

Though these examples are instructive and are there to demonstrate the prayer habits of godly men, whom we should follow, they did not fully meet the needs of the disciples. They wanted more than habits and examples from long ago, valuable though these might be; they wanted to know what they should say to their God in prayer. And Jesus met their needs, setting out in “the Lord’s prayer” a pattern or framework of content that disciples should follow in framing their own prayers to the Father. “After this manner therefore pray ye…” (Matt 6:9).

The matter of to whom prayer can or should be directed has been raised by some, and it has been suggested that prayer can appropriately be made to Christ, as well as to the Father. The subject has been considered in The Lampstand over the last year, principally by reproducing articles on the subject by John Thomas and Alfred Norris. Various passages from the New Testament have been raised as seeming to support the proposition that prayer can be to Christ as well as to the Father. So we want to address the issues raised and consider the scriptural position. In doing so we want to try to avoid being legalistic or prescriptive. At the same time, as in all matters of our worship we want to discern and follow, as far as we can, the teaching of Scripture on this subject.

Christ’s instruction

Our starting point is Jesus’ instruction to the disciples. “But thou, when thou prayest … pray to thy Father (Matt 6:6). He added: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt 6:9). There was no qualification. No suggestion that this only applied during the days of his ministry. No statement that after he ascended to the Father, it could be varied. In those last vital hours on the night of betrayal, our Lord reinforced and expanded this teaching: “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (John 15:16). He was anticipating the time when he would no longer be with them. He would be at the Father’s side, his great work accomplished, but even then through prayer, they must “ask of the Father” though now “in my name”. There is no suggestion, that now they could appropriately direct their petitions to him. But see in John 14:13 how closely the Father and Son work in concert: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The petition is directed to the Father, the response is directed by the Son, and the Father is glorified thereby. So it is not as though, in praying to the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ is somehow bypassed. There is, rather, a wonderful process involving the petitioner, the Father, and Christ the advocate and mediator.

The apostles’ teaching and practice

Not surprisingly, the teaching of the apostles conforms to the teaching of the Lord. Paul instructed the Philippians: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil 4:6). He addresses the Colossians in similar vein: “… do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col 3:17). The teaching is consistent; prayer is to God, the Father, and we approach Him in the name of Christ our mediator.

Paul’s words to Timothy follow this pattern: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, be made for all men … For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour … For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim 2:1–5).

We not only have this clear instruction from the Apostle Paul, that prayer is to be directed to God, the Father, but examples of prayer and references to prayer through the New Testament show that this was the habit and practice of the first century believers. When Peter was put in prison by Herod Agrippa 1, we read that “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the ecclesia unto God [Grk Theos] for him” (Acts 12:5). There were a multitude of prayers, the whole ecclesia was praying, and doing so repeatedly and all these prayers were directed to God. If prayer to Christ was appropriate, surely this was the time, and this was the man, Peter, Jesus’ intimate companion. But the record tells us otherwise.

A few more examples indicate the consistent pattern of prayer directed to God that was followed by Paul. In Romans 1:9 he declared: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” Paul’s prayers for the brethren and sisters in Rome were frequent. He never forgot to mention them. If it were appropriate to pray to Christ, he could have done so; his closeness to his Lord was unquestioned. But the evidence of this verse is that he did not. He himself followed the pattern that he passed on to us, by praying to the Father. Further on in the epistle, Paul turns his mind to the people of Israel: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” Once again Paul’s petitions are directed to God, the Father.

As he drew the epistle to a close and spoke of his anticipated visit to the Romans, Paul in impassioned language seeks their prayers for him: “Now I beseech you brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me” (Rom 15:30). The terms of verses 29 and 30 surely provide an opening to encourage those prayers to be directed to Christ, if such was acceptable, but no, once again Paul is clear and explicit, prayer is to the Father even when “the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” is under consideration. There are other examples of similar language by the apostle, but these suffice to illustrate the consistent example of Paul.

Jesus addressed directly in the Acts of the Apostles

There are a number of occasions in the record of the Acts where some have suggested that the terminology used provides an example of individuals praying to Christ, and that these supposed examples give us a warrant to do likewise. So let us consider the principal examples that are brought forward.

Acts 1:24 “And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen.”

The word for Lord in the Greek is kurios, used frequently in the New Testament for both God and our Lord Jesus Christ. It appears in Acts 1:21: “the Lord [kurios] Jesus,” so some might wrongly conclude that the “Lord” of verse 24 is Jesus. This is simply an assumption. It is God Who declares: “I Yahweh search the heart, I try the reins …” (Jer 17:10). The apostles were aware that God, knowing the heart, had already made His choice. They used the lot as the means whereby God might make that known to them. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” (Prov 16:33). Even if we could be quite sure that Christ was addressed, we have the unique circumstances of one to be selected as a replacement apostle of Christ. This is hardly a precedent for our prayers today. The fact is, however, that there is no conclusive evidence at all that the apostles prayed to Jesus Christ on this occasion.

Acts 7:59 “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The word “God” is not in the original; the Interlinear Bible translates as: “And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Well, there is no doubt that Stephen is addressing Jesus Christ directly. Can we take this as an example of prayer, providing guidance for how we should pray today? The context gives us the answer – certainly not. Consider the circumstances. Stephen, having bravely defended the Truth, is about to be slain. In the face of the murderous intent shown in verse 54, “… they gnashed on him with their teeth”, Stephen is given a merciful vision of comfort. “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”

The apostles in Acts 1:11 also “looked stedfastly toward heaven” – the expressions are virtually identical. They watched Christ disappear. Stephen, as it were, saw through and beyond the clouds and saw the Lord Jesus, not sitting at God’s right hand but standing, not in repose, but ready for action. By the power of the Spirit he is able to look directly upon his Lord, and what then more natural than to address Christ, standing before him. Not a prayer, as we understand it, but a statement made to one right before him. We have no comparable circumstances to justify taking these words as our warrant to pray direct to Christ. The situation was unique, a gracious blessing to Stephen in his final moments, but providing no precedent for us at all.

Acts 9 The conversion of Saul

Verses 3–6 describe the appearance of Christ to Paul; and verses 10–16, the appearance in a vision of Christ to Ananias. Both Saul and Ananias respond to the words spoken to them. So Saul says: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Ananias responds in verse 13: “Lord, I have heard by many of this man …” We can scarcely take seriously any suggestion that these comments, responding directly to a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ before them, should be regarded as “prayer” from which we can assume some direction for our prayers. Certainly both Saul and Ananias spoke directly to the Lord. But once again, this unique vision provides no precedent at all for our prayers today.

Acts 10:14 “But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.”

The record describes the circumstances. Peter “fell into a trance” (v10). He “saw heaven opened” (v11). “And there came a voice” (v13). Peter’s response in verse 14 has been taken by some to be addressed to Jesus, assuming that was “the voice” of verse 13. Others refer it to the “angel of God” of verse 3, whom Cornelius also addressed as “Lord” in verse 4. Whatever the truth might be, Peter, referring to that vision, told Cornelius that “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (v28). We cannot with certainty conclude that it was Jesus whom Peter addressed as “Lord” in verse 14, though it may have been. Even if we could be certain, once more we have the special circumstances of a specific vision, involving a conversation about its meaning, and a pivotal directing of the gospel work for the first time to the Gentiles. These circumstances surely provide no guidance or precedent as to the nature of our prayers today.

Examples in the epistles etc taken to demonstrate prayer to Christ

In the epistles of Paul and of Peter, and in the Apocalypse as well, some have taken certain texts to be prayers to Christ in the first century, giving us warrant for following those “examples” and praying directly to Christ in our day. We are not convinced that this is so, and we will review some of these examples and consider the evidence.

2 Corinthians 12:8–9 “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”

This reference has, until very recently, been widely regarded among us, to refer to Paul praying to God to remove what seems to have been a debilitating physical ailment. In praying to God three times in this way, Paul is following the pattern of Christ at Gethsemane, who also three times prayed to the Father in the face of the terrible trial before him (Matt 26:39,42,44). Christ’s response to the inevitability of facing the suffering before him was, “thy will be done”, and “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). Similarly the Divine response to Paul was: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Christ was not absent, however. Clearly he was in the presence of God for Paul. The strength or power which God promised would make up for Paul’s infirmities would be at Christ’s direction, so Paul understood that “the power of Christ” would rest upon him (v9).

Once again it is an assumption, in our view with scant evidence, to suggest that Paul in this record is praying to Christ. Further we would also suggest, that even if we could be sure that “the Lord” here is Christ (and we have no such certainty), we still have special circumstances involving a divinely chosen apostle with no analogy to our twenty first century environment.

1 Timothy 1:12 “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful.”

To place on record in a letter one’s gratitude to Christ scarcely constitutes prayer. Such expressions of our thankfulness to Christ, to Paul, to the many faithful recorded in Scripture, are not uncommon in public speaking or private discussion among us. It is stretching our definitions to call this “prayer”.

2 Timothy 4:17–18 “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

These verses are a wonderful statement of Paul’s faith. They express the closeness of his relationship with his Lord, and his thankfulness and worship as well. They are reminiscent of his statement in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It is difficult to put them in the category of “prayer to Christ” but we should have no hesitation in making similar sentiments part of our prayers of thanksgiving to the Father through His Son our Lord.

1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 “Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you….”

Some would call these verses a prayer to God and to Christ. But consider that Paul has already demonstrated the pattern of prayer to God which he instructed us to follow, and which he followed himself. So in 1 Thessalonians 1:2 he declared: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers.” As the apostle contemplated the calling of the Thessalonians to God’s “kingdom and glory”, he notes that “For this cause … thank we God without ceasing” (1 Thess 2:13). Whenever he clearly speaks of his own prayers they always are to God Himself.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 he is recording his invocation for God and His Son to work together on behalf of the Thessalonians. We know this is simply the reality of how the Lord Jesus and the Father work. “My Father worketh hitherto and I work”, Jesus said in John 5:17. He continued: “for what things soever he [God] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” Christ is in the presence of God for us, and when we pray to the Father, it is Christ through the angels who will superintend the divine response to prayer. Yet we suggest that the injunctions of the apostle in this fashion do not give us any direction, even by implication, to suggest that we ought to pray directly to Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:16–17; 3:16

These verses, similarly to 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13, record the apostle’s invocation in his letter to the Thessalonians, of blessing and peace from God and Christ. And just as he did in the first epistle, so in this second epistle he refers to the prayers he has been making on their behalf, and the standard New Testament pattern is followed. So in 2 Thessalonians 1:3, “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet …” And in chapter 1:11, “Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling ….” Whenever he refers to his habit of praying for the followers of Christ, it is very clear that Paul prayed often, and always to God – never do we see him referring to an occasion when he prayed to Christ.

But in the text of his letters he exercises his apostolic prerogative to invoke blessing from God and Christ on their behalf. We might properly express similar sentiments to each other (albeit without any apostolic authority), but we have no justification in the apostle’s teaching or example to pray directly to Christ.

2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever.”

It seems hard to justify calling these expressions Peter’s prayer. The first part of the verse is simply an injunction for his readers (including ourselves) to grow and develop. The second section expresses Peter’s invocation of praise for his beloved Lord, an example we do well to follow. Neither expression sets a pattern justifying prayer by us to Christ today.

Revelation 22:20 “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”

Yes, undoubtedly here is a statement addressed directly to Christ. But consider the context. The whole of the book of Revelation is an extended vision to John, given by Christ. Throughout he “sees” and “hears” this amazing unfolding of God’s purpose. How natural, after all this, to respond with joy to the statement of Christ that he is coming, and to direct that statement to the one in whose presence he had been in vision. Surely those very words of John have been on the lips of every true brother and sister of Christ from time to time. Who would condemn this?

But let us note that even in this book, the principles of prayer laid down by Christ and Paul are in evidence. Consider Revelation 8:3–4: “… and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” The teaching is unmistakable. Prayer is to God. It is not “before Christ”, not “before God and Christ”. There is no provision for prayer to Christ at all.

Calling on the name of the Lord

Some have thought that the expression “calling on the name of the Lord” implied or suggested that prayer to Christ was permissible or envisaged in this form of words. The expression is used by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:21 (quoting Joel 2:32): “And it shall come to pass that whosoever will call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Paul quotes the same passage from Joel in Romans 10:13–14 when he declares: “For whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?” The passage in Joel did have a partial fulfilment in that dramatic period when the gospel went forth in the first century, but its ultimate fulfilment will be in the day of Christ, when the Kingdom is established. Joel prophesied: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.”

Those who call on the name of the Lord (“Yahweh”, in the Joel record) are those whom Yahweh has called. So having been called to deliverance they call on the name of Yahweh. They make a profession or public declaration of allegiance to that name. This does not consist of prayer to Christ; indeed were we to substitute the expression “pray to Jesus” for “calling on the name of the Lord” we will find that we have thoroughly distorted the sense of those passages where such terminology occurs.

The term does not of course originate in Joel’s account. Its origins are ancient, going right back to the record of Genesis 4. There in verse 26 we read: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” The av margin puts it this way: “to call themselves by the name of the Lord”. The sense is that of identity. So in Acts we find that same word used of a person’s surname: “Simon, whose surname is Peter” (Acts 10:5) and “John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:12). When we declare our allegiance to Christ, when we publicly “put on Christ” in baptism we take on his name and identity. In that sense we “call on the name of the Lord”. So Ananias encouraged Saul to “wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). James quotes the same thought from Amos in Acts 15:17: “That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” Simply put, to call upon the name of the Lord, was not a prayer, but a profession, a public declaration of allegiance to Christ and his Father, Whose name Jesus bore.

Conclusion

In concluding that prayer to Christ is not the teaching of either Christ or the apostles, who rather instructed us to pray to the Father, we might seem in an almost clinical analysis, to separate Christ and the Father. That would be a terrible mistake. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself”, Paul declared (2 Cor 5:19). This remains true. Paul in Colossians 3:1–3 outlines the wonderful relationship we have with our Lord and through him with the Father: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead [the ‘old man’ v9] and your life [‘the new’ of v10] is hid with Christ in God.”

Blessed beyond measure in this wonderful relationship, having access to the Father through Christ “in the presence of God for us” (Heb 9:24), let us be therewith content.