As I was listening to an old gospel song, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”, sung in church not long ago, I began to wonder, “Is that hymn really biblical?” As I thought about it, several other songs came to mind that are really prayers to the Holy Spirit. So I began to study the question. Is it correct to pray or sing directly to the Holy Spirit?
A biblical theology of the Holy Spirit indicates that He is a person of the Godhead, the third member of the Trinity, who primarily works behind the scenes. According to John 14:26, Ephesians 1:17-18, and 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, He works in our hearts, illuminating us and teaching us to understand and apply Scripture, and energizing us to live it out. Every time Scripture strikes a chord in my heart or makes an impression on my mind, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Pray To the Father
Although the Holy Spirit is a member of the Trinity (and as such receives prayer directed to God the Father), there is no precedent in Scripture to address the Holy Spirit in prayer or song. Instead, the normative example of prayers in Scripture, especially the the Lord’s Prayer, are to address God the Father in prayer.
Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.’ Matthew 6:9
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6
Pray Through the Son
And although prayer is not directed to Christ, His name is invoked in biblical prayers. 1 Timothy 2:5 explains that Christ is the mediator between God and man. We can only approach God through the blood of Christ and robed in His righteousness. It is His name that allows us access to God the Father.
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
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. 1 Corinthians 1:2
Pray In the Spirit
The Holy Spirit, too, is involved in our prayers, as the following verses indicate.
Likewise 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. Romans 8:26
Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. Jude 1:20
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 8:27
It is only the work of the Holy Spirit that can direct our hearts to the throne of grace. He is the One who stirs us to call upon God the Father. He is the one who voices our groanings which cannot be uttered.
A Deeper Issue
As I studied these passages regarding the involvement of each member of the Trinity in prayer, I realized that what actually concerned me about those hymns was a deeper issue. The real problem was that they were all seeking for some sort of experience of the “fullness of the Spirit.” To seek some sort of “experience” of the Holy Spirit tends toward emotionalism and an unstable, feeling-based spiritual life.
Romans 8:9-11 makes it clear that all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
We have as much of the Holy Spirit as we will ever have. The filling of the Spirit is not about “how much of the Spirit you have”, but rather “how much the Spirit has of you.” Therefore it is inappropriate to pray for the Holy Spirit to “descend upon my heart” or to “fall fresh on me.” Instead we should submit to the work He is already doing in our heart.
Although emotions are a wonderful thing, and a necessary part of Christianity, they must always be a response to the truth of God’s word. I’ve been in many revivalistic style meetings where the participants are whipped up into a sort of fervor with very little substance or doctrine communicated. The emphasis in those occasions is usually on having some sort of emotional or charismatic experience like the “moving of the spirit.”
Any time experience is elevated over truth, man-centered false worship is the result. When singing, for instance, I get emotionally involved, but I always ask myself, “What am I responding emotionally to? Is it the music style or the truth communicated by the music?” It’s hard to analyze what is driving a service sometimes, but it is important that every aspect of worship be dominated by truth that then results in heartfelt emotion.
We have to be careful with the nuances of how we worship and how we pray to avoid drifting from our mooring on the truth of God’s word. My conclusion, therefore, is that we should not directly address the Holy Spirit in prayer, but rely on His working in us as we approach the Father through the Son.