Don’t Pray Like a Deist

Christians are Trinitarians. To worship the Trinity is definitional to the catholic faith.[1]

This isn’t groundbreaking news by any means, but how much does this divine truth shape our worship? Drawing on Basil of Caesarea, Scott Swain rightly asserts that

“...the entire Christian life is about learning to put on the reality signified and sealed to us through baptism in God’s triune name, about receiving all that goes with having the triune God as our God, and about growing up into his praise within the communion of saints.”[2]

Too often I’ve heard stories of Christians who leave their Lord’s Day service without ever hearing about the Trinity, either explicitly or implicitly. While it is vital that we worship, it is equally vital that we know whom we worship. Our worship should leave no question as to whom it is we praise and adore—and that means what we believe about God's nature matters for our worship. 

So, how do we as elders help our people grow in this knowledge and praise of the triune God in whose name we have been baptized? 

There are many ways to approach this question, but let's just focus on one: corporate prayer. There are many great resources on leading corporate prayer, but rarely does the shape of corporate prayer consider the essence or works of the Trinity. In many churches each prayer is directed to the Father, regardless of the need. However, as John Owen so helpfully stated,

“...we are to receive each of [the divine persons'] testimonies, and as we do so, we have communion with each person of the Godhead severally. In this giving and receiving of this testimony lies a great part of our fellowship with God.”[3]

As we are guiding our congregations through corporate prayer, it is beneficial to remember to call upon and honor each person according to their own particular economical work. I can remember the first time I heard a pastor pray in a distinctly Trinitarian manner. It was the first time I ever attended a PCA church, and I left the church with a new love and adoration for the Trinity—and that was just from the prayer of invocation! Now a pastor myself, I've received positive feedback when I've made Trinitarian theology a focus in my prayers, with parishioners telling me how it helped them grow in their love and knowledge of God.

This is not something that needs to be forced or overdone, but can be implemented naturally through the course of a prayer. For example, if you are praying that your congregation would know the love of God more deeply, it is appropriate to call upon the Holy Spirit to “pour out the love of God into our hearts” according to Romans 5:5. This is because it is a “special work of the Holy Spirit and by this special work we have communion with the Father in his love, which is poured into our hearts…What we have of heaven in this world lies in this work of the Holy Spirit.”[4] A right exaltation of the third person of the blessed Trinity and His work will enlarge our people’s adoration of the Godhead. “It is a notable expression of the Holy Spirit, to set forth the excellency of God’s being; and the pitifulness, meanness, and nothingness of all other beings…”[5]

The same rule can be applied to the Son. Too often I have heard a well-meaning brother or sister pray to the Father and thank Him for “dying on the cross for our sins.” Even though I rejoice when I hear of one’s thankfulness for the gospel, this is actually unintentionally robbing both the Father and the Son of their respective glory due to them. Consider this prayer from Robert Hawker:

"My Lord and my God, would I cry out, under the same conscious shame of my dreadful unbelief, as Thomas did? Yes, Lord, you are still ministering, still serving. And though I lose sight of you a thousand times, it is plain and most evident that nothing but your strength could carry me through. In all the blessings of your finished redemption, you yourself are serving up grace to your people. You did first purchase all blessings with your blood, and now you live to see them administered by your Spirit. Precious Jesus, you are ever with me. By and by I will be with you. I will see you as you are, and I will be satisfied when I awake with your likeness. Amen."[6]

Hawker is going to the One who accomplished his redemption and will bring it to completion to strengthen his faith and remove his doubts!

We must not pray like deists, as if we're living in a world governed by an impersonal god. Rather, as Christians we are brought into fellowship with the God who is deeply personal. Consider the words of John Donne:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp'd town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

This Trinitarian focus in prayer will not only teach our people how to pray, help their theology and doctrine, but it will also prepare their hearts as they receive the other means of grace of word and sacrament. Indeed, the doctrine of God begins to come to life for our people. They will begin to more fully understand the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in as He works in His divinely ordained means in concert like fashion to save and sanctify His elect. This then in turn leads to our people being sent out with a blessed word of benediction from our Triune God: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

How blessed it is to commune with all three persons of the Godhead!

Derrick Brite serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Aliceville, Alabama. He received his MDiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta and is currently pursuing a PhD in systematic theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Related Links

Podcast: "The Unmanipulated Trinity" 

"Hilary's View of the Trinity" by Todd Rester

"Is the Son Eternally Begotten?" by Ben Franks

Knowing the Trinity by Ryan McGraw [ Paperback  | eBook ]

The Holy Trinity (Revised and Expanded) by Robert Letham


[1] The Athanasian Creed, circa 5th century.

[2] Scott Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 17.

[3] John Owen, Communion with God (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 4.

[4] Ibid., 182.

[5] George Swinnock, The Incomparableness of God (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2020), 10.

[6] As found in Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, ed. Robert Elmer (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 129.

P/C Elijah Hiett on Unsplash