Why Do Christians Pray in Jesus’ Name?

13712688913_80b64ee497_mHave you noticed that Christians regularly close their prayers with such expressions as, “we ask these mercies in Jesus’ name?”

You’ll hear it in church services when pastors offer the pastoral prayer, or in an informal prayer group during the midweek.

It is commonly heard during Christian telecasts. It seems to be a universal feature of Christian prayer.

To understand why, remember first that in John’s Gospel Jesus says of himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6.)

Thus, we already see why Christians might approach the Father “in Jesus’ name.”  We come to God through Christ.

An even more direct explanation comes to us from the account of Jesus’ meeting with his disciples on the night of his betrayal by Judas, just before our Lord’s crucifixion.

How they are to pray is a big part of his instruction that night. He emphasizes that they are to pray: in my name.

In fact, when we read John 14-16 slowly and carefully we hear the throb of that phrase — in my name, in my name, in my name … Six times!

Here’s an example: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13.)

Here’s another: “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16b.) There are other examples in John 15:7; John 16:23b; John 16:24; and John 16:26.

Obviously, Jesus makes clear to them that prayer is accessible to the Father only when offered in Jesus’ name. He is the Mediator.

That truth has lodged itself deeply in the Christian consciousness through the ages. All of this is why we regularly hear prayers that close like this:

These mercies we ask in Jesus’ name.

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Re-post: Common Sense in “Choosing” a Mate

Last week I wrote about marital love that lasts a lifetime. This begins, I hinted, with the exercise of good judgment in choosing. That, coupled with genuine romance, increases the likelihood that a happy, durable marriage will be launched.

I believe in romance. I know what it is to fall in love. But, this week I share with you what I mean by good judgment, an easily overlooked element, in searching for a life’s mate.

When I was 20, I traveled with a youth evangelist five years older than I named Doug Russell. He preached and I sang. In our spare moments we had serious conversations about “finding the right one.” We were both single.

Back then he had worked up a list of qualities he was looking for in a life’s mate. I recall that list from 65 years ago, and it ran as follows:

A genuine Christian faith.

Good family background.

Dependable character.

A pleasant disposition.

Talents and resources (He was committed to ministry).

Today’s seekers may not be inclined to form such a list. In our overstimulated age, we may expect romance alone to determine outcomes. Lists may seem unimaginative, even stifling.

Back then, good character was regarded as a value to be noted. So we might have asked: is this a person of good character? It was this more settled view of personality that gave Doug ground for the following list.

A genuine faith in Christ. As a committed Christian, he thought he should marry someone who would share that faith fully. In his life, Christ was foremost. How could matrimony thrive if two were not together on this central commitment of life?

Good family background. He seemed to understand that, in a sense, when you marry you not only marry a person, you marry that person’s family. This idea may seem a bit fussy, even judgmental. But isn’t it true that even if, for example, one were choosing, a business partner one would reflect on that partner’s closest connections?

Business partners go home at night. Marriage partners do not. Marriage is not part-time. In seeking a mate, it seemed to Doug wise to consider family connections as important.

Solid character. The word character stands for fixed traits – like honesty, dependability, compassion, empathy, etc. My friend Doug said he wanted to see signs of these qualities before he would give his heart permission to advance.

Disposition. He hoped to find someone who was generally cheerful, forgiving, resilient, steady under pressure, not easily angered, etc. It is easier to paddle the romance canoe through both smooth and troubled waters of life with someone who tends to be pleasant in disposition.

Talents. Because he was looking toward ministry as a life calling he was searching for a mate who would bring gifts of head, heart, and hand to the relationship. But anyone, not only ministers, in seeking a life’s partner should consider what life resources the prospective mate would likely bring to a marriage.

For example, when a man and woman marry, at least one should have good homemaker impulses. A home, however humble, is the operational base for all of life’s activities. A strong work ethic is also a good resource to bring to a marriage. Skilled money management is a gift that will enhance a relationship for a whole lifetime.

At the same time as I point out these idealistic qualities, I offer three cautions.

First, as the saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Persons drawing up lists must first measure themselves against their list. The list must be a mirror before it can be a window.

Second, Nobody is perfect. There is no perfect mate of either sex. Therefore no prospect will get an A at every point. This, however, does not excuse the seeker from knowing what issues the list brings to the fore. The purpose is to keep the seeker’s mind engaged even while the heart is aflutter, and thus to increase the likelihood that a wise choice will be made.

Third, such a list should be kept in the background. No gallant suitor or hopeful lady would go to a date, for example, checklist in hand. Dating is for fun, for getting acquainted. The list should function more as a mindset, the warp-and-woof of one’s life-values. Call it the exercise of wisdom.

Sixty-four years ago I fell in love with Kathleen. Our love is still fresh, life-enhancing, and durable, having carried us through more than six decades. In my search, Doug’s list helped me. You, your children, or even grandchildren, may find value in his idea too.

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Re-post: Life’s Ultimate Question

If I were in a mall examining men’s suits when suddenly there was an ear-splitting explosion and the air became heavy with smoke, my instant question, verbalized or not, would be, “What must I do to be saved?” Everyone else within earshot of the blast would be asking the same question.

It’s life’s ultimate question and it has both a temporal and an eternal application. The impulse to survive is ingrained deeply in all of us. The temporal aspect of the question has to do with our instinctual efforts to avoid physical death.

The spiritual aspect has to do with our need to escape from what the Scriptures call the “second death” — the death that separates from God forever those who refuse his mercy offered in Jesus Christ.

Take what happened to Paul and Silas when they were unjustly flogged and thrown into jail in Philippi. During that night a powerful earthquake shook the jail. The prisoners’ cells were wrenched open and their chains shaken loose. The jailor, arriving from his warm bed, leaped tremblingly into the situation with the question to Paul and Silas: “What must I do to be saved?”

The jailer was a Roman officer assigned to Philippi, and a trusted jail keeper. By us, he would generally be regarded as middle class. That is, he had adequate lodgings, a sufficient living and a secure family, and as well he had standing in the community. Life was good.

But suddenly the earthquake made all the assumed security quiver like a dead leaf dangling in the wind. The ultimate question surfaced and it was about salvation. Unhinged by fear, he asked the Apostle in terror, What must I do to be saved?

We can assume it was the ultimate spiritual question that he posed for the following reasons: the earthquake had passed, the prisoners were safe, his position was not jeopardized.

Besides, he knew these two prisoners were religious men of a very high order since despite being flogged earlier in the day, they had been praying and singing praises to God while the other prisoners listened in. They obviously had something the jailer needed.

So, to the jailer’s ultimate question the Apostle Paul gave the ultimate answer. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved – you and your household.” It is brief and simple but every word is freighted with truth.

Who is this Jesus the jailer is called to put his faith in? He is the CHRIST: God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.

At the same time he is JESUS, the Christ — the God/Man who had walked this earth as fully human and laid down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, only to be raised from death after three days. All this verified his identity as the only one who could deliver from spiritual death.

He is also LORD, the one before whom both heaven and earth must eventually bow. When we believe and bow down, we declare his lordship over us before that day.

Did the jailer’s “believing” actually achieve anything? It was in fact transforming to the jailer and his family. Something changed radically.

For example, this formerly hardened Roman jailer who, only hours before, hadn’t flinched at the thought of having these men flogged is now washing their wounds (Acts 16:33a). The jailer took the two prisoners into his home where, as the night wore on, Paul apparently gave the whole family an extended class in Basic Christianity (Acts 16:32).

After the teaching session the jailer and his family were baptized – apparently in the middle of the night (Acts 16: 33b). Then the jailer set a meal before them (Acts 16:34a).

And best of all this hardened military man “was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.” (Acts 16:34b).

It is good for both believers and unbelievers to review this story. We may not fear the terror of a bomb blast in a mall. But the Lord of mercy will not let us forget his priceless sacrifice for us and the importance of our cry, “What must I do to be saved?”

Nor will he let us forget the gracious offer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

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Re-post: How to Raise Your Happiness Levels

A lot of material that comes at me from the Internet gets a glance and then I press the delete button, but one recent item caught and held my attention.

It offered five ways to improve one’s happiness. These were not merely some psychologist’s suggestions, or points from some pastor’s “how to” sermon. They were strategies brought to light by recent research. That is, each point was backed up by information gained from studies involving large groupings of people.

Upon reading these five points, I saw immediately how fundamental they are to one’s being a happy Christian. Here they are, with my comments.

1. Be Grateful.

If one person in a wheel chair with crippling arthritis can be grateful for his blessings while another with a million dollars in the bank and a boat at the marina can find things to be grumpy about, that can only mean that gratefulness is a matter of “selective perception.” It has to do with what we choose to highlight in our living.

In one of his moments of worshipful exuberance King David exhorted himself to “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” As an antidote to forgetting, he then listed several — forgiveness, health, rescue from disaster, God’s love and compassion, even the satisfaction of one’s holy desires and the renewal of one’s youth. Lest we forget, we all should make our lists from time to time.

2. Be Optimistic.

Perhaps our genes regulate in some measure how inclined we are to be either optimistic or pessimistic. And for this reason, some may never reach the levels of Browning’s maiden who sang, “God’s in his heavens, all’s right with the world.” Christians with biblical understandings are realists, so we know that all is not right with a fallen world. But faith in God’s sovereignty helps us face every day, saying “God’s in his heavens.” This is the basis for our unforced optimism.

3. Count Your Blessings.

When I was 13 year of age, on Sunday afternoons I sometimes attended a Salvation Army Sunday School a block from our home. The Salvationists sang exuberantly to the accompaniment of horns and tambourines, and sometimes they revised their choruses imaginatively. For example, the chorus, “Count your blessings, name them one by one” became, “Count your blessings, name them ton by ton.” Whether we measure our blessings by the tons or not, it’s good to take time daily to identify blessings that permeate our lives. They are beyond numbering, and reviewing them expands our happiness.

4. Use Your Strengths.

We all have both strengths and weaknesses. It is a simple principle of Christian effectiveness to build on our strengths while at the same time monitoring our weaknesses. I recall Alma, a Sunday School teacher assigned to teach a high school class. Her effort was a disaster. While she attempted to teach, the boys climbed in and out of a first floor classroom window and otherwise disrupted the class.

The wise Sunday School superintendent reassigned her to a small class of nine-year-old girls. It was an immediate fit. The class flourished and grew and Alma was happy with her assignment. She had a strength that matched the needs of those nine-year-olds. We do ourselves no favor if we fail to find and build upon our strengths.

5. Commit Acts of Kindness.

Paul’s advice to the Galatian church during a time of severe conflict can be a tip to us all. He wrote, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). Upon retiring from school teaching, Lila asked me for a list of shut-ins to whom she could take Sunday School papers each Monday. She developed a weekly ministry, even in some cases taking elderly folks to the store to do their grocery shopping. Happiness and service are close cousins.

We Christians know that happiness is not life’s primary goal. But we also know that when our spirits are joyful and our countenances bright our faith tends to be more contagious. So we’ll take all the help we can get to tone up our happiness.

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Re-post: God Knows Everything

When we were little children in Sunday School seventy years or so ago we used to sing a chorus that went like this:

He sees all you do, He hears all you say,
Our God is writing all the time, time, time.

Sometimes, in that simple little one room church in a prairie town in Western Canada, the superintendent would add a few words of earnest counsel. He wanted to be sure we understood. We would gaze up at him wide-eyed. God knows everything. It was a heavy message for little impressionable minds.

Choruses like these formed an early chapter in our moral training. The bottom line issue was that God knows us altogether and we can’t hide anything from him so we should keep this in mind when we go about our daily activities. I thought of those early lessons this morning as I read about the outrageously wicked King Herod the Great, and the innocent little Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

They called him Herod “the Great” for good reasons. He built the seaport at Caesarea and wisely named it after the emperor. He built a theater in Jerusalem and an amphitheater outside the city. He set in motion the rebuilding of the temple which became a magnificent structure for the Jewish people. Herod was an exceptionally skilful administrator and diplomat.

But power was his issue, and he used it ruthlessly. His police were everywhere. Purges were frequent. His own wife, Mariamne, was marched off to execution because he suspected her of plotting against him. Her three sons also, and five others of his children from various unions met the same end. He even had all but two members of the ruling council of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, murdered. Herod’s viciousness was about on a par with the viciousness of a Saddam Hussein.

So, when some mysterious figures called Magi arrived in Jerusalem coming from a land as far away as Persia, the word spread through the city fast. The place must have buzzed. And when Herod learned these Magi claimed to have been divinely guided by a heavenly light to come to the birthplace of a baby born to be King of the Jews, his paranoid tendencies flared.

No matter that the child the Magi sought was a miracle baby sent by God to be the redeemer of the world. How could such an infant be safeguarded against the murderous jealousy of a powerful sovereign who would stop at nothing to keep his shaky throne secure?

Here’s how: God in Heaven knew what was in Herod’s mind. God knows everything. He sent a warning to the baby’s human father, Joseph. He sent it by means of a dream in the night: Get up right away and get out of town; head for Egypt; the murderous Herod intends to find and kill the child. Joseph obeyed and the child’s life was spared.

Today we have a more sophisticated word for the belief that God knows everything. We say he is omniscient. But he can’t be omniscient unless he knows the end from the beginning, and the whole sweep of history down to its minutest detail. The psalmist, David, wrote, “Before a word is on my tongue/ you know it completely, O Lord.” (Ps. 139:4) Jesus said his Father sees the insignificant sparrow fall. He also said that his Father alone knows the future date for the end of human history.

The little choruses sung in Sunday Schools 70 years ago may not fit our present cultural moods. Times have changed. But the truth has not changed. It is still a cornerstone conviction of orthodox Christians that God knows everything. And when we operate on that conviction we handle the crises of life better and our daily walk is more stable.

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Re-post: On Wesley’s Journey to True faith

stormy-seaI’ve been reading again about John Wesley – 5 feet 3 inches tall, 126 pounds, Oxford University Greek instructor, failed missionary to the New World, and father of Methodism. I’ve decided he deserves more attention than his spiritual children sometimes give him.

From his early 20s onward he was a man of what appeared to be great piety. This stood out in contrast to the widespread godlessness of his generation. He organized his days around times of prayer; along with companions he served the sick and the poor; he attempted to manage his time as a spiritual trust; and he even made the perilous journey to America, as he reports in his journal, to work out his own salvation. However, on the latter point, even the piety did not conceal his lack of evangelical faith.

His passage from England to Georgia aboard the Simmonds revealed inner uncertainties about his salvation. Even though he and three traveling companions carried out with great diligence religious duties daily aboard ship — conducting worship, teaching the children, giving Christian counsel — his journal shows that several times during a series of bad storms he felt afraid to die.

He became aware of this by the example of 26 Moravians also on board. These were devout Christians from a community called Hernhuth in Germany. On one occasion they had just begun a service of worship aboard ship when a storm broke over the vessel. The 26 German Moravians continued singing while many of the 80 or so English passengers screamed in terror.

This fortitude in the presence of mortal danger did not escape John Wesley’s attention and he inquired of their leader: Were his people not afraid to die? He was assured they were not. Were the women and children not afraid, he asked further? Again, he was told they were not.

When the ship arrived at Savannah, Georgia, Wesley approached the Moravian pastor, a Mr. Spangenberg, and engaged him in conversation. He asked him if he would tell him what he found wrong in him — like an accountability partner. Here was a further hint not so much of deep humility as of self-preoccupation.

The pastor responded, “I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?

Spangenberg noticed that Wesley, this Oxford-trained clergyman, seemed perplexed. So he asked further, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”

Wesley paused and then answered, “I know he is the Saviour of the world.” To which Spangenberg replied, “True. But do you know he has saved you?” Wesley responded, “I hope he has died to save me.” Moments later Wesley tried to make his answer more convincing but of that effort he writes in his journal, “I fear they were vain words.”

In spite of his great learning, his apparent piety, and his willingness to go abroad on Christian mission, something was missing. He lacked that assurance of salvation which the Moravians had and which Spangenberg knew was a key witness to a genuine faith.

Assurance was something Wesley could not talk himself into. Nor could his closest associates have convinced him. This inner assurance could not be reasoned or argued into existence. It was a certainty to be given by the Spirit of God to his own inner being – his own spirit — in response to sincere repentance plus the full trust of himself to the saving mercies of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14).

That conversation with Pastor Spangenberg took place on February 7, 1736. Not until May 24, 1738 did John Wesley fully understand and completely surrender to the truth that salvation is by faith alone – the renunciation of one’s sins and the full transfer of one’s trust from oneself to Jesus Christ. And when he exercised that faith the Spirit gave him the inner witness of his salvation and his ministry took on a new spiritual quality, sanctioned by God’s power in unusual ways.

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Image info: Stormy Sea at Night, 1849, Ivan Aivazovsky

In Your Opinion, Was Buckie Treated Properly?

Angry childWhen Kathleen taught preschool she started each new group of children with a little exercise. Addressing one of them, she would say, “Betty, please pick up this piece of paper.” When Betty complied, Kathleen would lead the children in a round of applause saying in a musical voice, “Oh, Betty obeyed me!”

Soon afterwards she might say, “George, would you mind closing the door?” George would respond and the class would be led in another round of applause. This is how she taught the meaning of the word obedience.

One day she said with mild excitement, “Okay, everybody please stand up.” Four-year-old Buckie refused. She asked him three times to be sure he understood his own response. Each time, his response was, “No, I won’t.”

Recognizing this as a challenge, Kathleen picked him and his chair up together and moved them gently to the nearby wall. She explained, “Everyone in my class must obey me. If you can’t obey me then you can’t share in what the rest of the class is doing.”

Buckie’s face clouded. Even for a four-year-old isolation from the group can be unpleasant.

Needless to say Buckie soon relented and joined the class. He never balked at Kathleen’s instructions after that day. Children are pliable and learn quickly what does and doesn’t work.

Resistance to authority is an inborn trait and must be addressed, brought to consciousness, and appropriately restrained in the early years of life. Teaching a child to obey is actually the child’s first step toward freedom.

A significant number today might see Buckie’s treatment as controversial. “A little child should be allowed to assert himself,” some may say. Or “leave him alone and he will figure it out for himself.” Or even, “Humor him a bit.”

Christian parents, however, should see their children with Christian realism. Early in life every human being is prone to resist authority and we all must learn, as Buckie was learning, to obey the requests of parents and teachers and eventually managers, bosses and civic officers.

We take our tips on these things from the Scriptures. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Parents are to be the teachers, insisting on obedience.

Recall that, to raise the child, Jesus, God chose devout parents, who as pious Jews followed the requirements of the law toward him (Luke 2:39). “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). From such parenting, we are told that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

A recent rash of teenagers physical attacks on teachers in the classroom and vulgar hate songs against law officers in the streets should alert us that children left to grow up however they please makes for incivility and even violence as a way of life.

Picking a child up, chair and all, and isolating him for a brief moment is not a bad way to tell him in the earliest years that legitimate authority must be obeyed. The four-year-old learns early what is true throughout life: that we all face boundaries and comply with rules and we must be taught the art early.


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