Can We Pray to the Holy Spirit?

A graphic with the words "Holy Spirit" in bold and copy from the article behind the bold heading.

Can we, or can we not, pray to the Holy Spirit? Augustine (354–430) composed this prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit that my thoughts may all be holy;
Act in me O Holy Spirit that my works, too, may be holy;
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit that I love but what is holy;
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend that is holy;
Guard me then O Holy Spirit that I always may be holy.1

Do you agree or disagree with Augustine’s direct requests to the Spirit of God? If you agree, you affirm that we can pray to the Holy Spirit. If you disagree, you deny that we can pray to the Spirit.

I will summarize the arguments made by both sides. Then I’ll explain my own view.

Yes, we can pray to the Spirit

Scripture presents two examples of prayer directed to the Spirit. The first involves the prophet Ezekiel who, being in the Spirit (ruach) and set down in a valley of dry bones (the lifeless people of Israel), is commanded by God to “prophesy over these bones,” with the promise that the Lord would cause breath (ruach) to enliven them (Ezek 37:4–5). As Ezekiel obediently prophesied, the bones became fitted with sinews, flesh, and skin, but there was no breath in them; they remained lifeless. God again addressed Ezekiel:

Prophesy to the breath [ruach, “spirit”]; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezek 37:9–10)

We know that the breath to whom Ezekiel prophesies is the Holy Spirit because the Lord God explains this event: “I will put my Spirit [ = the Holy Spirit] within you, and you shall live” (v. 14). The key point for our discussion is that Ezekiel prophesies—that is, prays to the Spirit, who enlivens God’s people—in obedience to the Lord’s command.

The second example of prayer to the Spirit is part of the apostle John’s blessing of the seven churches:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (Rev 1:4–5)

This apostolic benediction is Trinitarian, directed to the Father (“who is and who was and who is to come”), the Holy Spirit (“the seven spirits who are before his throne”), and the Son (“Jesus Christ”). The key point for our discussion is that John invokes a blessing (grace and peace) upon the churches from the seven spirits—that is, he prays to the Spirit as part of his benediction.

Proponents of praying to the Holy Spirit build a theological case for the practice. Simply put,

  • The Holy Spirit is God, equal to the Father and the Son.
  • Prayer is and should be directed to God.
  • Therefore, as prayer is directed to the Father (e.g., “Our Father, who is in heaven”), and to the Son (e.g., Stephen, as he dies: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”), it is proper that prayer be directed to the Holy Spirit (e.g., “the seven spirits”). Such prayer is proper in all three cases because each person of the Trinity is fully God.

Indeed, the church confesses (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, 381),

I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Lord … who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.

If it is proper to worship and glorify the Holy Spirit (who is—and because he is—fully God, “the Lord”), and if prayer is part of worship and extends glory to its recipient, then prayer to the Spirit (who is—and because he is—fully God) is proper.

Proponents of prayer to the Spirit agree that most prayers, following the biblical pattern, should be directed to the Father in the name of the Son and in the Holy Spirit (that is, in step with, or empowered by, the Spirit). They also acknowledge that no biblical passage instructs Christians to pray this way. That is, our common pattern of prayer is a theological conclusion drawn from several passages of Scripture:

  • Prayer is directed to the Father: Jesus taught us to pray “our Father” (Matt 6:9).
  • Prayer is in the name of the Son: as taught by Jesus: “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” (John 14:13–14; 15:16; 16:23–24).
  • Prayer is in the Spirit: as taught by Paul: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18; cf. Jude 20).

Thus, in a technical sense, even the general pattern of prayer is not strictly “biblical” but instead “theological.” And wise theological thinking affirms that prayer, which is directed to God, includes the Holy Spirit.

Still, this pattern should not be followed at all times. For example, we should never pray, “Thank you, Father, for becoming incarnate and dying on the cross for my sins.” That prayer is wrongheaded! Rather, we should pray, “Thank you, Son of God, for becoming incarnate and dying on the cross for my sins.” The general idea here is that prayer is rightly directed to the person of the triune God who is responsible for the particular work at the heart of our prayer. Only the Son became incarnate and died on the cross, so prayers of thanksgiving should be directed to him for the particular works of incarnation and crucifixion.

Accordingly, an example of a prayer rightly directed to the Spirit would be (in the case of sharing the gospel with a friend) “Holy Spirit, convict Meredith of her sin, righteousness, and judgment.” This proper prayer would be in keeping with Jesus’s promise to send the Spirit: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7–8). It is not the Father who convicts of sin, and Jesus specifically noted that such a role would belong to the Spirit. Thus, this prayer is rightly addressed to the Spirit.

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No, we should not pray to the Spirit

Those who deny that we should pray to the Spirit have arguments as well. I’ll list three.

First, they argue that because Scripture itself indicates the common biblical pattern of prayer, we should always follow it and never deviate from it. Thus, the two prayers used to illustrate proper praying to the Son and the Spirit should be voiced in the typical way:

Thank you, Father, for sending your Son to become incarnate and to die on the cross for my sins. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Similarly,

Father, please send your Holy Spirit to convict Meredith of her sin, righteousness, and judgment. I pray this in Jesus’s name, Amen.

Second, opponents of praying to the Spirit argue that such prayer contradicts Jesus’s affirmation about the Spirit: “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). They reason that the Spirit’s role is never to draw attention to himself and that praying directly to him violates Jesus’s stated principle.

Third, those who oppose praying to the Spirit point to the specific role of the Spirit in our prayers, as described by Paul in his letter to the Romans:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought. (Rom 8:26)

Opponents argue that if it is the role of the Spirit to help us pray, it would seem odd that our prayers should be directed to him.

We should pray to the Spirit

I do pray to the Holy Spirit. So let me briefly respond to the three arguments made by opponents of such prayer.

First, there is surely nothing wrong with praying to the Father as quoted above. This pattern of praying is correct and blessed, so if opponents advocate such praying, they should pray in this way with a good conscience!

Second, consider the full context of Jesus’s affirmation of the Spirit’s role: “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” One wonders how the specific role of the Spirit highlighted here—glorifying the Son by speaking about Jesus (i.e., inspiring Scripture, which focuses on Christ)—would preclude prayer to the Spirit, even something like this: “Holy Spirit, thank you for inspiring the Gospel of John and revealing the glory of Jesus!” Prayer to the Spirit for his intervention through works specifically attributed to him—e.g., conviction of sin, inspiration of Scripture, regeneration, sanctification—by no means contradicts Jesus’s affirmation in this passage.

Third, consider the full context of Romans 8, as well, which affirms that it is “the Spirit himself [who] intercedes for us …, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints” (Rom 8:26–27). One wonders how the specific role of the Spirit highlighted here—interceding for troubled believers—would preclude prayer to the Spirit, even something like this: “Holy Spirit, you who are the Comforter (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), please comfort me in this season of distress.”

I affirm not only that we can pray to the Holy Spirit, but that we should pray to the Holy Spirit according to his specific works in our life, our church, and our world.

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  1. This prayer is frequently attributed to Augustine, but no source could be located for it.
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Written by
Gregg Allison

Gregg Allison is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has 18 years of ministry experience as a staff member of Campus Crusade (Cru). He is secretary of the Evangelical Theological Society and serves as an editor for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Allison is the author of 'Historical Theology'; 'Sojourners and Strangers'; 'Roman Catholic Theology and Practice'; (with Andreas Köstenberger) 'The Holy Spirit'; 'Embodied: Living as Whole People in a Fractured World'; '50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith'; 'God, Gift, and Guide: Knowing the Holy Spirit'; and other books.

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