I received two questions in the box that are on the subject of prayer that I will cover in this bulletin. They are very different questions, yet they go hand in hand with each other.
Why do we not pray to Jesus?
A very good question, and one that we really need to discuss in today’s world. We do not pray to Jesus because we have neither a commandment to do so nor any biblical example to do so. But we are given orders to pray to the Father; even Jesus orders His disciples to pray in this manner both when He was in the flesh with them and after He ascended to heaven. Further, we have plenty of examples of disciples praying, but no prayers are directed to Jesus, only to the Father. Thus, to pray to Jesus would be acting outside of God’s word, and any prayer outside of the boundaries of God’s word is an unanswered prayer, and therefore, useless (I say more about this in the next question).
Jesus, when walking this earth, taught His disciples to pray this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name”. Nothing is ever said later that would nullify this instruction. Some people justify prayer to Jesus by their great love for Him, so they should speak to Him. But Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15); so, praying to the Father demonstrates our love for Jesus and His instructions. Others might say that they want to pray to Jesus because they have a relationship with Him and wish to draw closer to Him in prayer. However, according to Hebrews 11:6, we can only draw nearer to God if we do so in faith, and Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing the word of God. So, if true faith comes from what we have heard from God’s word, then drawing nearer to Jesus cannot come from praying to Jesus, because it is not from anything we could hear in the word of God.
Jesus, when speaking of the days after His ascension and the era of His church, gave instruction to His apostles concerning prayer:
John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
Jesus didn’t tell His disciples to ask Him, He said to “ask the Father”, and that this would be “in my name”, that is to say, by His authority. Now, consider what Jesus says a little while later:
John 16:23 “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.
While Jesus was in the flesh with them, they could ask him various things in conversation, but once He ascends, they are to ask Him nothing but to direct all petitions to the Father. Again, He says that this is “in My name”, and we will soon see some biblical examples of how this looks. But let’s continue in this text:
John 16:26-27 “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
This is important, Jesus does not “ask the Father on your behalf”, but we are to speak directly to the Father, “for the Father himself loves you”.
Let’s see this play out in the New Testament church. The early church broke out in prayer together in Acts 4:23-30, but they spoke only to the Father and referenced Jesus in the prayer (v. 27, 30), but never spoke to Him. Paul, talking to the church in Ephesus, said, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). We are instructed here to give thanks to “God the Father”, and similar to what Jesus had said in John 16:26, Paul said that our prayer to the Father should be done in the “name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. In Romans 1:8 and 7:25, we see two examples of Paul thanking God the Father “through Jesus Christ”. So, God’s word is firm and consistent, we are to pray to the Father, and this is possible only through the mediator of the New Covenant and by His authority.
Whose prayers does God hear and answer? As members of the church, we are under the biblical impression that our prayers are the only prayers God hears and answers.
There are sound biblical reasons for concluding that God only hears the prayers of those faithful to Him. In James 1:5, James says that God gives to all liberally, but there is a condition: “but let him ask in faith” (v.6). If one does not ask in faith, then he shouldn’t “suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (v.7). James goes further to describe the person who would pray to God but not in faith: “He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (v.8). Double-minded means “two-spirited; divided interest”. One cannot be faithful to God and love this world, nor can one serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). James said, “let not that man suppose that he will receive anything”, and the Greek word James used for “suppose” means to imagine, or to be of the opinion. Thus, biblically, we are not allowed to “be of the opinion” that God answered the prayers of anyone other than those who are of the faith. And by faith, I mean someone who doesn’t have one foot in the church and one foot in the world, but someone who has both their feet resting on the solid rock of Christ.
Hebrews 11:6 explains that “without faith, it is impossible to please Him”, but that God is a rewarder of those “who diligently seek Him”. That is true faith. Answered prayers go to the diligent seekers of God. Does not James also say that the “effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (5:16)? The faithful have been adopted into the household of God (Galatians 4:4-7), thus, as children of God, our Father gives good gifts to His children; this is what Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 7:9-11.
One more note: this is not just the position of the believers today, but from of old, the Jews understood this truth as well: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” (John 9:31).
Article by Tanner Campbell