Jesus spoke often to his disciples about prayer, an activity fundamental to his ministry and theirs. Early in his teaching he taught them what we today call the Lord’s Prayer. Later, he told them that whatever they ask of God should be asked in my (Jesus’) name.
Across the centuries his followers have complied, repeating the Lord’s Prayer, and offering their petitions in Jesus’ name. Around ten years before the USSR broke up in 1989, at the height of Soviet domination of Estonia, Kay and I heard the Lord’s Prayer offered devoutly by believers there.
To repeat: the larger pattern for prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer was given early in Jesus’ teaching, but in the privacy of his final conversation with the eleven disciples he very specifically added the direction to pray in his name.
Jesus says in John 14:13, I am going to the Father and I will do whatever you ask in my name. He also said: Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete (John 16:23, 24). The other references are John 14:13,14 and John 15:16.
This is not intended to be a mantra for believers to recite without careful thought. Nor is it given as a ritual to fill up space in the worship practices of believers.
It is rather a key to worship that opens heaven’s doors so that prayers reach the ears of the Father. As Jesus declares, No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6). That is, there is no other faith entrance to the Holy God. Thus, people of Christian faith, whenever they pray, are called to pray in Jesus’ name.
This element of Christian faith is sometimes better understood by those who are opposed or indifferent to the Gospel. For example, some years ago a community faced a common crisis. An auditorium was engaged and a meeting called. Some who would attend would be Christians but there would of course be some of other faiths, and still others of no faith at all.
Someone on the planning committee thought it a good idea to invite a local pastor to offer an opening prayer. When word of this intent got out a few persons protested vigorously. Their issue was not opposition against a prayer to God. That word unqualified could mean a god of any faith. Their issue was to block any prayer offered in the name of Jesus. They refused that fiercely.
For Christians, Jesus’ instruction to make all prayer requests in his name is lodged firmly in the gospels, as noted above. Was this meant for just that time 2000 years ago? That is, has the practice faded in history?
Attend a Christian gathering today, whether Episcopalian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist or interdenominational; listen carefully to prayers when offered and you are almost certain to hear the prayer closed with words like the following: These petitions we offer in Jesus name. Or, We pray this in the name of Christ, our Lord.
There is power in that name and Jesus’ promises as recorded by the Apostle John tell us this. We must pray in Jesus’ name and teach this practice to our children.
Photo credit: Thanh Hùng Nguyễna (via flickr.com)