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Why you should not pray to the Holy Spirit

Ignorance of the Holy Spirit.

Introduction

The attention of my my wife and I was caught not so long ago on the Lord’s day when a man prayed to the Holy Spirit. On face value this may seem OK, usually performed in ignorance, and certainly in-defensible but correctable. However, the person concerned was a so called senior paster who should have known better. He did have an argument and it went like this:

  • Some people make mistakes and thank the Father for dying for our sins.
  • Mentioned the upper room discourse as being the key passage that "changed my mind", but then he went on and attempted to use John 14:16 as an explanation.
  • Suggests there are no sample prayers.
  • Suggests that conservative evangelicals reject the concept of a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
  • Notes well that the Holy Spirit is our comforter, counsellor or helper and since this is "another" (his emphasis, quoting the Greek) helper, "a better counsellor" than Jesus himself, and hence would have a closer relationship. He quoted John 14:17 for evidence of this.
  • However at this point his argument stumbles and he appeals to another man’s opinion who argues along a similar line; the Holy Spirit played tag with Jesus ("subbed on" was the term actually used) and since the Holy Spirit is exactly the same as Jesus Christ, we can have a similar if not better relationship with him than the disciples had with Jesus.
  • He then argues that "conservatives" know nothing of a relationship with the Holy Spirit calling us "charis-phobia" (sic).
  • He does note the communion between the Godhead, and Jesus’ prayer of John 17 highlighting his desire for saints to have communion with the Godhead.
  • His final argument relies on whether or not we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Hence at no point was the argument answered that the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, who gives us the words to say in prayer, even when we have no words, who counsels and guides us (should we listen), who convicts the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment, who points us directly at the Father through Jesus Christ, who bares witness of the Son, should be prayed to.

There are number of errors in this pastor’s arguments, other than being incomplete. The tenet of the argument is that because we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit we can pray to him. But this is illogical. Just because the disciples had a relationship with Jesus they did not pray to him. The disciples prayed with Christ Jesus, we pray in the Holy Spirit. They prayed with Jesus, because he was with them in bodily form. We pray in the Holy Spirit, because He is spirit and dwells within us. We pray to the Father because He must be glorified and we pray through Jesus because it is He who opened the new and living way to the Father. There is nothing in John’s gospel that alters this. Jude clearly states the way we are to remain in God is to pray in the Spirit.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 (NKJV)

We pray to the Father through Jesus because this is the only way to the Father:

No man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6b (KJV)

And the only way we know Jesus is through the Holy Spirit who bares witness of Him.

John 14:16 (actually 12-21) is not about relationships – the key verse says "keep My commandments". The law we cannot keep, but His commandments we can. Is this not a contradiction? No, by no means! We abide in Him – the subject of chapter 15 (which cannot be read without chapter 14) by keeping His commands. The only way we can do this is through the Holy Spirit. What the pastor forgets is the fact the Holy Spirit indwells saints as the Counsellor. The word allos though important is not the subject of the verse; the subject is the nature of the Holy Spirit – He is the helper, or counsellor or comforter (parakletos – one that gets beside) and was to be sent after the Saviour returned to his Father. The argument given is also illogical in its form because the word "allos"[1] means "others" and cannot be pushed to mean "same". Compare with:

Others (allos) said, this is the Christ. Others (allos) said, does then the Christ come out of Galilee? John 7:41 (DNT).

The Spirit was another (of the Godhead) but different – He is spirit, was not born of a women, nor sent to save the world by dying for our sins on the cross – He was and is spirit – another but different. He never draws attention to Himself and always points towards the Father.

The role of the Holy Spirit is very clearly defined in scripture – nothing could be plainer. The Holy Spirit indwells a believer (1 Corinthians 3:16) – this verse is very prescriptive and a salient reminder of the holiness of God, and His expectation of His people’s holiness. The paster is right in that the Counsellor was sent by God, and he is the helper. And this is the crux – whatever way you translate the Greek it describes the Holy Spirit as, not one to whom glory is received, but one who helps us to glorify God, for God demands to be glorified (Leviticus 10:3).

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26 NKJV)

Or from another translation:

And in like manner the Spirit joins also its help to our weakness; for we do not know what we should pray for as is fitting, but the Spirit itself makes intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26 (DNT)

Nothing can be clearer than the fact the Spirit gives the words we need to say to the Father. John in chapter 15 further elaborates the role of the Holy Spirit. Verse 26 indicates His role is to testify of Christ Jesus – without the Holy Spirit we would not know Christ. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit that quickens us – or brings us to life (Romans 8:11). Hence, it is not a sensible argument to say in order for us to have a relationship with the Spirit we need to pray to Him, because it is He who gives us new life and dwells in us and communes with our spirit in order that we might pray, and furthermore gives us the words to say in prayer. This prayer is directed to God because God demands it. We are only able to do this because of the work that Jesus Christ wrought on the cross.

One problem with praying to the Holy Spirit is the fact that it may become self-worship, if it is not self worship to begin with, in that it is used to draw attention to self during public prayer (I tend to think ignorance plays the largest part). Praying to the one that dwells within you prays to self. At worse this may foster a belief that you are indeed god – this is blasphemy. If the Holy Spirit prays to self then I see no purpose and it is illogical. Psalm 2 describes a dialogue in which each of the Godhead speaks to the others – none speaks to himself. It is no different to talking to your-self – it does not accomplish any external purpose. Our prayers of course are Spirit guided – all else is self gratification.

As to the lack of sample prayers, I assume this is to mean no sample prayers to the Holy Spirit, which is obvious, because this is not what pleases God. On the other hand we have sample prayers scattered through-out scripture including Jesus’ pray occupying the entire chapter of John (seventeen). And of course the Lord’s prayer is mentioned more than once, beginning "when you pray, say: our Father… Jesus himself states that he "will pray the Father" (John 16:26) which is in keeping with what God has ordained.

A word of warning here. Our occupation is to please the Father who has set out a defined order for things. "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" is much more than swearing: it has to do with "attaching emptiness to His name". His name cannot be used to achieve abominable ends, used in witchcraft, or falsely or flippantly. But also, if we align ourselves with Him – Christians are ambassadors of God – any action that discredits or is un-representative of Him is a contravention of this third commandment. God’s order for prayer is firmly established and reiterated by Jesus – we pray to the Father, through Jesus Christ. Violators of God’s order have been punished severely in the past including punishment at the time. Use of "strange fire" (Leviticus 10:1), which in my mind equates to false worship, was rewarded with death. The salient point of this was they "offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not". (This matter was no trivial matter – it is mentioned three times in the Pentateuch, which demands our attention).I see no command for us to pray to the Holy Spirit and I believe this amounts to displeasing God, indeed I put it more strongly, it can lead to blasphemy – which is using His name in vain and attaches emptiness to it[2]. What is not being said here is we are not to have communion with the Holy Spirit. This is altogether different, for the Holy Spirit must be allowed to commune with our spirit in order to "hear what the Spirit says"[3]. For he is the Spirit of Truth who lives with us (John 14:7) – our source of truth in order to discern right from wrong, amongst other things.

One last argument is the absence of any prayer to the Holy Spirit in Scripture, whether by Moses, David or Nehemiah, Jesus or Paul. However, it is noted all prayers are directed to God the Father. Indeed, the paster is right in saying there are no sample prayers, however, there is indeed a sample prayer, given to the disciples by Jesus himself that begins: "Our Father". Furthermore, in verse 6 of this chapter (Matthew 6) Jesus gives the instruction to "pray to the Father". Jesus’ prayer of John 17 is also instructive in that it is directed to "Father" throughout. Psalm 2 is also very instructive in the behaviour of the Holy Spirit. This Psalm is the discourse between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does nothing more than ensure the glory goes to the Father (e.g. v4) and to the Son (e.g. v6). He draws NO attention to Himself, because this is in keeping with His character. Man find this difficult to believe, as they love to have attention on themselves. Indeed, the praying to the Holy Spirit appears to be a stunt for this very purpose in many instances.

The other often put argument is that a saint has liberty and states "don’t hinder me in my liberty", perhaps quoting Galatians 5:13 (and sometime 1 Corinthians 10:29, noting the difference in the Greek used here compared with 1 Corinthians 8:9 or 2 Corinthians 3:17: these of course concern idolatry, eating and drinking foods prepared for such). Usually, if not every time, I hear this argument the saint is attempting to justify sin. These forget that not one jot or iota will pass away from the law, and a saint’s entire being is about pleasing God. "My commandments" must be obeyed says Jesus – liberty does not give a saint the right to displease the Father and therefore disobedience is not an option. This is no place for a discourse on these verses, suffice to say the context of Galatians 5:13 is the fact, although the law demands love, it cannot give an ability to meet its demand. A Jew obeys because of the law, a saint obeys because he loves the Father: "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15) for this is true liberty.

Principles

I was reminded of the following, during my discussion with fellow Christians:

  • God the Father must be glorified (Leviticus 10:3).
  • The Son glorifies the Father (example John 17:4; see also Hebrews and the life of Jesus in the Gospels, especially John).
  • The Father glorifies the Son (example John 17:5, and we see this elsewhere in the New Testament).
  • The Holy Spirit glorifies the Father and Son (example John 16:14, also Psalm 2).

This is the order of things pertaining to worship which sinful man will do anything to circumvent.

The role of the Holy Spirit is summed up by Christ

8 And when He [Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8 - 11 (NKJV)

 

A warning

A brother reminded me of this verse

29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." Hebrews 10:29 - 30 (NIV)

Notes - rebuttal to the arguments (His voice vs the bible)

Some people make mistakes and thank the Father for dying for our sins.

This is immaterial to the argument – there is lots of error in the Church and one error does not counter another – praying to "Father God" is also an error, which of course does not add to the argument.

Mentioned the upper room discourse has being the key passage that "changed my mind", but then goes on and explains John 14:16.

The passage is about the sending of the Holy Spirit not our relationship to Him. The passage is about our walk with the Lord ("I am the way, the truth, and the life"), and our relationship with God, established in Christ Jesus. If we desire to love God we will obey Him. This we can do because we have the Comforter.

Suggests there are no sample prayers

This is correct in far as no one prays to the Holy Spirit in Scripture; however, it is incorrect that there are no sample prayers. Scripture is replete with sample prayers, including one given by the Lord himself that begins "Our Father". This is a very good place to start and considering the mediocre (Laodicea) church has an abysmal record on personal and public prayer; pray to the Father must be our focus only. All else is blasphemy.

Suggests that conservative evangelicals reject the concept of a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

This is a swipe at "Brethren" in general, whose history is forgotten in the utterance. On the contrary men and women who are attempting to thwart the liberals in our midst know they can only do so with each step planned and directed by the Holy Spirit. Indeed the Brethren came out of the established church because the Holy Spirit was neither known or recognised. Resistance of the Devil is proportional to the strength of the relationship with the Holy Spirit ("be filled with the Spirit" etc). Sure, many have fallen by the wayside but the Lord’s Day worship only works if directed solely by the Holy Spirit – perhaps this is why if fails in so many congregations.

Notes well that the Holy Spirit is our comforter, counsellor or helper and since this is "another" (his emphasis, quoting the Greek) helper, "a better counsellor" than Jesus himself, and hence would have a closer relationship. He quoted John 14:17 for evidence of this.

The essence of the word "helper" is the focus of the passage – He is being sent for a purpose – this purpose is to be our helper. The passage is not about our relationship but our response; "obey my commands".

However at this point his argument stumbles and he appeals to another man’s opinion who argues along a similar line; the Holy Spirit played tag with Jesus ("subbed on" was the term actually used) and since the Holy Spirit is exactly the same as Jesus Christ, we would can have similar if not better relationship with him than the disciples had with Jesus.

Although men’s opinion is appealing, they can only be used if based on Scripture. The man mentioned, is as far as I can tell, is a deeply committed Christian, but gives no added value to the argument. The Spirit of course was not the same as Christ another part of the Godhead – He is spirit and dwells within; Christ has flesh and dwells at the right hand of the Father.

He then argues that "conservatives" know nothing of a relationship with the Holy Spirit calling us "charis-phobia" (sic).

The so called conservatives have every right to be critical of the charismatic movement and their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, Toronto blessing to wit. I acknowledge that the Laodicea church has little understanding of the Holy Spirit, and the 1990’s movement that blasphemed Him has no place in our congregations. The problem with his argument is his failure to understand the position of a saved soul. We have no other place than that of Christ and we have not other purpose but to please Him. We therefore pray to Father and He will hear us.

He does note the communion between the Godhead, and Jesus’ prayer of John 17 highlighting his desire for saints to have communion with the Godhead.

The argument is incomplete because it does not prove that praying to the Holy Spirit is needed for communion with the Godhead. It does suggest lack of maturity on the part of the author. Understanding the Godhead comes with communion with God, thought Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit – all three are engaged as they were in Psalm 2.

His final argument relies on whether or not we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.

As put before this is not an argument – the relationship with Holy Spirit cannot be plainer – the Comforter is the guarantee against the day of our redemption (Ephesians 1:13,14) and His role is plain – He bares witness of the Son etc.

[1] Rightly not heteros which means different, altered or strange, and where the word heterogeneous is derived, And said unto him, art thou he that should come, or do we look for another (heteros)? Matthew 11:3 (KJV).

[2] It is also well worth reading the narrative of the events surrounding the deaths of Ananias & Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5. It is also worth noting the heathen often pray to spirits which is an abomination before God.

[3] Ponder the words of Romans 8:9 "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (NKJV). The man who prays to the Holy Spirit understands not his position before God. The Holy Spirit leads, else we are lost (Romans 4:8) – the most important action by any person is listening to the Holy Spirit. Some (including all of the Laodicean Church) spend much of their time telling the Holy Spirit what they are about to do, rather than hearing the Holy Spirit’s instructions.

David L Simon
March 2008
Edited May 2011, Updated 10 September 2014