What does it mean to pray “in the name of Jesus”?

20 Nov

At the risk of sounding crass and sacrilegious, how do you motivate God to say, “Yes,” to your prayer requests? When you bring your petitions to God, how do you persuade Almighty God that he should act on your behalf?

When my children ask me to do something, they often give their reasons as to why I should do what they wanted. They might say, “Dad, could we do … because …” or “Dad, you promised …” or “you said …” Needless to say, their requests got more expensive and their arguments more sophisticated over the years.

When you pray and ask God to do something, what is the “because”? What reasons do you use to convince him?

Those questions led me to the gospel of John where Jesus instructed his disciples to pray in his name.

John 14:13–14 – Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 16:23–24 – In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

What does it mean to pray “in the name of Jesus”? I grew up thinking that every prayer had to end with “in Jesus’ name, Amen” or else God would not listen or answer. It was the “Open Sesame” at the cave of Ali Baba, the secret password to enter the throne of heaven.

To ask in Jesus’ name might mean serving as his representative or ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). It might entail presenting God a blank check since he can do beyond what I hope or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). It could mean entering God’s presence with confidence and boldness because of what Jesus did for me on the cross (Hebrews 10:19-22). While these principles are true, I believe there is much more to it than this.

In the Old Testament, God’s name always reveals his character. I believe that praying in Jesus’ name means recognizing his nature and attributes. It means coming to God in light of who he has revealed himself to be. Praying in Jesus’ name means asking for things that are consistent with his character and purpose.

Before you brand that as a heretical idea, here are three Old Testament examples where men of God approached God in this manner.

Abraham interceded for Sodom by reminding God he was a just judge (Genesis 18:22-25). He reminded God of what he promised in Genesis 15:14.

Moses interceded for Israel by exhibiting a concern for God’s reputation (Numbers 14:10-19). He asked God to demonstrate his power consistent with what he had revealed about his character in Exodus 34:6.

Daniel interceded for the city of Jerusalem on the basis of God’s glory and reputation (Daniel 9:16-19). He asked God to keep his promise to restore the nation of Israel back to the land.

Perhaps you are reluctant to pray in this fashion because it sounds like manipulation. When I manipulate another person, I am trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do. However, when I motivate the individual, I am asking them to do something they ultimately want to do.

When I remind God of his character, promises, and reputation, I am not trying to change God’s mind. I am merely asking him to be true to his word. I am asking God to glorify himself by acting in a manner that is consistent with his character and purpose.

Let me encourage you to study the names of God and then come to him in light of who he has revealed himself to be. (You can find a list of God’s names in the sermon notes.) Study the promises of God and then use those promises in your prayers. Here are a few examples of what this might look like.

  • Pray for people who are hurting on the basis of Psalm 23. Ask the Good Shepherd to restore their souls and lead them to green pastures and quiet waters.
  • Pray that Jehovah Rapha, The Lord who Heals, would touch and heal a sick friend.
  • Pray 2 Peter 3:9 for someone who is lost and doesn’t know Christ.
  • Pray Isaiah 30:21 when you need direction and guidance.

Pray boldly and specifically. Make requests that are consistent with God’s character and purpose. Remind God of his promises and ask him to be true to his word. Pray in the name of Jesus. And then step back and proclaim, “Look at what God has done!”

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 20, 2016. It is the final message in a series on Prayer: Moving Heaven for Earth. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


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