Should We Pray to Jesus?
Jesus began the model prayer he gave his disciples (Matthew 6:9–13), with the words “Our Father…” and some Christians feel this is a clear teaching that we should pray only to God the Father. This understanding does not doubt the divinity of Christ as the Son of God, but sees him as our intermediary or authority for prayer (Ephesians 2:18) which, it is presumed, should be addressed only to the Father himself. But the New Testament does not contain any prohibition against prayer to Jesus, and we should look carefully at what it does show.
The Teaching of Jesus
First, we should remember that the Lord’s Prayer is doubtless primarily a guide to prayer and not a prayer to be followed verbatim. For example, there is no thanksgiving mentioned within the prayer outline, though we know that giving thanks is an important part of prayer often stressed in the Bible (Ps. 100:4), by Jesus (Matthew 11:25) and by his apostles (1 Thessalonians 5:17–18). In the same way, the Lord’s Prayer does not include the words “in Jesus’ Name,” though we know from other scriptures they are right and proper to include in prayer. So the prayer outline need not be seen as limiting or exclusive. It was natural that Jesus himself prayed to the Father, and taught his disciples to do so, but that fact does not tell us whether prayer to Jesus is, or is not, acceptable.
We must also remember that Jesus received and accepted divine prerogatives such as worship and prayer during his lifetime (Matthew 2:11, 8:2, 14:33, 28:9, etc.). He specifically said we should honor him as we honor the Father (John 5:23), and he instructed his disciples not only to petition the Father in his name (John 15:16), but also said: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
The Example of Stephen
There are numerous apparent examples of prayers to Jesus in the words and writings of the apostles (Acts 1:24, James 1: 5-7, etc.), and one of the clearest examples of such prayer is found in the words of Stephen at his martyrdom. The Book of Acts tells us that “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59-60). This verse not only records the prayer Stephen made to Jesus, but makes it explicit that it was a prayer and not a “statement” or any other form of speech, as is sometimes claimed. Stephen’s prayer is certainly not criticized by Luke – his direct prayer to Jesus as Lord is recorded as the final righteous act of a righteous servant of God.
The Writings of Paul
In writing to the church at Corinth the apostle Paul spoke of “… those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:1–2), indicating that at least on occasion these Christians prayed directly to Christ.
Paul also gives us an example of his own prayers to Jesus in saying he “besought the Lord” to remove his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8). Not only does the title “Lord” usually signify Jesus in Paul’s writings, but also he specifically tells us that it was Jesus who replied to this prayer: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In some of his epistles Paul offers prayers for those to whom he is writing which specifically ask the blessing of both the Father and the Son on his readers (1 Thessalonians 3:11–14, 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17, etc.), and we find other glimpses of this same approach of addressing Jesus as well as the Father. To the Ephesians Paul wrote that believers should speak “… to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). It would surely be futile to suggest that we can sing praises to Jesus, but are not to address him in other ways.
In 1 Corinthians 16:22 Paul ends the verse with two Aramaic words that are almost certainly a simple prayer to Jesus: “Come Lord.” This is the wording followed by virtually all modern translations (NIV, ESV, HCSB, NKJ, NRSV, NAB, etc.).
John and the Bible’s Final Prayer
The fact that 1 Corinthians 16:22 uses Aramaic words for “Come Lord” instead of Greek as in the rest of the verse, indicates that Paul was quoting what was already a common prayer among early Christians. This probability gives greater meaning to the last prayer recorded in the New Testament: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:21).
In these final words of the Bible, the apostle John addresses a clear prayer to the Lord Jesus – very likely the same prayer used by Paul in Aramaic. The words not only end the New Testament with the concept of the return of Jesus Christ, they also end the Bible with a prayer addressed directly to him. Earlier, the Book of Revelation shows Christ, the Lamb, receiving praise and worship along with the Father (Revelation 5:6-14), so the concept of prayer to the Son as well as to the Father is perfectly fitting in this book.
This also agrees with the teaching of the apostle John throughout the New Testament. As we saw above, in John 14:13-14, Jesus told his disciples: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it,” and in his first epistle the apostle reminds us “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God … And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15 ESV).
So although we address many and perhaps most of our prayers to God the Father, we may also, as appropriate, address prayers to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The final prayer of the Bible reminds us that in addition to praying “Our Father … let your Kingdom come …” (Matthew 6:9-10), we may also pray “Amen, come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:21). There are many such ways in which prayer to Jesus is both natural and fitting, and the New Testament is clear that such prayer is an acceptable part of our fellowship with him.
R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., served as an ordained pastor for a number of years and was also trained in the languages and cultures of the biblical world and the ancient Near East. He writes for a number of Christian publications and for his websites: www.LivingWithFaith.org and www.TacticalChristianity.org. You can download his free eBooks from his websites.
NOTE from Philip Shields: I’ve known R Herbert (pen name) for many years and have the highest respect for him. I think he does a masterful job of putting the verses together on this topic. I pray to Yeshua/Jesus a lot. Our prayers are “in Jesus’ name” so I often in my praying address both the Father and the Son of God. I see them – in my mental picture – as both being in the same room when I’ve walked in to talk to God. God’s door to his children is always open. They are both so totally one in spirit, mind, direction and purpose that they are as one. But when I “walk in to their holy Presence”, I will while praying speak directly to Jesus as well. After all, think about this: I hope to be part of his Bride. What bride can you think of who wouldn’t want to talk to her fiancé? That sheds some more light on this, doesn’t it? Have you known any bride who wanted to speak only to the Groom’s father? So yes, I pray to Father, but I also pray to and love talking with Yeshua -- my Saviour, my Redeemer, my brother, my King, my fiancé, my Rock, my Hope, my BELOVED, my Salvation. Of course!
So I hope R Herbert’s excellent article will help us all talk in prayer more – much more – to Yeshua -- our beloved Messiah and the Head of the Body of Christ. Be sure to look up all the scriptures R Herbert cites. He makes a lock-tight case for the soundness of praying to Jesus, even as we talk with Abba, our dear Father, as well. Thank you, R Herbert for listening to the insight given you from on high. And thank you Father and thank you Jesus for letting us come into your holy presence with boldness and confidence – which is through and by our Saviour and King.