By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
Angels are a part of God’s created order. They encircle the heavenly throne, announce the divine message, and serve as heavenly warriors. Furthermore, scripture records a myriad of instances in which angelic beings interact with men and women. The book of Hebrews even suggests that one may unknowingly show “hospitality to angels” (Hebrews 13:2). Angels, it appears, are actively present in Christian lives.
A multitude of books, television shows, and movies aim to explain the role of angels in human life. This has given rise to the popular belief in one’s guardian angel. Many people believe they have a personal angel to whom they can send their requests for help. There are even websites designed to help someone learn the name of this guardian angel. Given this belief in a guardian angel, it is not too much of a leap to believe that one is able to pray to that angel.
But is this biblically accurate? After all, understanding how to pray is only one part of this spiritual practice; equally important is the understanding of to whom we direct our prayers. Thus, the question remains: Does the Bible support the notion that Christians can pray to an angel for guidance, relief, or aid?
Concerning Praying to Angels, the Bible says . . .Absolutely Not!
Christians do not deny the existence of angelic beings. Nor do Christians reject the idea that angels can interact with faithful men and women. Abraham, for example, entertains three angels by the trees of Mamre, Joshua speaks to an angel before crossing over towards Jericho, and both Mary and Joseph receive angelic visitations. What is absent in these occurrences is the act of prayer. Conversation? Yes. Questions? Yes. Prayer? No.
Praying to an angel is specifically forbidden in Scripture. The book of Revelation, for example, depicts John bowing down before his angelic guide to worship him. The angel is quick to reprimand. “Don’t do that!”, the angel says, “I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus” (19:10). The angel rebukes John for his worshipful act. In fact, this very scene happens again in chapter 22. John falls before the angel in an act of worship, only to find himself told that such an action betrays the true nature of worship (22:9). Bowing down before an angel is tantamount to idolatry. All worship is to be directed toward Jesus, the Lamb who sits upon the throne.
Why all this talk about worship? Prayer is, by nature, a worshipful act. Prayer is more than simply “talking to God.” In prayer one bows before the Lord in an act of worshipful submission. Jesus taught his followers to pray that “thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). As one presents needs, requests, thanksgiving, or laments in prayer, one does so in the context of opening his or her life to the presence and Lordship of Jesus. Praying to an angel, therefore, is more than simply interacting with angelic visitors. Praying to angels involves the devotional act of spiritually submitting to an angel’s will and activity. This naturally works against the vibrancy of one’s faith in Jesus (Colossians 2:18). One cannot worship the Lord and pray to an angel at the same time.
Who Should Christians Pray To?
We cannot live a life of faith without active and ongoing prayer. Scriptures abound regarding this fundamental truth (c.f. Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian life. Of course, whenever the bible speaks of prayer, it assumes that prayer is rendered to God alone. Prayer to any being other than the Triune God is considered idolatrous.
Each member of the Trinity is specifically mentioned as the one to whom prayer is directed. Jesus specifically instructs his followers to pray to the Father. In his introduction to the Lord’s prayer, Jesus states: “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). Equally, however, Jesus tells his disciples that he is the one to whom prayer is directed. Jesus promises the disciples that “whatever you ask in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). Similarly, Paul “pleaded with the Lord” to remove the thorn in his flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:8). This indicates that Paul’s prayer was directed to the risen Christ. Not to be outdone, prayer is also addressed to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Paul, for example, exhorts believers to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Ephesians 6:18). Whether prayer is directed to Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, it is clear that Christians pray to the Triune God.
An interesting question to ask is, why do Christians pray exclusively to the Triune God? Or to put it another way, why is it wrong to pray to angels? The answer is relatively simple: God delights to hear our prayers! This is one of the foundational truths of who God is. God willingly and lovingly enters the prayers of the faithful and weary.
- “What other nation is so great as to have their gods them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him.” (Deuteronomy 4:7)
- “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute, he will not despise their plea.” (Psalm 102:17)
- “Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)
- “For the eyes of the Lord on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers.” (1 Peter 3:12)
- “And this is the confidence that we have towards him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he will hear us.” (1 John 5:14)
Perhaps the most significant verse in this line is found in the book of Proverbs. Here we read, “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him” (15:8). Simply put, it pleases the Lord to hear our prayers. When we direct our prayers to any being other than our Triune God, we are robbing the Lord of that which is pleasing and delightful.
If Angels Don’t Answer Prayers, Then What Do They Do?
Deciphering the different order of angels can be difficult and confusing. The Bible records a variety of angelic types, most notably angels and archangels, cherubim, and seraphim. This has caused a lot of speculation as to the role and “rank” of each type of angel. In fact, the field of “angelology” is devoted to exploring the hierarchy of angels.
Biblically speaking, it is unclear whether specific types of angels hold different roles before God. Our picture of angels as winged creatures bearing harps and halos is more a product of Hollywood than Holy Scripture. Yet one thing is clear, the primary purpose of all angels, regardless of title or rank, is to point humanity to the glory of God. The angelic host bears the message of God’s activity in human life.
This fact is gloriously depicted in Luke’s account of Christ’s birth. We know the story well. The young Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19). Here, Gabriel serves as messenger. He declares the good news of the coming Messiah. Similarly, when a choir of angels surrounds the shepherds, they herald the birth of the Savior with the words, “Today, in the city of David, a savior has been born to you” (Luke 2:11). In each instance, angels declare the good news of Christ and invite humanity to recognize the glory and majesty of God.
The role of an angel in the life of a Christian person is to lead them into deeper worship of Jesus. Angels may intervene in our lives or speak to us of Gods’ activity; there may even be times wherein one is blessed to interact with an angel. The purpose of any interaction, intervention, or message, is to unite us more fully to our Lord. Like Jacob rising from his dream of the angelic ladder (Genesis 28:1017) we are to leave our encounter with a grander vision of God’s power and presence in our lives. Angels serve no other purpose.
Angels Carry Out the Work of God
Angels are not divine beings; they are servants of God. In fact, the word angelos means “messenger.” Angels do not hold mastery or sway over God’s kingdom, they bear the message of God’s sovereignty and reign. Similarly, while the Bible indicates the presence of warrior-angels involved in a spiritual battle (Revelation 12:7), this does not mean that angels have the power to grant prayerful requests. Angels merely carry out the work of God, in the heavenly realms and upon the earth below.
Praying to angels makes no sense when we approach this topic biblically. God is not too busy, too burdened, or too consumed with other matters to hear our prayers. Thus, God does not need to delegate answering our prayers to lower beings. God is not the unjust judge who responds to prayers out of a sense of reluctant duty, or so that that we will “stop bothering” him with our concerns (Luke 18:1-8). Jesus is adamant that the Triune God delights to respond to our prayers. Simply put, if God truly delights to hear and respond to the prayers of his people, why would we direct our prayers to anyone else.
Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus/4maksym
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.