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Prayer Etiquette

When Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him," Lord,  teach   us   to   pray , as John also taught his disciples. (Luke 11:1)

1. Help for the Self-Conscious Pray-er

Have you ever felt awkward and confused in prayer, uncertain about what you're supposed to say and how you're supposed to say it?  I certainly have.  To make matters worse, I even get confused about  who I am supposed to be praying to.  I suppose both God the Father and Jesus His Son are in attendance as I pray -- so should I speak to God the Father, or Jesus, or both, or either? And which of the two responds when we pray? What role does each play in giving us what we ask for? How should we acknowledge each when our prayers are answered? Whom should we properly give thanks to, and how? In short: What is the correct etiquette involved in speaking to God in prayer?

"Just pray and don't be so self-conscious about it", someone might say. I plead guilty to being too self-conscious-- but  telling me not to be just makes things worse!   The only way around my self-consciousness is to gain confidence that  I'm doing the right thing. But how can I do the right thing if I don't know what I'm doing?

. Some people believe that we should put aside images and concepts of God when we pray.  Otherwise, they affirm, we end up praying to an idol of our own construction rather than to the true God Himself. This makes sense, but still I am not satisfied. God's heart longs to be intimate with us. God has no wish to remain generic and featureless, like the "Unknown God" of the Athenians (Acts 17:23). Jesus consistently teaches about God by making comparisons with ‘earthly things’ and human relationships -- and we as Jesus’ disciples should incorporate these examples into our own way of thinking about and relating to God in prayer.

Having pondered the issue of ‘prayer etiquette’ for some time, I would like to share my own thoughts, in hopes that others might benefit and that I too might receive edification. By no means do I consider my own views to be ‘correct’, to the exclusion of all other viewpoints. Please share your views with me, and let us freely and respectfully give and receive, that together we may mature and grow up into Christ our Head.

2. Pray to the Father

Jesus Himself prayed to the Father, and consistently instructed His disciples to ask the Father in His name (Mt. 6:6,9, John 14:13-14; John 16:16,23,26).1 John 2: 6 says, Anyone who says he abides in [Jesus] ought to walk just as Jesus walked. If "walking" here is meant to include "praying", then  we also ought to pray to the Father just as Jesus did.

Many of the disciples' prayers in the book of Acts are addressed to the Lord (Acts 1:24, 4:24,29, 8:24, 10:14, 13:2,47, 15:17,17:24-27). But ‘Lord" is an honorific title which can refer either to Jesus or His Father. In many of these instances, it is clear from the context that ‘Lord’ refers to the Father. Still, there are a few places in Acts where Jesus is seen in a vision and addressed directly (Acts 7:55-59; 9:4-5, 10-17; 22:18-19). However, these are clearly exceptional cases, and not to be taken as the norm for our daily prayer.

The Apostle Paul’s prayers in the book of Ephesians are addressed specifically to the Father (Eph. 1:17, 3:14, 5:20). Elsewhere Paul’s prayers are addressed to God (2 Cor. 13:7) -- and Paul consistently refers to the Father as God, and to Christ as Lord (1 Cor. 8:6, Col 1:3, 2 Thess. 1:11).

The weight of Scripture thus appears to favor praying to God the Father. Then why do so many Christians pray to Jesus? Quite likely they feel more comfortable speaking to Jesus because they feel closer to Him. The Gospels acquaint us personally with Jesus, and we can visualize Him much more readily than His Father. A Christian may reason: "Shouldn’t we speak to Jesus, just as His disciples did while He was on the earth? For Jesus Himself said, ‘I am with you always’". Though this reasoning certainly makes sense, I can find no direct Biblical validation of this viewpoint.

In any event, I don’t imagine that God snubs our prayers when we address them to Jesus. Probably Jesus just smiles and passes the word on to His Father, just as we smile and excuse a child or foreigner when (s)he makes a faux pas at a social gathering. However, we should learn the correct social graces as we become more familiar with His society in prayer. For our address influences our relationships: and the more we address the Father directly, the more we shall grow in appreciation, understanding, intimacy, and love of Him.

3. In the name of the Lord Jesus

If then we are to pray to God the Father, then what part does Jesus play in prayer? Does He stand by silently at a distance while we communicate with the Father? This is impossible, for Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us (and within us). He Himself said, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.

The key to Jesus’ role is found in the Biblical instruction to pray in Jesus’ name (Col. 3:16-17).Our authorization to address the Father comes from the Lord Jesus. Practically speaking, this means that Jesus directs our prayers, through the Holy Spirit. He is among us, within us, praying with us (Heb. 7:25).He is the ‘coach’ in our hearts who calls the prayers.

When we before the Father come
Empowered by the Name of His Son,
then Christ within and God above
enclose us in a sandwich of love.
(And we are the filling,
provided we’re willing)
4. Giving thanks to the Father

Scripture repeatedly instructs us to give thanks to the Father when we pray (2 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 5:20; Col. 1:3,12, 3:17; Ro. 14:6). This seems to indicate that it is the Father who is ultimately responsible for answering our prayers, and the final credit is due to Him. We will say more about this in the next section.

5. Who gives what we ask for?

How are our prayers answered? Does the Father respond, or the Son, or both? If both, then how do they coordinate their responses? To find out, we first examine what the Bible says about God's ultimate gift and blessing, namely, the Holy Spirit.

5.1 The giving of the Holy Spirit

The Scripture indicates that the Father is the source of the gift of the Holy Spirit:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variability, nor shadow of turning.(James 1:17)

You know how to give good gifts to your children, though you are mere sinful humans. So how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask Him?(Luke 11:13)

What is love? It's not that we loved God, but rather that He loved us, and sent His Son to pay the ultimate price for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us to such a great extent, we also ought to love each another. No one has ever seen God -- but if we love each another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us. This is how know we that we live in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit(1 John 4:10-13).

However, the Scripture just as clearly indicates that Jesus plays a pivotal role in the giving: [Jesus said] The Comforter is coming, whom I will send to you from the Father. He is the spirit of truth, who issues from the Father, and he shall testify of Me. (John 15:26)

[John the Baptist said]... Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost.(John 1:33)

This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he has shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. (Acts 2:32,33)

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. The Psalmist is speaking of Jesus when he says, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Eph. 4:7,8)

[Jesus said] And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)

[Jesus said] For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God gives Him an unlimited portion of  the Spirit.  The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:34-35)

In light of these Scriptures, the roles of Father and Son  may be summarized as follows: The gift of the Holy Spirit is granted by the Father, and administered by Jesus. Jesus initially received the Holy Spirit directly from His Father. Then Jesus administered the gift by entrusting it to His Church -- first the original group of disciples at the day of Pentecost, and from them spreading out to wider and wider circles through the preaching of the Gospel.

This same pattern of collaboration between Father and Son is portrayed in Chapter 5 of the book of Revelation. The One on the Throne holds a book which no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is worthy to open. But then the Lamb steps forward, receives the book from the One on the throne, and opens the seals one by one (with cataclysmic consequences!). Hence the book originates with the Father, but the contents are revealed and openly manifested upon earth as determined by the Son.

5.2 Other answers to prayer

As far as other answers to prayer are concerned, God acts in precisely the same way: that is, the Father grants the request and the Son administers the answer. One might ask: How does Jesus administer the answer? The Scripture shows various ways:

6. The circle of prayer

In summary, prayer closes the circle of Trinity. When we pray, the Son through His Spirit inspires us to ask of the Father. The Father responds by granting the Son permission to administer what we ask for. The Son in turn authorizes and empowers the Church through the Spirit to complete the performance. The following diagram illustrates the cycle of prayer:

7. Old Testament parallels

Jesus said of the Old Testament Scriptures, "They testify of Me" (John 5:39). The administrator:ruler relationship between Jesus and His Father is exemplified by several parallels in the Old Testament.

7.1 Joseph and Potiphar/Pharoah

In the book of Genesis, Joseph served as administrator first for Potiphar, then for Pharoah. As Joseph said to Potiphar’s wife, With me in charge, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am." (Gen. 39: 8-9). Later, Pharoah told Joseph, You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you." (Gen. 41:40)

7.2 Mordecai and Xerxes

In the book of Esther, King Xerxes gives Mordecai the royal signet ring and instructs Mordecai to Write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring -- for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.(Esther 8:8). The decrees which Mordecai wrote in the King’s name, and sealed with the King’s ring, carried the same weight as if Xerxes had written and sealed them himself.

7.3 Aaron and Moses

The most illuminating and comprehensive Old Testament parallel may be found in the joint ministry of Moses and Aaron, described in the book of Exodus. This example in particular helps us understand several confusing aspects of the relationship between Jesus and His Father.

Moses and Aaron collaborated so closely that they act almost as a single person. In Exodus 7:1 the LORD says to Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh : and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. But unlike ordinary prophets, Aaron is on the same level as the one he represents. Hence, Aaron is more typical of the prophet spoken of in Deut. 18:15-18 and Acts 3:22, namely Jesus Christ, who served as prophet on behalf of His Father.

In some passages in the book of Exodus, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether Moses, or Aaron, or both did the actual talking. Was it Aaron?  [Ex. 4:15-16, 7:1-2] Or Moses? [Ex. 5:23, 6:9, 7:16, 8:9,26,29, 9:1,13,29, 10:9] Or both? [Ex. 5:1, 6:27, Ex. 7:7, 10:3] The Scripture is ambiguous on purpose, because it doesn’t matter who’s talking -- their wills are absolutely in agreement so their words are perfectly conformable to each other. In the same way, Scripture often does not distinguish clearly between the Father and the Son becauseJesus’ will, words, and actions are perfectly conformable with those of His Father (John 8:28).

A similar ambiguity surrounds the rod used to perform signs before Pharoah. Was it Moses’ rod? [Ex. 4:17,20, 7:15-18, 9:22-23, 10:13, 14:16] Or Aaron’s? [Ex. 7:9-10, 19-20, 8:5,16] Did they each use their own rod, or did they share a single rod between them? The Scriptures give no clear answer -- and this is highly significant. For a rod represents authority, just as the Name of Jesus represents Jesus’ authority. Just as Aaron was given a rod with which to do signs, so Jesus was given a Name above every name. Just as the rod of miracles was Moses’ or Aaron’s interchangeably, so the Name of Jesus speaks equally of His authority or His Father’s. This example helps us understand how The Name of Jesus is absolutely equivalent with the authority of the Father.

Aaron was the chief speaker and actor. He was the more public and visible of the two. All the same, Moses was the greater of the two, in the sense that Aaron always looked to Moses for guidance. In the same way, Jesus is God’s liaison with man, He is God made flesh. All the same, He takes His lead from the Father, and the Father is greater than He.

Besides the examples given above, I believe that the Old Testament contains many other hidden treasures, which may help us understand the nature of the Godhead (Mt. 13:52).

7. Concluding Prayer

Lord Jesus, please teach us to pray through the Holy Spirit who lives in us (Ro. 8:26-27). Make Your words to abide in us, that our prayers might be pleasing and acceptable to Your Father (John 15:7).

Father in heaven, thank You for allowing us entrance into Your throne room. Please grant us favor, as Xerxes granted favor to Queen Esther’s humble supplication (Esther 5:2-3). We invite You to feast perpetually in our homes, to rejoice with and in us (Esther 4:4,6) . Thank you for condemning our adversary Satan (Esther 7:8-10), and for commissioning Your Son to deliver Your people (Esther 8:7-8) and give them ascendancy over all their enemies (Esther 9:5). Grant unto Your servants, that with all boldness they may speak Your word, By stretching forth Your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Your holy child Jesus (Acts 4:29-30).

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e-mail: thronc@flash.net
Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 20, 1999

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