"Praying in Jesus' Name"
What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”? From childhood we have learned that when we add those little words to the end of a prayer, that makes it a “Christian prayer.” Perhaps you add that little phrase to all of your prayers. But how do we keep that little phrase—“in Jesus’ name”—from becoming merely a talisman or a magic formula to get what we want when we pray? When Jesus bids us to pray in His name, He invites us to draw on and depend on the boundless treasure of His rich mercy.
Today we observe Rogate—“Pray! Sunday.” For the third week in a row we’ve heard from Jesus as He tried to comfort and console His disciples. On the night when He was betrayed, He promised them that He was going back to the Father. That journey would lead Jesus to death on the cross, to rest in the tomb, and then back to life on the third day. But His work of saving us sinners did not stop there. He would ascend to God’s right hand, and, as He promised, He would send the Holy Spirit. Two weeks ago these promises led us to rejoice. Last week they led us to sing. Today, these promises from Jesus lead us to pray.
Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it you.” Then He says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Here’s the first thing that Jesus means by praying in His name: Jesus invites and commands you to pray. So how’s your prayer life? Are you praying? When do you pray—when you get up in the morning, when you go to bed at night, when you eat meals? How often do you pray? Do you pray silently, orally, or both? Do you pray only when the inspiration to pray strikes you, or do you set aside regular times for prayer? Do you pray together as a family, or do you just assume everyone in the family is praying? Parents, do you teach your children how to pray by praying with them and for them? Children, do you pay attention when your parents pray and teach you to pray? Do you pray only when times get tough, or do you pray regularly, day in and day out, no matter what the circumstances of life?
You see, prayer is as natural to a Christian as breathing is to your lungs. First, your lungs inhale, then your lungs exhale. First, you receive air in, and then you breathe air out. That’s the way prayer works too. First, you receive and hear God’s Word, and then you breathe out in your prayers. First, you breathe in the sweet, fresh air of Jesus’ cross-won love and forgiveness for you, and then you breathe out in “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” to Him and out of love for people around you. So, praying in Jesus’ name means actually doing what He invites and commands you to do.
And if there is ever a time when we Christians need to pray, and pray always, now is the time. Governing leaders seem intent on squashing our religious liberties and keep trampling on our consciences informed by Christ and His Word. Tawdry messages of “eat, drink, and be merry” in media and culture hold more sway than God’s life-giving Good News. God’s institutions of marriage and family are falling on very hard times. Respect for human life keeps diminishing before our very eyes. Property and possessions of others are seen as “fair game” for those who feel discontent and decide simply to take. Reputations are routinely slashed and burned, especially in the anti-social behavior that infects social media. To borrow words from the prophet Isaiah, we live in a time when so many want to “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Is. 5:20).
Yes, we Christians need to pray! As St. Paul urged young Pastor Timothy, he also urges us “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Praying in Jesus’ name means actually doing what Jesus invites and commands us to do.
Here’s the second thing that praying in Jesus’ name means. Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Praying “in Jesus’ name” means much more than just adding a few little words to the end of our prayers! It’s no mere magic formula to get the goodies from God, as if He were merely a cosmic vending machine. Instead, it means that we have a new identity: we are children of the heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ is our “big Brother.” “For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11).
With this new identity—as Christians, as children of God—we have access to the Father. And God only hears the prayers of His children, that is, His Christians. The Mormon, the Muslim, or even the false-Christian can pray, and their prayers may even be “beautiful” in words and thoughts, but God won’t hear them. Why not? Because they are not His dear children; they do not love and trust His Son who died and rose again to save them. But to us who do love and trust Jesus the Son of God for forgiveness, life, and salvation, God gives us a precious and comforting promise: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Many people view praying to God something like being a young child going to sit on Santa’s lap at the shopping mall. “What do you want for Christmas, Susie? What do you want, Johnny?” shopping mall Santa asks. And out comes the list. But there’s no relationship there. Shopping mall Santa does not know one Susie or one Johnny from another. But when there’s an identity and a relationship there—parent and child, father and son, mother and daughter—then things are different. Little Johnny or Susie can sit on Mommy or Daddy’s lap and talk and make requests…and be heard…and be answered.
In the same way, praying in Jesus’ name means that each of us has a new identity—and a relationship with God. Each of us is God’s son or daughter because of Jesus and His death and resurrection. Our Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection gives us a new identity. We belong to Him now, because “[we] have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us]. And the life [we] now live in the flesh [we] live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Gal. 2:20).
And here’s the third thing that praying “in Jesus’ name” means. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” You can pray in Jesus’ name because He has overcome the world in His dying and rising, because He gives you peace in His broken body and shed blood.
Praying in Jesus’ name is like this: Imagine a treasure chest full of precious, priceless gifts. That treasure chest is Jesus. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we may draw out of that treasure chest anything that Jesus Himself has put in it. Did He put FORGIVENESS of all our sins in that chest? Then, yes, we may draw it out and treasure it. And when we ask for forgiveness, Jesus always answers when we hear the Gospel proclaimed and receive His Sacraments given out. Did Jesus put FAITH in that chest? Yes, His perfect faith in His Father. And He now gives that perfect faith to us so that we will be strengthened in faith. Did He put a new house or a new car or an easy life in that treasure chest? Not necessarily. But He does put in that chest DAILY BREAD—everything we need to support this body and life. So, when we ask not just for what we want, but rather for what we need, our Lord Jesus graciously gives it to us.
Praying “in Jesus’ name” means so much more than just adding a few little words to the end of our prayers. It means that we actually pray as Jesus invites and commands us to pray. It means that we pray with a new identity as God’s dear children through our Baptism. And it means that we can draw out of the treasure chest called Jesus any and all of the gifts that He has put in. When we pray in Jesus’ name, it means that God hears us because of His own Son. No, our prayers are not perfect, but when God hears them through His Son Jesus, He delights in them. And because of Jesus crucified and risen, our heavenly Father will always answer our prayers “that [our] joy may be full.” Amen.