What Does It Mean to Pray in Jesus' Name?

Originally published Wednesday, 26 September 2018.

Prayer fascinates me. I’m intrigued by its mystery, its form, and its function. I love learning about prayer: how to pray, why we pray, and how God uses our prayers. I love what prayer does in my heart and how it draws me into sweet communion with my Father in heaven.

Recently, I heard someone pray and noticed that they ended the prayer with a simple “Amen.” It felt like something was missing, like shutting a book closed with one paragraph left unread. Like leaving the movie theater five minutes before the end. Like pulling out the pie from the oven before the crust is golden brown.

And then I realized, the prayer was missing an ingredient: in Jesus’ name. That got me thinking, why do we pray in Jesus’ name? What happens if we don’t? Is it an essential part of our prayers?

Jesus taught the disciples in the Upper Room Discourse that when they ask for something in his name, he will provide it. "'Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 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 14:12-14). "'You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you'" (John 15:16).

Some prosperity gospel advocates claim that if you don’t pray in Jesus’ name, you won’t get the blessings you ask for. It’s like having an all access pass or an invite to an invitation only event. If you don’t have it, you don’t get in. They use it as a stamp of approval for their prayers. It's the final number in a series of codes that opens the door to blessings and prosperity. It's more like a magic formula than coming to our Father in heaven and asking him to meet our needs.

That's not why we pray in Jesus' name.

We pray in Jesus’ name because he is the one who broke down the barrier between us and God. When he hung on the cross and cried out his last breath, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. That curtain symbolized the barrier between God and mankind. We couldn’t pass through it to be in his presence because he is holy and we are not. But because of Jesus’ perfect and complete sacrifice for us on the cross, that barrier was removed. The curtain was torn.

Through faith in what Christ has done for us in his perfect life, sacrificial death, triumphant resurrection, and ascension, we are united to him. We are now clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and have access to God’s presence. We can come to him in prayer through Jesus. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12, NIV). Our Father is now our Abba; we come to him as children, as his children, seeking help for what we need. That’s why the author to the Hebrews encourages us to come to the throne with confidence, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

John Calvin said this about prayer in Jesus’ name: "Since no man is worthy to present himself to God and come into his sight, the Heavenly Father himself, to free us at once from shame and fear, which might well have thrown our hearts into despair, has give us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our advocate and mediator with him, by whose guidance we may confidently come to him, and with such an intercessor, trusting nothing we ask in his name will be denied us, as nothing can be denied to him by the Father." (Institutes, XX.17).

Calvin also points out that those who call on God in any name other than Jesus Christ, have no promise of receiving anything. All of God's promises are confirmed and fulfilled in Christ alone. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

Praying in Jesus' name reminds us why we come to God in prayer. It reminds us of what Jesus did for us. It reminds us that all of the promises and blessings God has for us, comes to us through Christ alone.

Now, as to what we ought to pray for in Jesus' name, that's for another post, another day.