Asking in Jesus’ name

As Christians, we sometimes pray to God the Father, and sometimes to Jesus himself. And many of us have learned to make our petitions “in the name of Jesus” or words to that effect.

So maybe you’ve had this experience: you’re praying to Jesus, reach the end of your prayer, and suddenly realize that it might be a bit odd to say, “In Jesus’ name”…to Jesus himself.

Problem is, Jesus seems to suggest that very behavior:

I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14, CEB)

In the first sentence, he doesn’t say to whom our prayers are directed. But in the second he does, and the words suggest that we are not only praying to Jesus, but in his name. What gives?

The problem, I think, lies in the way we treat the phrase, “in my name.” It’s a bit like parents trying to get their children into the habit of saying “please”: “Come on now, honey, what’s the magic word?” “Please?” “Good boy. Here’s your cookie.”

Jesus isn’t teaching his disciples a “magic word”: Hey, don’t forget — if you want me to answer your prayer, you have to say “In Jesus’ name.” If you don’t, all bets are off.

Rather, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray in a way that represents his will and authority. If you’ve ever signed a petition, for example, you are saying that you would be willing to have your name used as a proxy for your personal authority, as a way of representing what you want to see done. You don’t have to be there. The person who carries your signature has the authority to act on your behalf.

“In the name of Jesus,” therefore, is not an incantation that obligates God to do as we ask. What Jesus is talking about here, as we saw in the previous post, is how his followers will continue his work after he goes home to the Father. And the emphasis is on what will bring the Father glory.

The assumption, therefore, is that we are already going about the work of Jesus, doing his will, carrying on his mission. And if, in that context, we ask for something that is in line with that will and mission, he will do it, that the Father may be glorified.

So the next time we pray in the name of Jesus, we might well wonder if the petition is one he would endorse.