It’s like a closing to a letter. After all, how many people are thinking about their own sincerity or even less of how they belong to the intended recipient, when they write, “Sincerely Yours,”? Or in the British tradition, are they really sending their Kind or Best Regards along with their correspondence?
In the same way, Christians close their prayers with “In Jesus’ name”. For many, it is just how it’s done. After all, in chapters 14, 15, and 16 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says variations on, “If you ask anything in My name I will do it.” (in this case, John 14:14) So a quick “In Jesus’ Name” ought to do the trick, right?
When it doesn’t, there is often the tendency to fall back on one of two perceived get-outs.
First, there is the fallback on a lack of faith. After all, in the Synoptic Gospels (the collective name for Matthew, Mark and Luke) there seems to have quite a bit on having enough faith for what you want God to do. Actually, there’s not much, but it gets a lot of publicity. And who doesn’t love a bit of Mark 11:24 out of context?
Second and more direct to the point – even if actually off the point – is the idea that to pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray in Jesus’ authority. One need not just have faith, but also a cognizance of the “authority of the believer”. In this case, prayer is answered on the basis of self-awareness and self-assuredness. God only listens to you if you stand up for who you are.
Perhaps there is a misunderstanding that the idea of “name” gets used the same way throughout the Bible, or just in the New Testament, or even by Jesus. If we used it five different ways in the same paragraph of thought, we would think nothing of it. However, we often fall into the trap of thinking that God in the Scriptures is obligated to some sort of linguistic consistency that goes against the very nature of language. As always, context is everything.
So to put it in the simplest of terms, acting outwardly in Jesus’ name (e.g., “in My name you will cast out demons”) gets confused with praying in Jesus’ name. (Acting in Jesus’ name is often understood far too simplistically as well, but we’ll leave that for another time.)
Let’s use one of Jesus’ own descriptions of prayer to make clear how ridiculous this idea of praying with authority is. Jesus likens prayer to a child asking for things from a Father:
If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12)
Long before my son was aware of the parameters of any particular relationship with me, I would give him things for which asked. And if it wasn’t good things he wanted, it didn’t matter how confident he became, he still wasn’t going to get things I didn’t want him to have.
In fact, to this day, he does not receive anything from me based upon his confidence in, or even awareness of, our relationship. Rather, he receives based upon whether it helps or hinders him being the person I want him to be.
So if it has nothing to do with authority, what does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? For part of the key, let’s go back to John 14. In John 14:12-13, the sentences before the one we saw earlier, Jesus says:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
The purpose for asking in Jesus’ name is that the Father may be glorified in the Son. This is because in the culture and worldview of the New Testament authors, name is related to character. It is like in the Old Testament, where God reveals Himself with what we transliterate as hyphenated names, such as Yahweh-Yireh or Yahweh-Rapha or Yahweh-Nissi.
That’s why the “whatever” or the “anything” is important. God is willing to do anything that will demonstrate His character, as revealed in Jesus, to the world. It is not because He’s giving out the key to the heavenly candy store.
As N. T. Wright so wonderfully puts it:
Praying “in Jesus’ name” then, means that, as we get to know who Jesus is, so we find ourselves drawn into His life and love and sense of purpose. We will then begin to see what needs doing, what we should be aiming at within our sphere of possibilities, and what resources we need to do it. When we then ask, it will be “in Jesus’ name”, and to His glory; and through that to the glory of the Father Himself. But when all this is understood, we shouldn’t go soft on that marvelous word anything. He said it, and He means it. (John for Everyone, Part Two, p. 64)
So when you pray “in Jesus’ name” are you asking for the works in your life to be solely for the purpose that the Father may be glorified in the Son through your character? Otherwise, when you pray “in Jesus’ name,” you may not be praying in Jesus’ name at all.
One final note: The “greater works” than Jesus did may not be miracles or signs and wonders at all. Jesus tried to explain this to His followers, but like them, we sometimes just don’t get the message.
This generation, too, seeks after a sign. We need to seek after the character of Jesus in our lives, demonstrated to the world.