Can We “Pray” to Jesus Christ?

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There is a controversy among Christians who believe that Jesus is not God but the Son of God, about whether or not we can pray to Jesus. The only definitive place to go for an answer to that question is the Word of God. It is important when trying to answer such an important question that we do not base our position upon only one Greek word or one verse. Rather, we must examine the scope of Scripture to see what it says. We believe that the Bible makes it clear that one can pray to Jesus, but does not have to, and we will do our best to show why that is.

There are many points of logic in understanding why we can pray to Jesus. Before we delve into the issue, however, it is important to understand that the basic and fundamental definition of “prayer” is “asking.” Our prayers may also include some praise, but in every language, prayer is fundamentally asking for something, as is clear from studying the Hebrew and Greek words translated prayer, and even looking up “prayer” in an English dictionary. Below are some points of logic and Scripture that indicate we can pray to Jesus.

1) Jesus is Lord of all (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12), and has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). How can he be “Lord” in any real sense if we cannot ask him for things? Now that the Lord Jesus has all authority, it makes even more sense that we petition him, even as it made sense that people petitioned him when he was alive in his earthly ministry. Hundreds, even thousands, of people asked Jesus for things when he was on earth. Does it make sense that someone could ask Jesus for something over 2000 years ago, but cannot do so now?

2) We are to have fellowship with the Son (1 John 1:3). How can we have fellowship with Jesus, which clearly indicates being in relationship with him, but not ask him for anything? We have fellowship with God and ask Him for things, and we have fellowship with other Christians and ask them for things, so does it make sense that we are to have fellowship with Jesus but not ask him for anything?

3) Jesus said that his followers could ask him for things.

John 14:13 and 14
(13) And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
(14) You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

These verses become especially enlightening when they are read as they were written in the original text, which was without punctuation: “…I am going to the Father and I will do whatever you ask in my name…you may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” It is clear from these verses that Jesus knew he was going to the Father, and wanted people to ask him for what they needed. Their doing so is a prayer, whether it is formally in a church building or informally as one is going about his or her daily business.

4) The Word of God makes it clear that believers in the early Church thought it normal to talk with the exalted Lord Jesus Christ.

A) After his ascension, the disciples prayed to Jesus about choosing a replacement for Judas. This was logical because they understood it was Jesus who had originally chosen the twelve.

Acts 1:24 and 25
(24) Then they prayed [proseuchomai], “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen
(25) to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

Although some have contended that the Lord in the above verse is God, it is more logical that it refers to Jesus. He was the one who chose Judas, and he was addressed as “Lord” by all the apostles over and over in the New Testament.

B) Stephen called upon Jesus, not God, when he was being stoned.

Acts 7:59 and 60a
(59) While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed [epikaleo= “calling upon”], Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
(60a) Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

C) Paul pleaded with the Lord Jesus about his “thorn in the flesh,” as is clear from the context of the following verses.

2 Corinthians 12:8 and 9
(8) Three times I pleaded [parakaleo=to beseech] with the Lord to take it away from me.
(9) 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.

5) Verses such as Acts 9:34 and 2 Timothy 4:18 show that as the Head of the Body, the Lord Jesus is actively involved in healing and sustaining its members. It is our contention that any Christian can ask the Lord Jesus to do for him anything that would help him do the works that Jesus did. As Head of the Body, he converses with believers and asks things of them. It is only logical that we would also ask things of him. The New Testament tells us of his personal interaction with Stephen (Acts 7:56); Saul/Paul (Acts 9:1-9; 23:11; Gal. 1:12; 2 Cor. 12:9); Ananias (Acts 9:10-16); Peter (Acts 10:9-22; 2 Pet. 1:14); [1] and John (Rev. 1:9-18).

A) Since Pentecost, many things come to the Body via the Head, Jesus Christ. It is he who:

  • Pours out the gift of holy spirit (Acts 2:33)
  • Gives us grace (Rom. 1:5; 16:20; 1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 8:9; 13:14; Gal. 1:6; 6:18; Eph. 4:7; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:8; 2 Thess. 1:12; 3:18)
  • Gives us peace (2 Thess. 3:16)
  • Gives us mercy (1 Cor. 7:25)
  • Blesses us (Rom. 10:12; 15:29)
  • Nurtures and cares for the Church, holds it together and causes it to grow (Eph. 5:29; Phil. 1:19; Col. 1:17; 2:19)
  • Directs us (1 Cor. 16:7; 2 Thess. 3:5)
  • Is interceding for us (Rom. 8:35)
  • Gives the equipping ministries to the Church (Eph. 1:1; 4:8,11)
  • Gives revelation (2 Cor. 12:1; Gal. 1:12)
  • Will transform our bodies at his appearing (Phil. 3:21)
  • Will judge, reward, and punish people, according to what they deserve (John 5:21,22; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:23-25; 1 Thess. 4:6; 2 Thess. 1:8)

Could it really be that with such an intimate connection to the members of his Body, the Lord Jesus could then not be addressed by his Church? Surely we can ask our Lord and Head for whatever that we need.

6) Calling on the Name of the Lord.

One evidence in Scripture that people can pray to Jesus is seen by paying attention to the phrase, “call upon the name of the Lord.” Through the Old Testament, when people “called upon the name of the Lord,” it was to pray to, appeal to, or ask for help from God.

Abraham was in the habit of praying to God, and though there are many examples in Scripture, one will suffice.

Genesis 12:8
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.

Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal as to who was the true God and who was not. He and they each prayed to their god, and the one who answered by fire would be known to be God. They prayed, which in the Hebrew idiom is to “call upon the name….”

1 Kings 18:24
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

Naaman, the great Syrian general who was also a leper, expected Elisha to come out and pray for him. He expresses his thought about prayer by the phrase, “call on the name of the Lord.

2 Kings 5:11
But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.

In Psalm 99 we see that when the great men of God prayed to God (“called on the LORD”), He answered them.

Psalm 99:6
Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the LORD and he answered them.

God tells the people that when they pray to Him (“call upon my name”), He will answer.

Zechariah 13:9
This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”

Just as the Old Testament records people calling upon the name of the Lord in prayer, so the Church Epistles use the same terminology to record people praying to Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:2
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

This is clearly the same phrase used in the Old Testament, and is applied to Jesus as well as God. Vincent writes:

“It is used of worship, and here implies prayer to Christ.” [2]

R. C. H. Lenski writes:

“‘To call on him’ means to praise, bless, thank, worship him, and to ask of him all that we need for body and for soul.” [3]

It seems clear that even as the Old Testament believers called upon God, we today can call upon Jesus, and that means we can pray to him and expect him to answer our requests. Calling upon Jesus, our Lord, also occurs in Romans 10:12-14 and 2 Timothy 2:22.

7) It is honoring to God when we honor Jesus.

John 5:22 and 23
(22) Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,
(23) that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

The first thing we notice about these verses is that God’s intent is that people honor the Son just as they honor Him. More than that, if we do not honor the Son, we do not honor the Father. The pertinent question we must ask ourselves is, “How do we honor the Father?” Surely one way we honor Him is by our praise and thanksgiving to him, and by our prayers to Him. According to Scripture, we are to honor the Son in the same way.

8) There is no verse, and nothing in the scope of Scripture, that forbids us from praying to Jesus. This is important, because God’s prohibitions in Scripture are quite plain. Since we can ask both God and other people for things we need, it is only logical that if we could not ask our living Lord Jesus for things, the Bible would say that somewhere. However, no verse prohibits us from asking Jesus for things or thanking him for what he has done for us.

Thanking Jesus

Not only can we ask Jesus for things, we can thank him for what he did and is doing for us, and that is only logical. Think about it. Jesus is alive. He is Head of the Body of Christ. He is our Lord. How could we not be able to lift up our voices in praise and thanksgiving for what he has done? We thank God for all kinds of things, and we thank other people for their acts of kindness to us. We are also able to, and should, thank Jesus Christ for what he did and is doing, even as Paul did.

1 Timothy 1:12
I thank [charin] Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.

Praising Jesus

Jesus is worthy of our praise. On this earth we praise men who have done far less for us than Jesus ever did. We throw them parties, give them certificates and medals, and sing them songs. Surely Jesus is worth at least that much praise, and Scripture says he will get it. Jesus is lauded and praised by the 24 elders (Rev. 5:8-10); by the multitudes of angels (Rev. 5:11, 12), and by all God’s created things (Rev. 5:13). If we are going to praise him in the future, surely it is not out of bounds to praise him now for what he has done for us.

Worshiping Jesus

Many verses show that people worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ. This was natural because it was very common to worship (i.e., pay homage to) men of a higher status. This is hard to see in the English translations of the Bible. The translators usually render the Hebrew or Greek word as “worship” when it involves God or Jesus, but in some other way, such as “bow before,” or “pay homage to,” when it involves men. Nevertheless, “worship” is clearly used in the Hebrew and Greek texts, and that is how it should be understood. For example:

  • Lot “worshipped” the two strangers who came to Sodom (Gen. 19:1)
  • Abraham “worshipped” the pagan leaders of the land in which he lived (Gen. 23:7)
  • Jacob “worshipped” his older brother when they met after being apart for years (Gen. 33:3)
  • Joseph had a dream that his parents and brothers “worshipped” him (Gen. 37:10)
  • Joseph’s brothers “worshipped” him (Gen. 43:26)
  • Joshua fell down and “worshipped” an angel (Joshua 5:14)
  • Ruth “worshipped” Boaz (Ruth 2:10)
  • David “worshipped” Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:41)
  • Abigail “worshipped” David (1 Sam. 25:41)

The above list is a small sampling of all the examples we find in Scripture. There is a sense, of course, in which there is a very special worship (homage, allegiance, reverent love, devotion) to be given only to God, but there is no unique word that represents that special worship. Rather, it is a posture of the heart. Understanding that both God and men are worshipped in the Bible forces us as readers to look not at the specific word for “worship” but rather at the heart of the one doing the worship. It explains why God rejects the worship of those whose hearts are not really with Him.

People fell down and worshipped Jesus while he walked the earth and performed great miracles because they loved and respected him greatly. It is clear why we are to worship him now: he has earned our love and our highest reverence. He died to set us free, and God has honored him by seating him at His own right hand above all other powers and authorities. Jesus was worshipped by his followers both before and after his resurrection (Matt. 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52). Thus it seems very unreasonable to assert that Christians should not worship Jesus today just as people did when he was on earth: by homage, praise, thanksgiving, and with requests. [For further study read our article What is worship?]

Conclusion

It seems clear that we can pray to Jesus for things we need. However, the Bible does not give us clear direction as to when or about what a believer should talk to Jesus, as opposed to God. Whether a believer prays to God or Jesus is left up to the individual.

However, the vast majority of scriptures dealing with prayer make it clear that God is the principal source of all things, and therefore should be the chief focus of our worship, praise, and supplication. Those who enthusiastically embrace the idea of praying to the Lord Jesus must recognize that this practice ought not to be carried out to the point of distracting one from the worship of the Father. We are sure that the Lord Jesus would find it ironic indeed if he himself were to become the principal object of Christian worship and adoration, when his entire life and ministry was devoted to the glorification of his Father.

We should also make it clear that we are not saying that a Christian must pray to the Lord Jesus as part of his or her Christian walk. Because there is no clear command to do so, as there is to God (Eph. 5:19,20; Col. 1:3,9; 4:3), we must never tell anyone they must pray to Jesus. On the other hand, we shudder at the idea of any Christian telling another that it is wrong for him to talk/pray to the Lord Jesus. We would particularly hate to see believers judge one another and segregate themselves from other Christians over the issue of whether or not they pray to the Lord Jesus. We think whether or not one prays to Jesus is a matter of individual conscience, and not an issue about which believers ought to tyrannize one another.


Endnotes:

1. Some say “the Lord” here was God, but there are good reasons to believe it was Jesus. First, Peter was in the habit of calling Jesus “Lord.” Second, he had a history of arguing with Jesus, but never with God. Back to top

2. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 3, p. 186. Back to top

3. The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, p. 26. Back to top