Jesus says that whatever you ask for in his name will be given to you (John 14:13-14). But what does that mean?
In an attempt to follow Jesus’ instructions, many parents and churches teach (usually by example) that every prayer should conclude with the words “…in Jesus’ name, Amen.” But is this what Jesus meant?
Sometimes you hear people take this idea to an extreme, and they say, “…in Jesus’ name” over and over throughout their prayer such as this:
Father, we come before you in the name of Jesus, to ask you, Father, that you bless our time together, in Jesus’ name. And we bring forward our needs to you, Father, thinking of Ruth and her ingrown toenail, that you would heal it, Father, in Jesus’ name. And we lift up to you the sick cat of Carol. You know, Father, how the cat has been throwing up all night, and how Carol loves the cat which you gave her, and so we ask that you reach down out of heaven and touch her cat in Jesus’ name, Father, and deliver her cat from this malady that is causing the cat and Carol so much problem, in Jesus’ name…
And so on. (And while you might think I am trying to be funny with requests about toenails and sick cats, if you have been in many prayer meetings, you know that these sorts of requests are not uncommon.)
Even when Christians are able to root out of their prayers all the repetitious mentioning of “Father” and “in Jesus’ name,” it is still quite common for most Christians to end their prayers with the word, “… in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I admit I do this. It is a habit I just cannot break.
But why would I want to break it?
Doesn’t Jesus tell us to pray in His name?
Well, yes, He does. But His instruction does not mean that we liberally sprinkle our prayers with the magic words “in Jesus’ name” or that we even close out our prayers with these words.
When we do this, we are treating the words “in Jesus’ name” like they are some sort of magical incantation by which we will get whatever we ask for in prayer. But that is not at all what Jesus meant, and in fact, mindlessly repeating the words “in Jesus’ name” to get what we ask for in prayer is actually the exact opposite of what Jesus meant when He invited us to pray in His name.
What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?
To pray “in Jesus’ name” means to pray as if Jesus Himself was praying our prayers.
When an ambassador visits another country “in the name of the king” (or president) it is as if his king (or president) is speaking the words that the ambassador speaks. The leaders of these other countries are to assume that whatever the ambassador says, it is as if the king (or president) himself said them.
Obviously then, the ambassador had better be certain that what he says is exactly what the king himself would say. If an ambassador says something foolish or insulting, he could easily start a war or ruin a trade agreement or destroy a treaty. To be a good ambassador, the ambassador needs to know the mind and heart and will of his king so intimately, that the two minds are nearly one.
This is what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.” They are not magic words to get what you want, but are a mind frame we must adopt when praying to God. We must so intimately know the mind and heart and will of Jesus in whatever situation we are praying about, that the words we speak are the same exact words Jesus would speak if He Himself were the one making the petition to God.
How to Pray in Jesus’ Name
So to expand a bit on what Jesus said in John 14:13-14, I think His words could be paraphrased this way:
But when you pray, spend time thinking about what I value, what I have instructed you, how I lived my life, the kind of example I provided, the people I hung out with, the goals I sought to achieve, the relationship I had with God. Take careful notice of what I taught and what I prayed for. Then, offer your requests to God in light of these things. And when you do, make these requests boldly, knowing that the words you speak are the same words I am speaking. And when you pray this way, know that your prayers will be answered.
If you are not completely confident that what you are praying is what Jesus Himself would pray, this is when it is best to add the little caveat to your prayers of “if it is your will.” This way, in your conversations with God, you can tell Him what is heavy on your heart and weighs on your mind, but you are telling Him that you trust Him to make the best decision since you yourself do not know what is best.
In my opinion, most of the prayers we pray will be of this second sort, where we recognize that our hearts can be deceived and our minds darkened, and so we leave judgment and decision up to God.
To “pray with faith” is not to summon up so much “confidence” that God is somehow “forced” to do what we ask. No, to pray with faith is to offer our requests to God, knowing that He loves us and will do what is best for us, even if this involves not giving us what we have asked for.
So let us stop praying with magical words by which we try to coerce God and manipulate Him to do what we want. Stop using magic words in your prayers.
Instead, let us spend time learning the heart and mind of Jesus so that our prayers can match His prayers, and then, when we pray, pray with the humility of faith, knowing that God will do what is best for us.