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What is the Trinitarian Model for Prayer?

Written by Kasey Clark on

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home season, I became a woodworker. Not a very good one, but I earned at least one callous on my right hand. I think that qualifies me to discuss wood grains, right?

Well, as most woodworkers do, I bought a sander in order to smooth out my wood. I learned that one of the things us woodworkers need is a good sander and the right sandpaper. Once a woodworker has the right sandpaper, we can begin sanding the wood. Yet, I know that when you are sanding your wood, you must sand with the grain. If you sand against the grain, your wood will probably get scratched and won’t look as nice. The same principle applies to staining the wood—you should apply the stain using brush strokes that are with the grain.

While I’ve learned how important this concept is for woodworking, I also see its importance play out in regard to how we pray to God. There is a “Trinitarian grain” shown in Scripture, and in this article, I want you to know how to pray with the grain.

Praying with the Grain

In The Deep Things of God, Fred Sanders shares helpful insight about Trinitarian prayer life. In the chapter titled “Praying with the Grain,” Sanders shows that there is a necessary pattern to Christian prayer that, if out of sync with the established rhythm, simply feels raw or against the grain. Have you ever felt that? I have.

Once, I began praying to the Son, Jesus, and I asked him to regenerate my friend’s heart—something that is the Spirit’s role. Something about the prayer was off. One time I prayed only to the Father and neglected to acknowledge the unity of the Father with the other two persons. As I’ve come to learn: prayer that assigns a role to the wrong person of the godhead or neglects the unity (or threeness) of the Trinity is prayer that is against the grain.

How to Pray with the Grain

Sanders goes on to show that meditating on the Trinity is the foundation and the pattern that God has established for the Christian privilege and blessing of prayer. What does this look like, practically? Well, the “Trinitarian grain” of Christian prayer that we see in Scripture is normally to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit mediates and intercedes on behalf of all our prayers—including the most inadequate ones. Our prayers are then mediated by the Son to the Father, concluding with the Father’s glad reception of the mediated prayer. This is the pattern, or the “grain,” of Christian prayer.

Advantages to Praying with the Grain

Often, within church contexts, this pattern is more implied than it is explicitly demonstrated. So, Sanders proposes three advantages of “cultivating an alertness” to what happens when a Christian prays with the grain:

1. Recognize what is happening in our prayer

Seeing and praying with the grain will mean that we are retracing how God has brought people into his family from the beginning.

It also provides a relief from the pressure to pray. When we realize that the heavenly conversation is already going on—rather than waiting on us to initiate a conversation—and that the Spirit and the Son are already interceding for us, the pressure is off and the privilege is heightened. Can you believe we get to join in that heavenly conversation? What a blessing!

Another important thing to note about prayer is that it aligns with and reinforces the spiritual life we are already living. If we have already received redemption in the Spirit, through the Son, before the Father, then why should our prayer life be out of step with that redemptive rhythm that is already established in the Trinity? 

2. Don’t Pray Mindlessly

A renewed alertness to the Trinitarian pattern for prayer would be extremely helpful for the church and Christian discipleship. Why? Because fewer of our prayers would mindlessly repeat the name of God as a filler. Rather, they would more personally engage our minds in a conversation that is already happening within the Trinity.

A renewed alertness to the Trinitarian pattern for prayer could even provide a greater understanding of the nature of the Godhead—who we should be asking to do what in our lives (i.e. asking the Son to “come quickly”, asking the Spirit to be present and to give boldness in evangelism). Appealing to a particular person of the Trinity based on their role in the story of redemption more easily aligns with the grain of the Trinitarian pattern.

Practical Tips

As you seek to draw near the Lord in prayer. Let these tips help you:

  • Pray like a Son – Sanders says, “Christians are people who talk to God like they are Jesus Christ.” There is a biblical argument to be made for our ability to approach God as full, adopted sons through the merit of our divine, “firstborn” brother. This primarily comes from Romans 8, where the Spirit of adoption that we have received allows us to call upon the Father as our Father. Jesus also teaches us to pray as his child in Matthew 6.
  • “Introverted Prayer” – Normally our prayers end with “in Jesus’s name, Amen.” Try placing “in Jesus’s name” at the beginning of your prayer, in order to emphasize the importance of dependence on Jesus’s mediation to the Father.


A few additional resources that I recommend are:

Kasey Clark

Kasey is a former College Park Church pastoral resident. He is passionate about communicating theology in an understandable way and enjoys spending time with his wife, daughter, and both sets of parents.

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