A good friend (and former pastor) of mine once shared the following story:
A family was getting their pot roast ready for a Christmas dinner, and the daughter was about to put it in the oven, and the mom said, “Don’t forget to cut off the ends.”
The daughter says, “Oh no, I already did. I always cut off the ends. You taught me that since I was little.” She puts it in the oven, and she goes, “Mom, why do we cut off the ends of the pot roast?”
She says, “You know, I don’t know. Your grandmother’s coming to dinner. Let’s ask her when she gets here. But I’ve done it all growing up, for thirty years, and passed it on to you…”
Grandma shows up, and they ask grandma, “Why do we cut the ends off the roast?”
She said, “Oh, well, when your father bought our first stove, it was really small, and the roast didn’t fit, so we had to cut the ends off to get it in.”Mo Khazaal, “Prayer that Glorifies God, Pt. 1,” October 9, 2011 (29:58).
I share that because it leads to an important question. Why do we do the things we do? Do we take the time to think about our actions and the motivations or causes behind them? Or do we do things because that’s just what we see everyone doing?
Specifically, why do we pray “in Jesus’ name”?
I used to think praying “in Jesus’ name” was a special formula that guaranteed i’d get what i was praying for. That theory went out the window by the time i was twelve (because i was still suffering from the effects of the stroke i had when i was two).
When i was older, a pastor told me that my prayers weren’t “in Jesus’ name” if i failed to conclude my prayers with the specific phrase: “In Jesus’ name.” But when i start my prayer with the words, “Dear Jesus” or “Dear Lord,” i find it weird to conclude a prayer that began intimately with a third-person conclusion. This is why i typically end my prayers, “It’s in Your name, i pray.” But still, i don’t think that’s what it means to pray in Jesus’ name.
So what does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?
I want to posit that praying “in Jesus’ name” is much simpler than most want to make it out to be. However, just because it is simpler does not necessarily mean that it is easier. It’s a lot easier to continue tacking “In Jesus’ name” on the end of our prayers than it is to make changes in our life so that we truly pray in Jesus’ name.
The third of the Ten Commandments says:
Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God, because the LORD will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.Exodus 20:7 (HCSB)
This commandment is so much more than “Thou shalt not curse or swear.”
Revelation 3:12 explains,
The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name.emphasis added
God stamps Christians with His name. As such, we misuse God’s name when we live in ways that are not consistent with God’s character.
It is possible to understand the entirety of the New Testament as a commentary on the Third Commandment. This is especially interesting when we look at Acts 11:26 in light of Revelation 3:12.
The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.Acts 11:26b (HCSB)
And that’s not all. The New Testament refers to Jesus’ name 57 times. Christians are not to misuse the name of God. We take the name of Jesus in vain when we claim to be Christians but live in ways that are incompatible with that claim.
But what does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?
Seven verses refer to praying “in Jesus’ name.”
- John 14:13 (HCSB)
Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
- .John 14:14 (HCSB)
If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
- John 15:16 (HCSB)
You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.
- John 16:23-26 (HCSB)
In that day you will not ask Me anything. “I assure you: Anything you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.
- John 16:24 (HCSB)
Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
- John 16:26 (HCSB)
In that day you will ask in My name. I am not telling you that I will make requests to the Father on your behalf.
- Ephesians 5:20 (HCSB)
giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
But remember that this is only 7 of 57 references to Jesus’ name. What else are we to do in Jesus’ name?
- We are to welcome children “in Jesus’ name” (3 verses).
- We are to do various things as a local church “in Jesus’ name” (5 verses).
- We are to confess His name (1 verse).
- We are to endure persecution “in Jesus’ name” (12 verses, including 2 about speaking in His name).
- We are to be baptized “in Jesus’ name” (4 verses).
- We are to accept people from all nations who trust “in Jesus’ name” (3 verses).
- We are to believe “in Jesus’ name” (4 verses).
- We are to do everything “in Jesus’ name” (1 verse).
But that’s only 33 verses of 57. This means that 40 of 57 verses referring to Jesus’ name are actions we are to practice (adding the 7 on prayer to the list above). What are the other 17?
- Believers are stamped with Jesus’ name (2 verses).
- We are forgiven of sin “in Jesus’ name” (3 verses).
- The Holy Spirit is sent “in Jesus’ name” (1 verse).
- The Apostles did signs and wonders “in Jesus’ name” (7 verses).
- Deceivers claim Jesus’ name (3 verses).
- All will bow to Jesus’ name (1 verse).
When it comes to our question: What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”? we must take into account all uses of the concept of Jesus’ name. As such, prayer is one of the many things we are to do “in Jesus’ name.” We are to be persecuted “in Jesus’ name.” We’re supposed to welcome believers “in Jesus’ name.” We’re supposed to do x, y, and z “in Jesus’ name.”
And according to Colossians 3:17, we are supposed to do everything “in Jesus’ name.”
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And, just in case you need more proof that praying “in Jesus’ name” is connected to doing everything “in Jesus’ name,” God inspired Peter to write 1 Peter 3:7,
Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.Emphasis added.
Proverbs 13:19 explains more generally:
Desire fulfilled is sweet to the taste,
but to turn from evil is an abomination to fools.
If we want God to answer our prayers, if we truly want to pray “in Jesus’ name,” then we must live “in Jesus’ name” in every conceivable area. We must not misuse the Lord’s name by claiming Jesus but living like pagans.
In Bernard Cornwell’s historical novel series, The Last Kingdom/Saxon Tales, the “Christians” can’t understand why Uhtred (the main character/narrator) wants to hold to his pagan ways. But why should he change his ways when the majority of the “Christians” he interacts with regularly are more spiteful, corrupt, and wicked than his pagan friends? (From my current knowledge of church history, i would argue that Cornwell paints a pretty accurate picture of pre-Reformation Europe).
If we want to see a revival in our world, we must not only pray “in Jesus’ name,” but we must do everything “in Jesus’ name.”
But that’s where the bad news comes in. We fail daily to do anything perfectly “in Jesus’ name.” We break the Third Commandment constantly–every day. The punishment for breaking the Ten Commandments is death (cf. Romans 6:23a). On our own, we deserve to die. We deserve to be separated from God for eternity. And the bad news is that if you have never trusted Christ as your Savior, you are already spiritually dead.
But praise God that there is Gospel. There is Good News! John wrote in John 20:31,
But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
Life comes by believing in His name. The theme of the Bible is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). We see this as early as Genesis 3:14-21, though it is much more clearly presented in Genesis 15:6.
We can’t live “in Jesus’ name” on our own strength. But this is why it is more accurately called the Christian faith, not the Christian religion. Christianity is sola fide, “by faith alone.” We place our faith in Christ, and we fight to hold onto our faith in Christ no matter what the world throws at us. When we find that our life is falling short of doing everything “in Jesus’ name,” we confess our shortcomings, repent, and believe anew.
Christians do not outgrow repentance and faith!
We believe “in Jesus’ name”!
We pray “in Jesus’ name”!
We live “in Jesus’ name”!
By faith alone!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.