Christians can sometimes struggle with relating to the Holy Spirit. This is understandable. The names Father and Son are familiar and ordinary however Holy Spirit conjures up something mystical, something outside of and beyond our ordinary experience. A spirit is intangible and ethereal. This can make our interactions with the Holy Spirit confusing or unclear: should we worship the Spirit? Should we address him directly in prayer? We can deepen and strengthen our relationship with the Spirit by thinking through each of these questions.
Should we worship the Holy Spirit?
The answer to this question is simple: yes we should worship the Spirit. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is God. I could stop here, but the truth is that this question requires deeper examination. While on the surface it can be quickly answered, the question gets at a more complex issue: how do we worship a God who is triune? There is a tension here. God is one essence and our worship should be directed towards him alone. Yet, at the same time God is three persons and each person, since they are divine, ought to be worshiped. On the one hand we do not want to worship God as an essence or abstract being, we want to worship him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we don’t want to so separate the persons in our worship that they effectively become three distinct gods.
The key to navigating these extremes is twofold. First, we must know God as he has revealed himself (Deuteronomy 29:29). If we don’t study and meditate on the things God teaches us about himself in the Bible, we won’t know how to approach him in worship. Second, as we worship we must be thoughtful and aware of how we are thinking about God. The Triune nature of God should be ever present at the forefront of our minds when we worship. This state of mind was described well by the fourth century Byzantine theologian Gregory of Nazianzus when he said: “I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; or can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.”Christian worship does not think of and address God as either one or three. Christian worship always praises God as both one essence and three persons.
We can see practically how this works by returning to the original question: should we worship the Holy Spirit? Because God is triune, it is impossible to truly worship him without worshiping the Holy Spirit. Real worship ascribes glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The important caution to make, is that we must never elevate or isolate the Holy Spirit in such a way that we worship him as his own deity, not as a person of the godhead, coequal to the Father and Son. If we find that our worship focuses on the Holy Spirit to the exclusion of the Father or Son, then our worship is not directed towards the one true, triune God.
Should we pray to the Holy Spirit?
Our first question dealt broadly with the way we relate to and worship the Holy Spirit. This question looks more specifically at whether or not we should address the Holy Spirit when we pray. To begin it would be helpful to take a brief look at some of the things the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit and prayer.
First, consider what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14).
After Christ’s ascension the Holy Spirit is sent to us with a purpose. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come for his own fame but to glorify Christ. It isn’t as if the Old Testament was the Father’s time, the New Testament the Son’s, and now the Holy Spirit gets his moment in the spotlight. The Holy Spirit comes to direct attention and worship to Christ. It is through Christ that we can come before the Father with our prayers. Seventeenth century theologian John Owen summed up the Spirit’s role in prayer well: “By keeping our hearts and minds close to Christ as Mediator the Holy Spirit refreshes our souls and makes our approaches to God in prayer not burdensome but delightful.” The Holy Spirit is not about soaking up all the worship he can get for himself, he is about directing our worship to Jesus.
Second, as we consider whether or not we should pray to the Holy Spirit, it is important to understand that we cannot pray without the Spirit. In fact, Paul tells us that,
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).
When Christians pray, the Holy Spirit assists us stepping in when we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray about something. This reality is a great encouragement when we struggle with prayer. As long as we do it, the Holy Spirit will help. Indeed, the key to prayer is that we do it in connection with the Holy Spirit. Paul exhorts Christians to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18). Prayer is a supernatural event. Christians do not merely speak words into the air or have thoughts that float into nothingness when they pray. If we pray in the Holy Spirit, our words go directly to the throne room of God.
At this point the answer to our question should be a bit clearer. Should we pray to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is God and can be addressed directly in prayer. There is nothing sinful or wrong about doing that, nor does the Bible forbid it. However, as we study the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer it becomes clear that addressing the Holy Spirit directly is not the primary way the Bible teaches us to pray. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father in his name (Matthew 6:9 John 14:13; 16:24). Those prayers are aided and made effectual by the Holy Spirit. Christian prayer, therefore, is to a triune God. The way we pray is molded by the triune nature of God. We pray to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can pray to the Holy Spirit directly and there may be times that are appropriate, but if we follow the New Testament teaching and model it will not be the predominant way we pray.