When the disciples asked that the Lord would “teach us to pray” in Luke 11, His response addresses much of what we are concerned with in this series. For this section, however, we will focus on those first two words: “Our Father.”
Two points come to mind in the consideration of our Savior’s response. First, it is personal: He is ours. Second, it is familial: He is our Father. It is staggering to think that a desire of God, expressed most poignantly by Jeremiah, was to enter into this relationship with His people. “And I said, ‘Thou shalt call Me, “My Father”; and shalt not turn away from Me” (Jer 3:19). Further, this is a personal relationship unclaimed in the whole of the Old Testament. David, in his prayer before the congregation (1Chro 29:10), and Isaiah, three times in his prayer of lamentation (Isa 63:16 and 64:8), refer to God as “Our Father,” but in both instances they are speaking on behalf of the nation of Israel as a whole, not personally. It is only when we come into the New Testament that the fullness of this personal relationship is presented. The Apostle Paul notes that, “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15).
For most of us, especially when we were younger, our fathers played an important role in our lives. We looked up to them and respected them. Those of us who are fathers know that the command to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is important for a number of reasons, but most soberly, because our relationship with our children can have a profound impact on their perception of God. The bond between a father and his children can be very special. It is humbling to think that fatherhood is used by God to describe His relationship to His children. Why would we want to come before Him using any other name?
We have two fundamental reasons why we should pray to the Father summed up as Duty and Devotion. It is out of duty, because the Savior tells us to pray to the Father and it is out of devotion because it is something that the Father desires. The pattern in the New Testament is that we pray to the Father, in the Name of the Son, with the Holy Spirit making intercession for us. The Apostle Paul in the Ephesian letter is an example to us. He states we should be, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ … Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph 5:20; 6:18).
The question can then be asked about praying to the other two Persons of the Godhead. Should we pray directly to the Lord Jesus Christ or to the Holy Spirit? We would suggest that, since there are no examples of either, this alone should be conclusive. The one verse which could be used to allow praying to the Lord directly is John 14:14 which some translate as, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” Without getting too deep into translations, including the “Me” does seem to be an awkward construction. Also, it has been well said that, “A verse out of context is a pretext for a proof text.”
In the context, the Savior has been explaining to the disciples, and Philip specifically, the great truth “I and My Father are One.” Verse 10 is particularly profound. He says to Philip, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.” Therefore, even if you allow for the “Me,” the broader point is, if we pray to Christ, it is to be through the Father. Also, despite John 14:14 we have no examples of Christians praying directly to Jesus.
While some would suggest that the Apostle Paul in writing to the Corinthians includes them with, “All that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1Cor 1:2), as an example of prayers to Jesus Christ our Lord directly, one does have to make that conclusion as an inference. It seems rather that this is simply a description of those saints who pray to the Father calling upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
John 14 also answers the criticism that when we meet together as two or three claiming the promise that He is in the midst, that it would be “rude” to then ignore the Savior and only address our prayers to God the Father. The Savior would say, “I and My Father are one.”
There are some who suggest we can and should pray to the Holy Spirit. Again, there is no example of anyone in the Bible praying directly to the Holy Spirit. Primarily this would be because the Spirit does not speak of Himself (John 16:13), nor draw attention to Himself but rather testifies about Christ (John 15:26). It does appear, also, that there is a common fundamental error in praying to the Holy Spirit as it typically misunderstands His purpose.
From Roman Catholic liturgy to bands like Hillsong and Jesus Culture, there is a common prayer theme of asking to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Given that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit upon conversion there is danger in chanting over and over again, calling for a filling. At a minimum it could be described as the “vain repetition” the Lord warns about in Matthew 6:7. It is ironic that the very prayer the Savior uses as a template to teach us to pray has, to some, become a chanted, vain repetition. Thoughtless repetition is to be avoided.
Young men in particular, when praying publicly, may be inclined to look for a phrase to use as filler when pausing to draw a breath. As much as we would encourage young men to pray, shepherds should lovingly guide them away from an irreverent use of the Father’s Name as filler. The Apostle Paul in his Ephesian prayer (which could be considered to start at chapter 1:3 and continue to the end of chapter 3) opens directly addressing God the Father once at the beginning of the prayer. Every other reference to God or to the Father is in context and not used as filler.
Prayer is something which should be done intelligently. We are privileged to come into the very presence of the High and Mighty One Who inhabits eternity. John Newton wrote,
Behold the Throne of Grace!
The promise calls us near.
To seek our God and Father’s face,
Who loves to answer prayer.
Draw close to Him and marvel that we can call Him “Father.”