If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
When I was a very young Christian, first saved, I was taught that a Christian was to pray in Jesus’ name. Though it was not explicitly stated, I did notice right away that as I listened to my Christian friends praying, they were always careful to add the formula “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayer. Having read the verse above, and heard others pray, I began to do the same for myself, but it always did make me wonder: what did it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? I recognized that just saying it was in Jesus’ name did not make it so. What did Jesus mean when he said it?
It is a promise only given in John, and that in the upper room discourse, something of which the other gospels do not cover the full panoply, but John does not repeat it once, but actually has Jesus teaching the concept of praying in his name six times. I have reprinted the six times below, all given in the upper room discourse.1 Of course, my intuition as a young Christian was correct; saying a prayer in Jesus’ name is not made by the magic addition of a few words. It is rather by praying in the Spirit of Jesus, with the same accord or the same manner that Jesus himself would prayer.
But do not be dismayed; there is much that can be prayed that is in the will of God. Many mountains have been moved, people have been healed, and peoples have been redeemed because of prayer. In giving us this fresh avenue of prayer, Jesus was indeed enlarging our borders beyond anything the faithful had ever seen. My favorite prayer of the Old Testament is when Elijah prays to his God, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again” (1 Kings 18:37). God answers that prayer by fire so dramatically that the witnesses are numbed with the grandeur, and can only repeat over and again: “The Lord, he is God, the Lord, he is God.” And I do love the prayer of Elisha, who striking the Jordan River with the cloak of his master, asks, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”, and walks over the Jordan on dry land.
These great acts were seldom done. In fact, even in Elijah’s time, the Bible is clear that wonders and miracles were few and far apart. The great new gift of Jesus was that he was giving the power of prayer not just to such great leaders as Elijah or Elisha, but to all people believing and receiving Christ—all Christians were to be given the awesome power to approach the God who created all things, and to have his ear. That is, to have God listening to each Christian is something mind boggling. I often think rather strange thoughts (perhaps because I am so strange?), and I often find myself thinking about Sunday worship, when so many believers are gathered together, and are praying to the same God at the same time. You or I could not possibly understand, much less answer, all the petitions that arise to God at the same time, but for God it is apparently easy—though it does lift the concept of multiprocessing to a new level. God is very aware of all of us at the same time.
Part of the passage in which these promises of asking anything are very pertinent. What exactly are we to pray? And how do we know that God does indeed hear? Both of these questions are answered in John. First, we need to see the opening statement of Jesus on this subject, before he gave us the six passages promising whatever we asked, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (14:12). Whenever John gives us an account of Jesus saying verily verily, we do well to pay close attention to what is said. Here Jesus is promising greater works to those who will believe on him. Then he follows closely with the six repetitions of asking anything in his name. What is Jesus teaching us here? It is obvious that our access to prayer, and thus to the Father, is going to make us do greater things than even did the Son. That would perhaps be blasphemy, were it not something which Jesus himself is teaching us. But look at what else Jesus teaches in the passage.
Jesus says, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever”(14:16). This is a marvelous gift. In the Old Testament the Spirit came upon men at sporadic times, and did not linger. Now, Jesus is saying that the Comforter will come and will stay with us forever. Next, Jesus says,”Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Along with the gift of the Comforter, our relationship has changed. No longer are we servants—now we are to be considered friends. Such a concept, again, borders on blasphemy, except that it comes from the mouth of Jesus himself.
But the whole point of the Comforter, when we are thinking about asking in the name of Jesus, is that Comforter has forever changed our basic nature. Now we are being given the very nature and person of God, to dwell in us forever. It changes us from servants to friends. As John 1:12 reminds us, we are given the very nature of God, and are considered to be the sons of God. We are adopted, tis true, but nonetheless the very nature of God is in us, and molds us to be new creatures.
Thus, when we pray in Jesus’s name we are to be praying from that new nature, that new relationship. It is not the words, though I think there is nothing wrong in noticing that we are to pray in his name, and ending our prayers in Jesus’ name. But the doctrine he is teaching here is so exciting. The Holy Spirit makes us one with God and teaches us and powers us to be what we should be—adopted sons looking for the coming of our Lord, when at last we are completely changed into his image. We are to pray from the Spirit, to allow that in us to motivate us as to what we should ask. That is what praying in Jesus’ name is all about.
What do we pray for? It is impossible for me to tell you what. You pray as you are moved by the Spirit, and that can include a lot of wonderful and awesome things. But our underlying motivation for prayer is to be praying as Jesus would pray, as the Spirit Himself will lead us to pray. All such prayer should be directly to the glory of God, and not contrary to what we are taught so explicitly about walking with God.
We do know from the same passage that Jesus told us about the new thing of asking in his name, he also told us of another duty, that of abiding in him. We should not often find ourselves not abiding in him, especially when we would pray. Powerful and answered prayer comes when we do abide in him. In the next chapter, the Lord’s Prayer, he prays that we might be bonded together in a unity that is one as Jesus and the Father are one (17:11). We are to pray with great concern for those around us, and always that the glory of God may result.
Having said that, it occurs to me that often I have prayed effectually at times when disaster is near, or upon me, and that my prayers are answered. When I finally come to understand that my last step was a mistake, and that now I am falling headlong off the cliff, a quick “help me, Father” is very appropriate. Our Father does indeed care for us in our perceived needs, whatever they may be. I have found prayer in my life to be answered many times, and I simply do not know what I would do without it. In bestowing this gift on the church, Jesus knew just how large a gift it was, and how important it would be to the believer to have the Holy Spirit. I cannot begin to imagine a redeemed life without it! To be able to go to the Father, and remind him (as if he needs a reminder?) that we are coming to him in the beloved name of his Son, always captures his attention, and we know that he hears our prayer. John, later in his epistles tells us that if we are assured that he hears us, then we have whatever we asked (1 John 5:14,15).2 Let us then go boldly before the throne of grace, praying in his name, and expecting our loving Father to answer.
1. The appearances of the asking in Jesus’ name
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you:
2. 1 John 5:14, 15
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.