To Whom Do I Pray?

I read Randy Olds’ Praying To A Triune God this morning.  Randy Olds was once in the Armstrong movement, which believed that God was a family consisting of Father and Son.  Now, he’s a Trinitarian.  Soon after his conversion to Trinitarianism, he wondered what effect his new-found belief would have on his prayer life.  “To whom do I pray?” was the question he asked himself.

I’ve asked myself this same question many times during the years, and I’ve gotten different answers, from myself and from others.  There have been seasons in my life when I have prayed to Jesus, maybe because I pictured Jesus as the gentle shepherd whom Protestants liked to depict (an idea I did not get from my Armstrongite background), or I was drawn to Jesus the healer, or I liked the concept of an incarnate God experiencing suffering, rejection, and limitations like other human beings, myself included.  God the Father seemed to me to be too distant, too remote, too vague, and too firm!  He sent Jesus to suffer and die, but Jesus was the one who voluntarily came down to earth and laid down his life.  Jesus sacrificed himself for me!  I needed the sweet, sappy religion of non-Armstrongite Christianity, the sort that emphasized “JESUS!”  and plain old-fashioned “LOVE!”  You know, the sort of Christianity that Armstrongism liked to mock.

At other seasons in my life, I’ve had problems with praying to Jesus as if he were God, or God Number Two.  These have been the seasons in which I’ve been drawn to Judaism, with its belief that God is one.  In these times, I could identify with the Jews who had problems praying to a white Jesus with long brown hair and a beard as if he were the supreme God, especially those who were martyred for their belief in monotheism.  I was drawn to depictions of Jesus as a good Jew, who valued the Torah and believed in Israel’s shema, which affirmed that God is one.  This Jesus may have been an agent of God and a servant of God—even the Messiah.  But he was not the same as God.

Some people in my family believed we could pray to either God the Father or Jesus.  Others said we should pray to the Father only, yet do so in Jesus’ name.  People in my family who were in touch with their Jewish ancestry tended to recoil from praying to Jesus, preferring instead to pray to the Father.

One thing I liked about Randy Olds’ post is that he gives Scriptural evidence that the believer can pray to Jesus.  He states:

“Regarding praying directly to Jesus, in John 14:13-14 Jesus tells His disciples that whatever they ask Him in His Name he will grant, but then in John 16:23-24 He tells the disciples that whatever they ask the Father in Jesus name will be granted. In 2 Corinthians 12:8, Paul apparently pleaded directly to Jesus to have the Thorn in His flesh removed. The grammar in 1 John 5:11-15 seems to imply that whenever we ask anything of the Son, He hears us. Another passage of interest regarding praying directly to Jesus is found in Acts 7:59-60 when Stephen was stoned, and he cried out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Although not conclusive, I think that the majority of these scriptures would indicate that praying directly to Jesus is supported, and I can find no scripture directly advising against it.”

I wonder if James McGrath addresses these verses in his book, The One True God, for one of his arguments is that the New Testament does not advocate praying to Jesus, since only God should be the recipient of prayers.   

In terms of whom I talk to nowadays in my prayers, I guess I talk to both the Father and Christ.  Sometimes, I introduce my prayer with “Father,” and I end up talking to Jesus somewhere in the middle!  My Christology is a little murky these days, in the sense that I’m somewhat of a unitarian, yet I still believe that Jesus is a divine sort of figure, who represents God the Father and possesses many of his characteristics.  Jesus as an expression of the Father’s wisdom makes sense to me right now, in light of Proverbs 8:22ff. and early Christian thinkers such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian: God has wisdom, and he fashioned that wisdom into a separate being, the Logos, who created the universe and later became Jesus Christ. 

But my Christology is not set in stone, for I can spot problems in it.  What’s it do to God’s claim that he alone stretched out the heavens (Isaiah 44:24)?  Does a denial that Jesus is eternal God entail treating him as a creature, meaning that praying to him is worshipping the creature rather than the creator (Romans 1:25)?  But, wait a second, Jesus as Logos was the creator (John 1; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)!  Yet, Philo called the Logos created and uncreated, affirmed he was the creator, called the Logos a “second God,” and yet also believed in one true God.  So go figure!  If a first century thinker such as Philo could simultaneously hold all of these different ideas within his belief system, why couldn’t John, or the authors of Colossians and Hebrews?

But, at the present time, none of this really goes through my mind when I pray to Jesus.  For some reason, praying to a figure who hasn’t been around forever doesn’t make much sense to me.  But I still pray to Jesus at times, thinking mostly about his earthly ministry, his role as a good shepherd, and his activity as my personal savior, cleansing me from sin and its penalty.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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5 Responses to To Whom Do I Pray?

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    On my blogger blog, Looney posts the following:

    With God the Father, I don’t visualize anything. Jesus for me is a person, yet eternal with no beginning per verses like “Before Abraham was, I am”.

    I am interested in your thoughts on the charismatics attempt to fully symmetrize things by praying to the Holy Spirit. The initial view of scripture is that the Holy Spirit’s communications are one way – HS to us – but not the other way around. The only thing I can come up with to support praying to the HS is the story of Ananias and Saphira: “… that you have lied to the Holy Spirit …”, which certainly implies that people have the ability to communicate with the HS.

    I respond:

    That’s a good question, Looney. Randy discusses that in his post, and his conclusion is that there really isn’t prayer to the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

    I’ll copy and paste your comment onto my WordPress blog as well, since I want people to have in their minds the “I am” passage. That’s an important issue in the whole debate about whether Jesus had an origin. I know what you’re saying—that when Jesus says “I am,” he means he always was, is, and shall be. Wherever you go in time, he is. I’d like to do some more research on if “I am” is in the Septuagint and can mean “I was,” or “I am he” (though, with the Abraham verse in John, “I am he” doesn’t make much sense).

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  2. Thomas Rogan says:

    I must say, you made it quite a difficulty for me to know if you are a Christian Jew or not. Quite interesting… Perhaps it’s because I cannot spot the differences between the quotes and your actual comments (clear Separation needed), but I pray to God the Father, rejoice in the Holy Spirit, and live in Christ the Lamb, Jesus.

    Shalom,

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  3. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi Thomas. In those days, I put quotes in italics. But the problem is that the italics can go away (for some reason) on WordPress. Now, I use quotation marks.

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  4. peddiebill says:

    I too have thought long and hard about prayer. As I also have to lead worship I have no desire to say things I dont really believe.
    For example I am quite likely to start a prayer with something like: God in whose name we encounter love and are inspired to compassion….

    And since I have made a study of how prayer works eg Francis Galton’s work and some of the studies on the effectiveness of prayer in healing most of which seem to show that prayer does not alter the working of the laws of nature – rather than asking a vague impression of God to produce what I see as a response to a Harry Potter type incantation – I use prayer as a way of heightening awareness of situations we might share in helping with compassionate response.

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  5. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Yeah, I have some friends who believe in a God who is non-intervening, and they make good points. (Why does God intervene here, but not there?) I have a hard time letting go of a non-intervening God, though. I’m not really as I was before—believing God has some grand plan for my life, which includes some mission, whom I’m going to marry, etc. I do hope that I get some kind of job, though.

    I like what you say about about prayer—God being one in whom we encounter love and inspires us to compassion, and how prayer can assist in that.

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