Throughout Scripture, many things are done in the name of Jesus. In Luke 10 the demons were powerless because of His name, and we see them cast out in His name in Mark 16. In Jesus’ name there is healing, salvation, baptism, justification.
In Colossians 3:17 we read “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So it comes as no surprise that we would also be called to pray in the name of Jesus. But why? What does it mean to pray “in His name?”
In John 14:13-14, Jesus tells His disciples: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
John 16:23 says “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”
Believer it or not, there are some who misuse these verses!
In fact, there are several ways we might misunderstand and misuse praying in Jesus’ name.
The first is the most obvious, and that is to treat God as our own cosmic concierge who is obligated to do our bidding whenever we use the magic phrase, “In Jesus name, amen.”
And there are many who truly do believe and teach that. You have teachers in the “name it and claim it” crowd that presume to move God’s hand by the power of their own words (enriching themselves in the process).
I trust that you already raise an eyebrow when someone speaks of “claiming” promises that God has not made, when they “declare” the blessings that God will shower upon them, or when they use “In Jesus’ name” like a spiritual abracadabra.
We must never treat the name of our Lord as if it were a magic formula, a key ingredient in a spell that will obligate God to do our bidding.
The Lord is not your Servant. You are His. Let that truth be reflected in your prayers.
But my guess is that the vast majority of you reading this can recognize that as the man-centered false gospel that it is and that very few of you are in danger of praying for a private jet in Jesus’ name.
So how are we likely to misuse Christ’s words that “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
Many of us are guilty of the opposite error – rather than treating these words like an incantation, we merely tack on “in Jesus name, amen” to the end of our prayers without given these words any thought at all.
While some overextend the promise we are apt to underappreciate its significance.
It has become just something that we do – a sort of ‘wrap it up’ filler phrase that adds an extra layer of spirituality to our prayers but we don’t really give it much thought when hearing or even saying them. I know I have done this at times, and no doubt many of you have as well.
Many times we manage to squeeze out these four words as a single syllable, robbing them of the impact that they ought to have.
We don’t want to do either of these things. We certainly do not want to abuse the promises God gives us, but we do not want to take them lightly either.
So what is the key to rightly understanding these verses? Well, you may have already noticed it as it is repeated twice in these verses. Jesus tells us that “Whatever you ask in my name” He will do, and “If you ask me anything in my name” He will do it.
Here in this phrase we have both the power of and the provisions for this promise.
Our central question must be: “What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?”
As we seek to answer this question, I want us to look at three aspects of what it means to pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
1. Praying In Jesus’ Name Means We Approach God Based on His Merit, Not Our Own
As Christians, each of us are “in Christ.” It is this alone that has restored our severed relationship with a Holy God, and it is this alone that allows us to enter into His presence in prayer. Without Christ, our own names have no power and no privilege.
When an FBI agent comes pounding on the door, he doesn’t yell “Open up! This is Carl!” No, he yells “Open up, FBI!” Carl’s name doesn’t get the same response as the name of the entity he is representing. Apart from the authority of the FBI, Carl’s name is empty on its own merits.
It’s the same thing for us. Apart from the name of Jesus Christ you and I have no standing to enter into the courts of God, let alone make any requests.
When we have a right understanding of who God is we will be astonished that we can enter into His glorious presence with our petitions. He is Holy, Holy, Holy, and on our best days we are not, not, not.
But thanks be to God that in Christ we are a new creation, our sins have been forgiven through His sacrificial death on the cross, and our relationship to God has been restored by putting the righteousness of Christ on us. In Christ we have a mediator between us and God.
And so the writers of Hebrews can say “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
When we are praying in the name of Jesus we are admitting that, apart from Him, we have no standing to speak with God the Father and we are rejoicing in the fact that through our Savior we can speak directly with the God of all the universe.
If we would have God answer our prayers we must give up any thought that we have any claims upon Him because of who we are or what we have accomplished.
To pray in Jesus’ name means that we would pray on account of His merit and worthiness. It is to recognize the glorious grace that has been bestowed on us that we should be able to claim the name of Christ.
2. Praying In Jesus’ Name Means Seeking to Please Him, Not Ourselves
If a servant claims to speak in the name of the king, and then acts or speaks in a way that is not according to the king’s will, he is outside the authority that has been granted to him. So it is with our position in Christ. We are approaching God in the name of our King, and we dare not request things that Jesus Himself would not desire.
While we have any number of requests that we might bring before God, we recognize that when we approach Him in prayer we ought to seek the same things that our Savior seeks. We are positioning our desires behind His. When we pray “in Jesus name” it means that we would pray in a way that is consistent to Jesus’ will.
1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
That we would make requests according to His will is an essential part of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.
This is the controlling element of this promise – we are assured that when our request is in alignment and in submission to His will, He will surely answer it.
And what is Christ’s will?
In John 6:38, Jesus said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” So Jesus came to do the will of the Father.
And what is the will of the Father? Verses 39-40:
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
When we pray in Jesus’ name, we ought to pray for what pleases Him above all else.
It was Christ’s will to do the will of the Father, and it is the will of the Father to gather together a people for Himself, furthering His kingdom as a means of bringing Him glory. So to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in ways that Jesus would pray.
Does this mean that we should only pray for spiritual things (like our own sanctification or that someone else would come to know Jesus) and that we shouldn’t pray for practical things (like for our interview to go well or for our car to make it to the next gas station or for the baby to please just fall asleep)? Not at all!
We are commanded in Philippians 4:6 to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
By all means, pray about all things – pray without ceasing. But we do not pray for things that are contrary to God’s will or lay claim to promises which He has not made.
As we pray, we want to pray according to the will of Jesus. This verse does not give you a way to conform God’s will to your own, but promises power in prayer as you conform your will to God’s.
Prayer is like a man in a rowboat pulling on a rope tied securely to the shore. He is not pulling land toward him, he is pulling himself towards the land.
And, as we mature in Christ our prayers in His name will increasingly align to God’s will as we are shaped by His Word and through communion with Him in prayer.
To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in accordance with the will of God and to pray in submission to the will of God.
The former prevents us from requesting things that are contrary to God’s will and the latter prevents us from charging God with wrongdoing when His perfect will turns out to be different than our own.
Not only do we pray on Christ’s account and according to His will, but thirdly and finally we pray in order to glorify the Father.
3. Praying in Jesus’ Name Means Treasuring God’s Glory, Not Our Desires
There is another qualification in this passage beyond “in my name.” Look again at John 14:13: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Jesus Christ came to bring glory to the Father, and the Father is glorified in the Son. This truth is captured in John 17:4, where Jesus says “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
Christ’s chief desire and purpose in His earthly ministry was to bring glory to God, and so He set the example that we as His followers are to imitate. Our chief desire in prayer ought to be that God would be glorified through His answer. So we do not pray for things which do not bring God glory or for things contrary to His revealed will and character.
Do your prayers reveal an eagerness to glorify God? How might you tell?
One barometer is to examine how we respond when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. Do you become discontented, or are you at peace to rest in the will of God? What if God, in His infinite wisdom, receives more glory from you in faithfully living through your hardships than in having them removed?
What if God’s timing is different than our own, or what if what He knows is best is not what we think is best? God loves us too well to give us everything we ask for. Are you okay with that?
All of God’s holy will will come to pass, and we know that all things work towards that end of bringing God glory. When we respond negatively to delayed response to prayer or going without the object we pray for, we are exposing that the true desire of our heart is not God’s glory but our own desires.
But if we seek to glorify God above all else, our response to unmet requests changes dramatically. We can pray earnestly to God, trusting Him for great things, while resting easy in the knowledge that the Judge of all the earth shall do right. By all means, continue to go boldly to the throne of grace, be persistent in your prayers, but trust that God’s answer is the best possible outcome.
To pray in Jesus’ names means that we approach God based on Christ’s merit and not our own, that we seek to please Jesus and not ourselves, and that we treasure God’s glory above our desires.
It is prayer that is in alignment with and in submission to God’s will that will be answered. And after seeing the biblical qualifications for this promise, it is my hope that you will see that it is still large enough!
What do we have in this passage? What is it that we are told?
In Jesus Christ you have been given the power and privilege to boldly approach the throne of grace and make direct requests to a Holy and all-powerful God!
No wonder the Lord offered this teaching as a comfort to His troubled disciples after He told them of His near departure in the upper room. He has not left us as orphans to make our own way in the world, but has provided us with direct access to the Father – and He has given us the Spirit who:
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. 27 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. (Romans 8:26-27)
We do not just have the right to submit requests to a God who will politely listen before dismissing them, but rather we have a guarantee that when we ask in accordance to God’s will our prayers will be answered.
We do not just have a role model in Jesus, who lived and died and set the example for us to follow. We follow the risen Lord, who is at the right hand of the Father hearing and answering our prayers. Whatever we ask in Jesus’ name, our Savior will do.
Three Responses to Rightly Understanding Praying in Jesus’ Name
How then should we live? How should we respond to a renewed understanding of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. Let me suggest three adjustments to recalibrate your prayer life with what we have seen from God’s Word:
FIRST, let us strive to be mindful of the importance and power behind the words “in Jesus’ name” as we close our prayers. Every time we hear it or say it may we reflect on the glorious truth of the Gospel and the amazing privilege we have through Jesus to approach God directly.
Are you rushing through these words in your prayers, or are you recognizing how fitting it is to bring our petitions before God under the banner of Christ’s name?
SECOND, let us seek to improve the nature of our prayers to match the nature of the One in whose name we bring them. When we pray, may we be consciously shaping our petitions as Christ might offer them, and do so in submission to the will of God.
Are you mainly bringing God a to-do list when you pray? Or are you communing with the Father, offering praise and bringing Him pleas that further His kingdom and His glory?
THIRD, let us not neglect prayer in our daily lives. In reflecting on what heaven will be like, DL Moody remarked “Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer.”
Are you going all day – or perhaps days – without prayer? Oh, that you and I would regard that as a greater loss than going a day without food or water. May we rightly understand the power and privilege of prayer, so that we would not wish to go an hour without it.
Do not forsake the great privilege that is yours in Christ. Do not be slow to approach God, and do not be shy in bringing your requests before Him.
Instead, we can boldly approach the throne of grace, making all of our requests known to God, and trusting Him to move in great ways that are in keeping with His great name.