We all are subject to drifting into behavior and speech habits that convey unscriptural concepts. Sometimes such speech habits are manifested in the prayers in our assemblies. Such mistakes are doubtless made innocently, but they are mistakes, nonetheless. Every earnest saint is interested in praying according to that which the New Testament teaches and authorizes. With these thoughts in mind, please consider the following:
1. When we pray, we are to address God, our Heavenly Father (not His Son or the Holy Spirit), in the name of His Son (Mat. 6:9; John 14:13–14; 15:16b; 16:23–24; Eph 5:20; Col. 3:17; et al.). There is no Scriptural authority for addressing Jesus or the Holy Spirit in prayer.
2. Brethren sometimes close their prayers with the words, “In Thy name we pray.” To do so is to address the prayer to the Father and then offer it in the name of the Father, instead of in the name of Christ. It is both contrary to Scripture (Col. 3:17) and nonsensical to pray to God in the name of God.
3. I have heard many prayers at the Lord’s table on the following order: “Father we thank Thee for Thy table…,” or “We thank Thee for this bread which represents Thy body…, or “We thank Thee for this fruit of the vine which symbolizes Thy blood.” By such terminology the prayer leader (surely unwittingly) is either addressing Christ in his prayer, or He is implying that the table is the Father’s instead of the Son’s (i.e., the Lord’s [Luke 22:30; 1 Cor. 10:21]) and that the Father rather than the Son sacrificed His body and blood. In either case, the terminology (and the concept behind it) is unscriptural. Likely, leaders of such prayers have copied them from others without considering their implications. As noted above, we are not authorized to address the Son, but the Father, in prayer. Further, the Son, not the Father, sacrificed His body and blood (the Father never had flesh and blood). The Supper/Table belongs peculiarly to the Son as a memorial to His death (1 Cor. 11:23–26—not His “death, burial, and resurrection,” incidentally.) The wording of our prayers should keep these Scriptural distinctions clear. The following (or similar) prayers at the table correctly convey these concepts: “Father, we thank Thee for this bread, which represents the body of Thy Son, sacrificed for our salvation. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.” “Father, we thank Thee for this fruit of the vine which, symbolizes the blood of Thy Son, poured out for our sins. Please accept our thanks in the name of Jesus, our Savior, Amen.” Further, if we follow the example of the Lord when He instituted His sacred memorial, prayers at His Table will always include thanksgivings for each symbolic element (Mat. 26:26–28; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Cor. 11:23–25).
4. Prayer leaders occasionally address fellow human beings in prayer. I have heard brethren leading a prayer before a “fellowship” dinner say, “We thank these ladies who have prepared this food.” I’ve also heard brethren say in a closing prayer, “We thank brother _____________ for his good sermon today.” We should certainly be grateful for those who thus serve, but if we mention them in prayer, let us remember we are addressing God, not others whose efforts we may appreciate. Therefore, let us thank God for the ladies or the preacher (or for whomever we are grateful), rather than thanking those people directly in a prayer addressed to God. Then thank the ladies or the preacher in person, rather than addressing them in prayer.
5. It is not uncommon to hear a brother lapse into a personal prayer when leading a public prayer in a worship assembly. When one leads others in prayer (whether in an assembly, before a meal, or on other occasions), first person singular pronouns (I, me, my) are inappropriate. Each supplication, thanksgiving, and intercession is on behalf of all whom he is leading and should therefore always employ plural pronouns (we, us, our). Jesus’ “teaching prayer” perfectly illustrates this principle. It is not “My Father…,” “Give me…my daily bread…,” or “Forgive me my debts…,” and so forth, but “Our Father…,” “Give us…our daily bread…,” and “Forgive us our debts…” (Mat. 6:9–13). The Lord prefaced this prayer model with the clear instruction: “After this manner therefore pray ye” (v. 9), obviously having in mind a setting in which more than one person would be present. First person singular pronouns should be reserved for our personal and private prayers.
As in all things, including our prayers, we should seek to please God and our Mediator, His Son, including the wording of our prayers: “And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).