A reader recently asked:
A few Sunday’s ago, the congregation where I attend sang the song, I Must Tell Jesus[i]. I have to admit, I was a little uncomfortable singing that song because it sounds like we were singing that we need to pray to Jesus and tell Him all our troubles. Frankly, I don’t know if Christians can pray to Jesus or not. So would you be so kind as to help me? Can Christians pray to Jesus? Thank you in advance.
In Christian Love,
The general rule and example in the life of our Lord Jesus is that Christians pray to the Father. Indeed, the model prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 begins, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…’” Jesus also taught the apostles that, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you” (John 15:16). Furthermore, Jesus, by example addressed His prayers to the, “Father…” (cf. Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21; John 11:41). Since Jesus’ teaching and example is directed toward praying to the Father, I understand why so many believe that only the Father can be addressed in prayer. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence for the ESV and the NASB translation of John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in my name, I will do it.” The phrase, “if you ask Me” seems to give warrant for praying directly to Jesus (see notes on 1 John 5:13-15 below). However, let’s explore some other principles and passages before we draw our final conclusion.
One principle to keep in mind is that as Christians, we worship deity, not just the Father. In Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9, John bowed down to worship an angel. The angel told him not to do that. The reason, he was merely a servant just like us. Instead, John was told to worship God. However, in Hebrews 1:6, all the angels are commanded to worship Jesus. Additionally, in such passages as Matthew 14:33; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; people worshiped Jesus without rebuke.
If we can worship Jesus because He is not merely a servant but is God, then we can pray and sing praises to Jesus as well. Remember, in Jesus “the whole fullness of deity dwells” (Colossians 2:9) and the exact “imprint” of God (cf. Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is just as much God as the Father is. Therefore, barring some prohibition, we are able to pray to Jesus as well as to the Father since both are God. In fact, there are examples in Acts and the epistles of prayers being offered to Jesus.
Acts 1:23-26 – Before the remaining 11 apostles, lead by Peter, began to select Judas’ replacement they prayed saying, “You, Lord…” I would submit to you this prayer for divine intervention was addressed to Jesus since in two previous verses the apostles refer to Jesus as “Lord” (vv. 6, 21) Also, it was Jesus who selected the first apostles (cf. Luke 6:12-18) as well as Paul (cf. Acts 9:1-19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). From the very beginning of the apostles prayed to Jesus.
Acts 7:59-60 – As Stephen is being stoned he cried out in prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and begged Jesus, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” At the point of death, Stephen prayed to Jesus. As a side note, these two prayers are similar to Jesus’ prayers to the Father from the cross (cf. Luke 23:34, 46).
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – On three occasions Paul pleaded with the Lord for his thorn in the flesh to leave him. Three times the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Who is this “Lord” that Paul prayed too? In the follow verses he identified Him as, “Christ” (vv. 9, 10; cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6). Thus, Paul prayed to Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 – In one of Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians he prayed to, “Our God and Father… and our Lord Jesus” (v. 11). Additionally, Paul petitioned “the Lord [Jesus]” to make the Thessalonians “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (v. 12) and that He (that is the Lord Jesus) “may establish [their] hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father” (v. 13).
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 3:5, 16 – As Paul is bringing his second epistle to the Thessalonians to a close, he prayerfully ask the “Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father” to “comfort” the hearts of the Thessalonians and “establish them in every good work and word” (2:16-17). Furthermore, Paul petitioned the Lord Jesus to “direct [their] hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (3:5). Concluding, “May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all” (3:16). Throughout 1, 2 Thessalonians Paul petitioned Jesus in benedictory prayer, asking for His blessing upon the believers in Thessalonica.
1 Timothy 1:12 – When Paul recounted his dramatic Damascus Road Experience to Timothy (cf. Acts 9:1-19), he prayerfully thanked “Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul directed his prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus.
1 John 5:13-15 – As John brings his first epistle to a close he states, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” With wording reminiscent John 14:13-14, the apostle confidently states, “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 request that we have asked of Him.” The “Him” that John is referring to is “the Son of God” or, Jesus. Therefore John is referencing praying to Jesus.
Revelation 22:20 – In the next to the last verse of the New Testament John cries, “Come, Lord Jesus!” and bring your people relief. The prayer of all believers is to be, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Well Patty, the weight of scriptural evidence suggests to me that as Christians we are allowed to pray to Jesus. However, I certainly do not wish to encourage you or anyone else to violate their conscience. If you feel you should only address the Father in prayer, then by all means do so. With that said, I would also encourage you not to discourage your brethren, who see the Biblical principle and examples we discussed as authoritative, from praying to Jesus or singing songs to Jesus. One last note, though I didn’t specifically address singing songs, or prayers, directly to Jesus such as I Must Tell Jesus, (other examples would be Abide With Me, or O, To Be Like Thee! among others) I believe that because of the scriptural evidence for praying to Jesus exist, then we can also sing songs directed to Him as well. On a side note, Psalm 4; 55; 61; 64 would be sufficient evidence to show we can sing prayers. I hope that helped.
I always welcome questions, so if you have one you can email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always my friends, keep sharing the good news.
[ii] I changed the questioner’s name.
[iii] A big thanks to my good friend Edwin Crozier for allowing me to use some of his material to answer this question.