An understanding of God as triune, one God in three persons, does two things for the prayer life of the Christian.
First, it helps us understand how prayer works. Each person of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is actively involved in Christian prayer. Reflecting on our triune God will give us confidence that God hears and works when we pray.
Second, reflecting on our triune God will motivate us to prayer. Thinking deeply about the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit ought to bring us to a place of awe and worship, inviting us to commune with our glorious God.
One of the clearest passages of scripture that depicts God as triune is Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t send his disciples out in the names (plural) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is only one name, but three persons.
God himself is a community. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been loving, and joyfully glorifying one another for all eternity. God created us to share this love and joy. Tim Keller explains the relation to our prayer life: “We can see why a triune God would call us to converse with him, to know and relate to him. It is because he wants to share the joy he has. Prayer is our way of entering into the happiness of God himself.” (1)
As we enter into the happiness of God through prayer, how does each person of the Trinity relate to our prayers?
God The Father: Access and Intimacy
The Christian has the privilege of calling God Father. God adopts us into his family as sons and daughters when we trust in the Son who came to save us from our sins (Eph. 1:3-10, Jn. 1:12-13).
The Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6 begins with the words, “our Father.” John Calvin comments on this phrase, “Who would break forth in such a rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ?” (2)
The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Because God is our loving and intimate Father, our hearts naturally long to cry out to him in prayer.
If God is our loving Father instead of a distant and disinterested being, we have access to him. President John F. Kennedy was known for letting his children roam and play in the oval office while he was working. People don’t just walk into the oval office, but the president’s children have special access to their Father. We have access to God any time anywhere because we are his adopted children. Prayer is how we access our heavenly father who has adopted us into his family.
God The Spirit: Confidence and Intercession
The immediate result of being filled with The Holy Spirit is a desire to cry out to God in prayer with the confidence that he hears. Romans 8:14-16 says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’
The Christian isn’t scared to approach God in prayer. While God is holy and we approach him with reverential awe, we don’t fear that he will reject us. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and giving us the confidence to approach our loving Father.
The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was known for his bold and confident prayer life. He gives an example of confident prayer by encouraging Christians to pray to God like this:
“Although you could rightly and properly be a severe judge over sinners, now through your mercy implant in our hearts a comforting trust in your fatherly love, and let us experience the sweet and pleasant savor of a childlike certainty that we may joyfully call you Father, knowing and loving you and calling on you in every trouble.” (3)
The Spirit also intercedes for us. Romans 8:26–27 tells us:
“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. 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.”
In our limited knowledge and sinful tendencies, we don’t always pray what’s according to God’s will. Other times, we don’t know what we’re supposed to pray. It’s a profound encouragement to the Christian that the Holy Spirit prays for us according to the will of God.
God The Son: The Mediator
In prayer, we are accessing the Father, confidently filled with the Spirit. But how did we gain such access? God is holy, we are not. God is righteous, we are unrighteous. God is infinite, and we are finite. In order to approach God who is so unlike us, we need a mediator.
In 1 Timothy 2:5 Paul tells us, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” A mediator is a go-between for two parties who are in conflict with one another. Jesus, fully God and fully man, stands in the gap between us and God, and reconciles us to God by paying the debt of our sin owed to God on the cross.
The author Hebrews 10:19-22 writes:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
This is why Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in his name (Jn. 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24). To pray in Jesus’ name is to acknowledge that the only way we have access to God the Father is through Jesus the Son. Paul sums up how trinitarian prayer works very succinctly in Ephesians 2:18: “For through him [Jesus, the Son] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
(1) Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, 68.
(2) John Calvin, The Institutes of The Christian Religion , 3.20.36., 901.
(3) Martin Luther, “Personal Prayer Book,” in Luther’s Works: Devotional Writings II, ed. Gustav K. Wiencke, vol. 43, p.29.