Lex orandi, lex credendi—“the law of praying is the law of believing”—is a maxim that originated in the fifth-century church. The pithy phrase highlights the principle that Christian worship not only reflects the church’s beliefs but also shapes them. The nature, content, and form of public worship are significant for discipleship. Since prayer is a principal element of worship and fundamental to the believer’s walk with God, it is critical that we understand not just how to pray but to whom we should pray. The answer to this question not only guides our prayers in a practical way, but it reinforces essential Christian doctrine and fosters true piety.
Biblical prayer is ordinarily to be addressed to the Father, in the name of the Son, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. This scriptural pattern calls attention to the Trinitarian nature of redemption (Eph. 1:1–14) and underscores key aspects of the believer’s relationship with God.
First, prayer should ordinarily be directed to God the Father. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). The Father sent His Son into the world to redeem sinners and to reconcile us to Him (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:18–19). Through faith in Christ, we may boldly cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6). The Apostle Paul writes, “Through [Jesus] we . . . have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). As a general rule, therefore, our prayers should be addressed to the Father.
Second, prayer should be offered in the name of Jesus Christ. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). It is only through faith in Christ and His atoning blood that we may “have confidence to enter the holy places” and draw near to our heavenly Father in prayer (Heb. 10:19–20). Jesus commands us to pray “in His name” because in Him we have fellowship with the Father (John 14:6, 14; 15:16).
Third, in addition to addressing God the Father in the name of the Son, prayer must be “at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18; Jude 1:20). Wilhemus à Brakel states that “a true prayer proceeds from the Holy Spirit.” Apart from the Spirit, we are spiritually dead and have neither the ability nor the desire to pray (Eph. 2:1; Rom. 8:7). The Spirit, therefore, encourages and empowers sincere prayer (Rom. 8:26).
It is not wrong, of course, to occasionally pray directly to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. Doing so even underscores the divine personhood of the second and third persons of the holy Trinity. Nevertheless, it is the pattern of Scripture that we pray to our Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. This biblical pattern accentuates the rich and instructive contours of the gospel of grace.
Dr. Jon D. Payne is senior pastor of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, S.C., convener of the Gospel Reformation Network, and author of In the Splendor of Holiness.