Attend a Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Interdenominational church service in your community and you may notice some differences in forms of worship or theological emphases. But, in every case, you will observe a common likeness in the conclusion of prayers offered — the prayers will end with words like these: We pray all this in the name of Jesus, our Lord.
The practice of praying in Jesus’ name can be traced through history to the final and intimate words of Jesus, spoken to his distraught followers hours before his trial and crucifixion, as recorded in John 14-16.
John tells us that seven times Jesus instructed his followers to energize their continuing work through prayer. In five of those references he told them (and us) to offer prayers in his name (John 14:13a; 14:14; 15:7; 15:21: 16:23). In the other two, Jesus does not mention using his name, but it can be assumed (14:6; 15:7).
In 14:6 Jesus says to his followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” This is comprehensive. It refers primarily to the eternal destiny of believers, but it seems to me to also support the additional truth that in all our prayers we come to the Father through Jesus.
Frequent approaches to God through prayer in Jesus’ name during our lives on earth can be seen as preludes to how we will experience our eternal destiny in heaven.
Only one of these references is a promise without limitations: “You may ask me for anything in my name” (John 14:13b). The absence of limits to what we can ask here has been troubling to some. It’s as though prayer gives us access to a candy shop.
In the instruction that precedes, however, Jesus tells his followers to ask in his name so that the Father will be glorified in the Son. Our prayers in his name are in this promise first and foremost to bring glory to God.
In another of the promises of abundant resources through prayers offered in his name there is the expectation of constancy or faithfulness: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Intimacy with Jesus through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit appears to be a prerequisite to effective Christian prayer.
Such promises of fruitfulness, however, do not assure smooth sailing in the life of a disciple. Jesus tells his followers that the world will hate and treat them roughly because of his name: and “If they persecuted me they will persecute you also” (15:21).
As an aside, it is interesting to note that in our fading Judeo-Christian culture, when ministers or laypersons are asked to offer a prayer at the start of a community function, the protest heard most commonly is not against the act of prayer itself but against its being offered in Jesus’ name.
Returning to John’s account, Jesus gives a final assurance of results from the effect of praying in His name. “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be full” (John 16:23b-24).
There is a connection here between the constancy and depth of our prayers and the joy we experience in the Lord’s service. This explains why Christians who suffer severely for their faith and pray deeply in their suffering may appear to have a joy more abundant than those living untroubled, comfortable lives.
It is clear from these verses that even on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus expected the work of his Kingdom to go on in the world and he gave out the prime resource for expansion of that Kingdom: prayers uttered in faith and in His name.
However much we have yet to learn about prayer, may our prayers offered regularly in Jesus’ name bring depth to Christian living and joy to the Father’s heart.
Photo credit: Thanh Hùng Nguyễn (via flickr.com)