It has been said that when the Lord was pleased to convert us by His sovereign grace, He brought us into the circle of the Trinity, in terms of communication. He, as our Triune God, communicates with us through His Word and we communicate with Him through our words, that is, through prayer.
Our ability to hear our Triune God speak to us from His Word requires His giving to us ears to hear. Jesus makes this plain in His letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation chapters two and three. There He says to each of the churches in turn, “He that hath and ear let Him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” In His post–incarnation ministry He speaks through the Spirit. He said substantially the same thing during His actual incarnate ministry, as Matthew 11:15 exemplifies: “He that hath ears to hear, let Him hear.” The take away here is that in order to hear what the Lord says, the hearer must have the capacity and willingness to hear His Word and to respond in obedience. This ability is not a natural ability. It is supernaturally given. As the Psalmist put it in 40:6, “. . . mine ears hast thou opened . . .,” or, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 2:12, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” As Paul goes in to say in verse 14, this is something the natural man cannot receive because the Word of God is “spiritually discerned.”
In this matter of communication then, are we to think that we require spiritual capability to hear God but when it comes to speaking to God (prayer) we do not need anything more than the natural ability we already possess? To put it another way, do we require spiritual enablement to speak to God as we require spiritual enablement to hear God? The short answer is “yes.” As there is the involvement of the entire Trinity in hearing God speak there is also the involvement of the entire Trinity in our speaking to God. Let me explain.
To the Father
First of all, our Lord Jesus instructs us to pray to “our Father which art in heaven” in Matthew 6:9. Here we are being directed to address the Father. The significance of this directive not only lies in the fact of our familial relationship with the Father as a result of the completed work of Christ, but also in the fact that no one else can be everywhere present to hear us and no one else can know all things so as to answer us. We need an omniscient, omnipresent, hearing God to communicate the desires of our heart to. An angel won’t do. Nor will any creature. It is our Father in heaven alone that hears prayer as Jesus’ directive reveals (cf. Psalm 65:2).
To be sure, men by nature, especially in a crisis, will call upon their gods who by nature are no gods at all. These gods cannot be everywhere present to hear the prayers of the supplicant, nor can they know all things, nor can they even speak or hear. But it has been supernaturally given unto us who are redeemed to know the one true and living God, and in and for the sake of Christ, to be constituted His children and therefore be granted the supernaturally revealed privilege of saying “Our Father, who art in heaven.” We are able to communicate within the circle of the Trinity because it has been given us to know Him who answers prayer. Every prayer therefore, if it is to be true prayer, must involve our omniscient, omnipotent, heavenly Father.
Moreover, as the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 goes on to reveal, prayer to our Father in heaven consists of a number of propositions that we are to use to give form and structure to the content and direction of our prayers, something the Heidelberg develops rather thoroughly in Lord’s Day 45 through 52. In other words our Father in heaven reveals to us what He wills us to pray for. He is directly involved in guiding us to pray aright. As John puts it in 1 John 5:14–15, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” The involvement of the Lord in supernaturally revealing to us through His Word what prayer is to consist of, engenders the confidence that when we pray, we do not pray in vain, but may wait expectantly for Him to respond (Psalm 5:1–3). If we are to communicate in prayer with God, we must see the involvement of the first person of the Trinity, the Father.
Through the Son
Second, when we pray, we are to pray in Jesus’ name. John 14:13–14, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Here we see that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, is involved in our prayers. What we ask of the Father is dependent on the merits of the Son. John 15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
Scripture teaches us that every man has a problem. This problem is his sin and estrangement from God. In that state of sin he cannot and may not come to the Father (Heb. 11:6) to spread his desires before him without running the same risk that Nadab and Abihu did when they approached Him in an unauthorized manner. Scripture teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ has reconciled the sinner to God by His atoning suffering and death received by faith (Q21). Thus the book of Hebrews can say in 7:25, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” It is the merits of Christ that we depend on for reconciliation to God and salvation, and it is the merits of Christ that we also depend on to enable our ongoing communication with the Father. We now, because of Christ, have boldness to enter into the presence of God “by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh” (Heb. 10:20).
Therefore, to pray in the name of Christ is to display before the Father the merits of the Son imputed to the believer so as to be able to petition the Father for all that is desired, and be assured of a hearing and a response. To pray acceptably we must be in Christ. Thus there is the involvement of both the first and second Person of the Trinity in prayer.
Guided by the Holy Spirit
Third, there is the involvement of the Holy Spirit in our prayers. We are taught in scripture that because of sin, men are spiritually dead. Among other things this means that he has no clue as to what his needs really are, no disposition of heart to seek the one true and living God, and no desires that are good. He will pray if he is deprived of the help of the creature, but not otherwise. Unless the Holy Spirit grants him the disposition to pray to the Father and the desire to express himself properly in the light of who God is, he will not and cannot pray aright. For this reason scripture tells us that God takes the initiative through His Sprit. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). The ability and the desire to call on the Father is from the Spirit.
Even then, however, we do not know what we should pray for as we ought unless the Spirit continuously helps us in our communication with the Father. This He does: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27).
It is this work of the Spirit that accounts for the desire to pray in the first place. It is because of Him that there are periods of fervency in prayer that the believer experiences, the stirring up of affections during prayer, the desires, the words, and the tears that are used in prayer, and so much more. Our infirmities, even in the state of grace, limit our ability to pray. But He intercedes for us on earth even as Christ intercedes for us in heaven. Thus all three members of the Trinity are involved in our prayers.
The Ontological Trinity
Now having said that, let me point out that the involvement of the Trinity in our prayers speaks of the economical labors of the Trinity on our behalf, enabling prayer. But there is also an ontological aspect to praying as well. By this I mean, the Trinity cannot be divided in terms of being. Therefore to pray to the Father is at the same time to pray to the ontological Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To pray, “Our Father which art in heaven” is not to exclude the Son and the Spirit. They are included in that prayer with the Father because they are One in being even though each of the persons are involved in different aspects of our praying. Though there is evidence in the scripture that prayer is made to the Son, and here I am thinking of Acts 7:59, which begins by saying, “and they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.” In calling upon Jesus, Stephen was at the same time, calling upon God.
In sum, we are heard by God the Father, for the sake of the merits of God the Son, and through the agency of God the Holy Spirit. The entire trinity is involved in our prayers.