Why is it that when we pray, we so often end with some phrase like, “In Jesus’ name, Amen”?
In part, it’s what we’ve learned from others. And in part, it’s what others have learned from Jesus himself, who refers to asking for things in his name several times in the Farewell Discourse in the gospel of John. For example, he tells his disciples:
On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. … On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:23-24, 26-27, NRSV)
“That day” probably refers to when they are reunited with him after the resurrection. They are distraught now and have such troubling questions that they can’t even put them into words; but in the joy of reunion, they won’t ask a thing.
Still, Jesus says, ask the Father, and ask in Jesus’ name. As we’ve seen in a previous post, to add the words “in Jesus’ name” is not to invoke some kind of magical incantation that obligates God to do whatever we ask, however ill-conceived or ridiculous. It is to pray in alignment with Jesus’ authority, desire, and mission.
What’s remarkable about what Jesus says here, then, is not that he’s giving the disciples carte blanche to ask anything that pops into their heads. He wants them to understand how their relationship to him entails a loving relationship with his Father.
Ask, Jesus says, so that your joy may be complete! This is not, I think, the “joy” of getting what you want. It’s the joy of knowing how much your Father loves you. The disciples didn’t even dare ask Jesus their questions when they were dying to know the answers. But Jesus tells them that they can go directly to God the Father without his help. And they can do this because the Father loves them. Unlike the world which rejects Jesus, they have believed in and loved the Son, and thus they are fully embraced by the Father.
To be able to pray to God is a privilege. Not because a lofty and indifferent God condescends to listen to us blather, but because we have a loving Father who wants us give us good things, to our joy. What better reason for joy could there be?