Can we pray to Jesus? This is a question I’ve answered countless times, both in sermons and here on my blog. It’s a question I have to keep coming back to, because the answer sometimes given to that question is not only wrong, but harmful. Some say that since Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer for us to pray to the Father, we must therefore only pray to the first Person of the Trinity. The Lord’s Prayer says “Our Father,” and therefore we may not pray to Jesus. Case closed.
However, if such voices are wrong, they fly against what we confess in article 32 of the Belgic Confession. There we confess that we must not deviate from what Christ has commanded for worship. Then read this carefully: “Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.” So, if someone says we must not pray to Jesus, and Scripture says we are allowed to pray to Jesus, that person is introducing a human law which illicitly binds and compels our consciences. There is a lot at stake here.
There are several ways I could address this question. I could point out the proper explanation of “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer (see here). I could mention the explicit biblical passages where prayer to Jesus is not only observed, but even invited (John 14:14, Acts 7:59, 1 Cor. 16:22, Rev. 22:20). I could discuss again how the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, answered this question using an essential theological distinction. I could point out the practice of the early church with church fathers such as Augustine, the practice of the medieval church with Anselm of Canterbury, the practice of the Reformation church with William Farel, or the post-Reformation church with Thomas Watson. We could note that the Athanasian Creed speaks of worshipping the Trinity in unity, and unity in Trinity, noting how this has been understood throughout the history of the church. We could note the prayer-like hymns we sing which address Jesus — and to which most people don’t give a second thought. There are all these different ways of going at this issue.
However, today I want to take an approach I haven’t taken before. It came to me while I was recently teaching a marriage preparation class for a couple in my church. We were discussing healthy communication in marriage. I pointed out what Scripture says in Ephesians 5, where the Holy Spirit draws a parallel between human marriage and the relationship between Christ and his church. The thing that stood out to me is that Christ is clearly said to have a relationship with his church. That relationship is spoken of in marital terms. How absurd it would be for a human marriage to see one spouse being forbidden to speak with the other! Imagine a human marriage where the husband can speak to the wife, but the wife is not allowed to answer and communicate with her husband. Yet that’s what we’re left with when we’re told that the church of Jesus Christ may not pray to him. We have a relationship where the communication can only go one way. What healthy relationship only has one-way communication? We realize that healthy relationships see communication going both ways. If the church really does have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and if that relationship parallels human marriage, shouldn’t it be expected that the church would pray to Jesus?
As mentioned above, it is not only wrong to conclude otherwise, it is also harmful. Think about it. If we cannot communicate with him, how can we really have a relationship with him? How can we live in union with someone with whom we’re not even allowed to speak? How can we avoid the danger of turning the person of our beloved Saviour into a theological concept to be analyzed or argued rather than someone to be loved and cherished? I posit that the challenge of real spiritual vitality goes up exponentially in Reformed communities where they are taught (and then believe) they may not pray to Jesus.
So, yes, I do pray to my Lord Jesus from time to time. I don’t pray to him all the time. Most of the time I pray to the Triune God as my Father. But I’m taught in Scripture that prayer to my Saviour is also appropriate at times. I may pray to him in my personal prayers. I may sometimes also address him when I lead congregational prayer — this is especially if a sermon has been on a text explicitly unfolding some aspect of his person or work (as an example, see the prayer at the end of this sermon). Through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit allows me this privilege of being in a relationship with the Son of God where I may freely speak with him. He allows you that privilege too and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Don’t let your conscience be bound by human laws.