Can we pray to the Holy Spirit?

“We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again.”

Has there ever been a phrase that’s generated more frustration? Technology connects us across distances our ancestors never dared imagine, yet these connections are conditioned on our ability to enter the right string of numbers in just the right sequence.

Is prayer like that? Does God expect us to connect to Him in some specific way?

Even if you say “no,” you may find yourself wondering how prayer works with the Trinity. Or maybe you’ve caught yourself being a bit sloppy—you pray to the Father, but you thank Him for dying for your sins. Or you conclude with “in your name” when you’ve been speaking to the Father—not Jesus.

But what about this one: can we pray to the Holy Spirit?

SURE; WHY NOT?

Historically, the answer to this question has been an emphatic “yes.” The Holy Spirit is God, so why shouldn’t we seek to connect to Him directly? In Graham Cole’s recent book on the Holy Spirit, he cites an older prayer that children were taught to pray even from a very young age:

“Heavenly King, Paraclete, Spirit of truth, who are present everywhere and fillest all things, treasury of goodness and Giver of life, come, dwell in us and cleanse us from all stain, and, of thy mercy, save our souls.  Amen.”[1]

As a matter of fact, there have historically been a variety of prayers written to the Holy Spirit. And if we say “no,” we shouldn’t pray to the Holy Spirit, we may be in danger of denying His full equality with God.

HOW DID JESUS PRAY?

On the other hand, we simply can’t find examples of prayers to the Holy Spirit. We normally see prayers directed toward the Father, and occasionally the Son (Stephen in Acts 7:59-60; Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10), but never the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Jesus taught His followers to pray to the Father directly (Matthew 6:9-13), and ask for things in the name of the Son (John 14:13). Still, even if this is the “typical” pattern, I don’t see why this prevents us from praying to the Spirt on occasion. But it may be helpful to get some clarification on the Spirit’s role in prayer.

HOW DOES THE HOLY SPIRIT HELP US PRAY?

First, the Spirit is what connects us to God. Paul says that “through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). So the Spirit empowers our connection to God.

Secondly, this also means that our prayers are meant to reflect the specific roles of the Trinity in prayer. Cole writes:

“Jesus is our great High Priest, and the believer is adopted into the family of God….Christ represents us to God and God to us….[The Holy Spirit] impels Christian prayer.”[2]

So can we pray to the Spirit? Sure; there’s no reason not to. But Scripture points us to a pattern that actually involves the whole Trinity: we pray to the Father in the name of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

PRAYING “IN” THE SPIRIT

On select occasion, the writers of the New Testament encourage Christ’s followers to “pray in the Spirit.” What does this mean? It means that our prayers align with the character of God. This means that if we pray “in the Spirit,” our prayers will always be answered—that is, our prayers will be answered because they align with God’s perfect will.

Of course, the reason our prayers are not always answered is because we are unable to consistently pray in a way that reflects God’s will. But that’s ok; God has made provision for this:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Spirit will put words in our mouth. What it means is that when we don’t know how to pray, or what to pray for—or if we accidentally pray for the wrong person!—God knows and God understands.

This also touches on how the gospel shapes our prayer life. Have you ever felt as though you were unfit to talk to God because of some “disqualifying” sin in your life? If the Spirit empowers prayer, don’t you see how foolish this is? Through the Spirit, God gives us the means and the ability to connect to Him through prayer. God gives us the means to connect with Him; we didn’t earn the privilege through our own merits. So in the end, the Spirit offers us assurance of God’s desire for relationship and for connection.

So put the phone down. Rejoice that the Spirit enables you to talk to the Father.

[1] Cited in Cole, 84.

[2] Cole, 85-6.

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