Why Do We Pray “in Jesus’ Name?”

by Aaron Dunlop

girl-prayingWhen Anne Shirley came to live with the Cuthberts’ at Green Gables she was, in Marilla’s words, “next door to a perfect heathen” (Anne Says Her Prayers, Ch. 7; Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery). She had learned the Shorter Catechism at the orphans’ asylum, which she proved by reciting the answer to the first question without fault. But Anne was illiterate in prayer, in part, because she had been told, as she put it, that “God made my hair red on purpose, and I have never cared about him since.” “And anyhow,” she continued, “I’d always been too tired at night to bother saying my prayers.” It is not surprising that God-fearing Marilla was horrified when she heard how Anne ended her prayer on that first night. After asking of God two simple requests—if she could stay at Green Gables and that she might be beautiful when she grew up—she signed off with the words, “Yours respectfully, Anne Shirley,” and, lifting her head quickly out of Marilla’s lap, looked for affirmation: “There, did I do it all right?” The problem with Anne’s prayer, Montgomery writes in Marilla’s words to Matthew, “was not irreverence, but simply spiritual ignorance.”

We might not be quite as close as “next door to a perfect heathen.” However—to continue Montgomery’s metaphor—we could be on the next street or over in the next town. Wherever we are on this scale, each of us should remember how easy it is for a prayer life to degenerate—through forgetfulness, thoughtlessness and indifference—into “spiritual ignorance” while holding a firm reverence for God. There are continual warnings of this in Scripture. The disciples were admonished not to offer prayer in ignorance (Matthew 20:22). James warns us of praying for selfish and unwholesome reasons (James 4:3). We are also informed that we must prepare ourselves for prayer and not pray with unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18). We might be on our knees in the correct posture and we might use the correct formula—“in Jesus’ name”—but do so in spiritual ignorance as a mere clichéd form. We could also be like the Pharisees who put great store in the length of their prayers—“Everyone that multiplies prayer is heard” was their mantra. One of the practical difficulties of making a long prayer of course is the tendency to repetition and it was this “vain repetition” that the Lord rebuked them for (Matthew 6:7).

The most frequent and fundamental lesson that Jesus taught His disciples about prayer was the “name” in which they should pray. “Ask in my name,” He said, and the Father will hear you (John 14:13–14; 15:7, 16; 16:23–24, 26). To pray “in Jesus’ name” is first, to trust and abide in the merits of Jesus’ atonement; second, to rest in the authority given to Jesus by the Father; and third, to rely on and enjoy the guarantee of Jesus’ acceptance with the Father.

First, to pray in the name of Jesus means to rest on the merits of His atonement (His sacrifice for sin). According to Jesus’ words in John 16:23–24 we pray in His name as a result of His atonement and ascension. Prior to the finished work of Christ believers did not ask in Jesus name. But when Jesus finished His work on earth and ascended into heaven and sent His Holy Spirit, the condition for prayer was fully met—the finished work of Christ. Outside of this condition we have no basis on which to pray.

Prayer in Jesus name, therefore, is relational; the work of Christ has been applied and the spirit of God given and abiding in us. This condition of relationship is clear from the analogy that Jesus used (Matthew 7:9) of the son asking a father. This is not a mere legal relationship (as we see in the theology of adoption), but a blood relation, and a loving relationship. By faith in His atonement we are brought into a living, loving relationship with the Savior and thereby reconciled to the Father through Christ. He is the mediator through which I pray to God (1 Timothy 2:5). When I pray in Jesus name, I am leaning on Jesus accomplishments, depending on Him and trusting His atoning work to provide the basis for my acceptance with God. But there is something else in this relationship that establishes the condition for prayer. The words of Jesus in John 14:15 not only point to a union with Christ, but a communion with him. Praying in Jesus’ name is based on our abiding in Him (John 14:14–16; 15:7).

Second, to pray in the name of Jesus is to pray with the authority of Jesus. When Jesus told His disciples to pray in His “name” He meant them to pray on the “authority of His person.” In the Hebrew mind the name stood for all that the person was; in this sense then the “name” and the “person” are synonymous. Now the important thing to notice when reading the book of Acts which name of our Savior the disciples appealed to for their miracles – it was the name “Jesus;” sometime the “Lord Jesus” or “Jesus Christ,” but mostly just “Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 3:6; 4:10, 18, 30; 5:40; 8:12, 16; 9:27, 29; etc. ). Why did they emphasize the name “Jesus” among the other titles that our Savior has? Paul told the Philippians that our Saviour has been “highly exalted” and given a “name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9–12). There is a significant emphasis on the name Jesus in this passage. Jesus was the name given to Him by the angels, meaning, “Jehovah is salvation” (Luke 2:21). When Jesus ascended into heaven He did so as a man. He is our mediator as a man—as a man He accomplished redemption and as a man He applies that redemption. Therefore, as a man He has been given “all authority” in heaven and in earth for the establishment of His Kingdom (Matthew 28:11).

Third, to pray in the name of Jesus is to pray with the guarantee of Jesus. He is the “Amen” of our prayers (Revelation 3:14; 2 Corinthians 1:20). We use the word “amen” today after a prayer, as an interjection, to express agreement—“so be it” (used like this in Jeremiah 28:6). The word is used here, however, with the definite article as a descriptive title which the Lord takes to Himself. The word “amen” is a Hebrew word meaning truth, or firmness. The Lord explains this word with the phrase—“the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14; 19:11; 21:5; 22:6 cf. Isaiah 65:16 the “God of Amen”). The inference is that men (in the Church of Laodicea) have failed to make good the promises of the gospel; but Christ will not; He is faithful and true. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that all of the promises of God are guaranteed in Christ – they “find their yes in Him. That is why through Him we can say amen.”

In Conclusion, praying in Jesus’ name provides equal opportunity for every believer; we come on the same footing. There is no merit in the length of our prayer, or the particular words (ancient or modern), or the eloquence, or ingenuity of argument. The only merit is in Jesus’ name—a sincere and open faith in that name. Through Jesus we have access to the Father, by Him we have authority with the Father, and He is the Amen of the benefits of redemption. We can come to prayer with purpose then: pleading the promises of His word and those things agreeable to His will with the assurance that He not only hears us, but He is praying for us and is with us and that the Holy Spirit is praying in us (Romans 8:26).

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