Does it matter to whom we pray—to Jesus or to our heavenly Father? What is the normal pattern? Should we pray to Jesus instead of to our heavenly Father? I have looked again at relevant Scripture. My tentative conclusion at this time is that normal prayer is addressed to God the Father.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father. He taught this while he was with them (Matthew 6. 8-13; Luke 11.2-4), and then later on Jesus taught his disciples that after he ascended they were to pray to the Father (John 14.13-14, John 15.16, John 16.23-27). Paul instructed believers to pray to the Father (Ephesians 3.14, 5.20).
The Disciples Prayer, in Matthew 6. 8-13 and Luke 11.2-4, is in a context of the disciples preaching the Messiah and coming Messianic Kingdom, Jesus teaches his disciple to pray to our “Father who is in heaven.”
In the Upper Room Discourse where Jesus was preparing his disciples for life after he was gone to heaven he taught them to pray to the Father.
John 14.13-14, the unity of the Father and the Son related to Jesus’ help for them in their service while he is on earth with them.
John 15.16, the disciples being sent out and instructed to ask the Father in the name of Jesus.
John 16.23-27, Jesus concludes his instruction about prayer for when he is gone from earth, and in it he says he does not need to ask the Father for them for they can go to the Father in prayer.
Paul teaches to pray to the Father.
In Ephesians 3.14 Paul prays to the Father.
In Ephesians 5.20, Paul gives explicit instructions to pray to the Father in the name of the Son, though thanks is the word in context.
In Ephesians 6.18, Paul does not mention praying to the Father or Son, but when we pray we are to be directed by the Holy Spirit which means that Scripture should guide our praying.
Post ascension communication with Jesus is in response to revelations, visions, and unique events and does not teach a pattern for prayer to Jesus. Therefore, though prayer addressed to Jesus is not explicitly ruled out, the Bible does not teach or illustrate it. Examples include the following: Acts 9.1-6; Acts 22.6-11, 17-21; Acts 23.11; 2 Corinthians 12.8-10; Acts 7.59; Acts 11.8; 1 Corinthians 1.2; Hebrews 4.14-16; and Revelation 3.20.
Acts 9.1-6, Paul had seen the Lord Jesus during the Damascus road trip and therefore responded to the Lord Jesus then and there. This was a unique event and response to personal revelation from the Lord Jesus. It is not prayer.
Acts 22.6-11, 17-21. The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and Paul refers to it. This was unique. It was not prayer. Jesus does not appear to us physically now.
Acts 23.11. The Lord Jesus appeared to Paul when he was in the Jerusalem prison, but no prayer is mentioned.
2 Corinthians 12.8-10. This was a unique event in Paul’s life in the context of Paul’s response to his vision experience of 2 Corinthians 12.1-7. The Lord may refer to Jesus Christ as Lord, though it may refer to the Father. This is not a pattern for prayer even if Paul asked the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 7.59. Stephen saw the Lord Jesus in a vision as he was being stoned for telling the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. See Acts 6.14, Acts 7.51-52, 55-56, 59-60. This was a unique revelation to Stephen and he responded to it. This was not a prayer.
Acts 11.8. Peter receives a vision from the Lord. Lord may refer to Messiah Jesus, though it could be the Father, and more probable the Holy Spirit (Acts 11.12). This was a response to a vision. It was not a prayer.
1 Corinthians 1.2. The passages which say “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as here, likely refer to those identifying themselves as believers in Jesus Christ—Christians. We also identify ourselves with Jesus Christ. It is very questionable that this refers to prayer.
Hebrews 4.14-16 is in a context where Jesus Christ is our high priest because of his successful death on the cross and then the author reminds the readers that he also was tempted and did not sin (by his following his Father’s will, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and knowing and applying Scripture). This does not say we pray to him, nor does it forbid it. He is the one who because of his death for sin and resurrection has qualified to be our mediator and intercedes for us.
Revelation 3.20 is a context of believers in the Laodicean church not in fellowship with Jesus Christ. He is asking them to return to fellowship with him. This does not refer to prayer. Eating with Jesus refers to fellowship with him. Fellowship include appreciation of him, being like him in our character, and possibly private communication with him as one’s Lord and savior. But this does not set a precedent or pattern for regular prayer and we should not build the doctrine of prayer on this.
So what to all of this?
Prayer to Jesus is not clearly taught or illustrated in the Bible and so is not the norm for prayer life. Neither does it clearly forbid it. The norm is pray to the Father. The biblical record shows that the post ascension communication with Jesus is in response to a revelation, a vision, and a unique event. Stephen, Paul, and Peter demonstrate this. If we pray to Jesus, it probably should be personal private prayer concentrating on appreciation, thanksgiving, and fellowship.
How we live in the Christian life should be based on reasonably clear Scripture. Just because we “feel” good doing something does not make it right, pleasing to God, or effective.
The pattern of prayer is to God the Father, in the name of Jesus the Son, according to Scripture, and guided by the Holy Spirit.