✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Jesus says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.” So what do you want to ask for from God? What is it that you think that you need? What do you lack that would make you happy? And if you had it, would it really make you content? “Whatever you ask,” Jesus says. So what do you want?
What we want is sometimes far removed from what we need and what we were made for. Sometimes the very worst judgment that God can bring upon a person is to let them have what they want, to give them over to their heart’s desires, and then to let them suffer the consequences that those idols bring–emptiness and bitterness and isolation. Why else would it be that so many lottery winners feel cursed and the lives of so many famous celebrities are ruined or cut short by their own doing? Beware of fixing your eyes on worldly things and pleasures, for then minds become anxious, mouths grumble, and hearts fail to trust in God to supply all things that are needful for us.
That’s how it was with the children of Israel. They had seen great miracles of God in the Passover, at the parting of the Red Sea, and with the manna from heaven. And yet now they are discontented. They complain. “Why have you brought us out … to die in the wilderness?” “Our soul loathes this worthless bread.” They did not trust God. They did not appreciate the great gifts He had given them.
Let us learn from that today as we hear Jesus’ words urging us to pray. Prayer begins with a humble and penitent heart, as it did for the children of Israel. Only when they had been laid low did they finally confess the truth and seek God’s help, saying to Moses: “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD.”
And so we should start by admitting that, like the Israelites, we have a tendency to be spiritually fickle, often neglecting any serious praying until we’re desperate. That is one reason why the Lord allows tribulation to come upon us, even as He sent the fiery serpents into the Israelite camp, so that we might be called back to Him, turning us from double-mindedness to single-minded repentant faith. The Israelites were turned to the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole. We are turned to Him who was lifted up for us on the cross. “In the world you will have tribulation,” says our Lord; “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
I know of only some of the tribulations you endure. But the Lord knows them all. He knows the conflicts you have in your family; He knows your problems at work; He knows your despair and your addictions; He knows your loneliness and your ailing body; He knows the sins you struggle with. He has redeemed you out of them all. The troubles of this life are an invitation from God to pray, to call upon Him in our need. In this way the very things that plague and afflict us bring us nearer to our Lord, driving us to look where true joy may be found–in Christ’s victory over the world. Hear His words again: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
When Christ invites us to pray to the Father “in His name,” that means first of all that He invites us to pray not based upon our own merits but upon His redeeming work, His cross which has opened the way for us to the Father. The words “in the name of Jesus” are not a magic formula. They mean that we have access to God the Father, and He hears our prayers, only because of what His Son Jesus has accomplished for us. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel call to mind His entire Person and work. “I came forth from the Father” means that He is the Son of God the Father, eternally begotten, but not made; very God of very God. “I have come into the world,” means “I was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of My mother Mary as a true man; and I have come into the world to give My life for the world.” Then He says, “Again, I leave the world and go the Father,” which means that He will ascend to the right hand of God 40 days following His resurrection from the dead.
Secondly, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray as those who have been baptized in His name. To pray in Jesus’ name is to stand in His shoes and ask as if you were the Son of God Himself! Remember that in His baptism, Jesus stood in your place as a sinner, taking on Himself and taking away the sins of the world. Now through your baptism into Him, you stand in His place as righteous and pray as dear children ask their dear Father. That’s why you now have the privilege of saying, “Our Father who art in heaven . . .” For you are truly children of God, holy, righteous, royal members of God’s family through faith in Christ your Savior, your Brother. Even when you pray alone, you are always praying side by side with Jesus–to His Father, and therefore also to yours. You pray with Jesus, “Our Father who art in heaven.” You pray with all Christians.
So, what do you want, Christian? “Ask,” says our Lord. “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” Does this mean we can ask for anything our flesh desires? Obviously not. Otherwise we wouldn’t be taught to pray “Thy will be done,” which means the breaking and hindering of every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature which stand against God’s will. No, we are to ask for that which is given within the Name and the will of God–whatever aids us in our life as disciples of Christ and children of God. If we ask for something that hinders our salvation, if we ask for something that does not help us lead a holy life in the callings God has given us, then we have not asked in the Name of Jesus our Savior, no matter what words we have used. The name of Jesus is not a formula that guarantees a “yes” to your prayer–unlike those who think that if you just have enough faith when you pray, God will give you whatever you ask for. No, to pray in the name of Jesus means that Jesus Himself is present in our prayers. It is to pray the way He prayed, the way that brings real life, forgiveness, salvation, and joy.
In our prayers, then, we begin by acknowledging that we have no right to pray, no right to ask for anything. For as the catechism says, we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray nor have we deserved them, but we ask that God would give them all to us by grace. In Jesus’ name all answer to prayer comes by grace, as a gift through what He has done for us.
So when you pray, do not provoke the Lord by asking for what you shouldn’t–worldly honor and power and pleasure. It’s certainly OK to pray for bodily and material needs for ourselves or others. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But He also teaches us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
King Solomon in the Old Testament is a good example of how we should pray. When he first became king after his father David, Solomon was overwhelmed with the burden of his responsibilities. And so when God told him to ask for whatever he wanted, Solomon didn’t ask for riches or long life or the death of his enemies. Instead he asked for wisdom and a discerning heart, so that he could rule God’s people well. And the Lord not only gave him great wisdom, so that there was none like him in all the world, the Lord also gave him what he did not ask for–riches and long life and honor among the nations. In Solomon we see a good way to pray, not merely for our own interests, but for the things we need to carry out our callings well and for the good of our neighbor.
So when you pray, ask for the things that God has promised you in Christ. Ask that the mercies of God may never be turned away from you, that you and the ones you love may endure in the faith unto the end. In fact, if you think about it, the Lord’s Prayer tells us exactly what it is that God desires to give us. What comfort and certainty there is in that! So ask that the name of God may be hallowed among us by what we teach and how we live. Pray for the coming of the kingdom and all the spiritual graces that Holy Spirit would bestow through the Word. Pray that not ours but God’s good and gracious will may be done. Ask for the daily bread that you need and receive it with thanksgiving. Pray that your selfish heart may be taken away, that you may be kept unspotted from the world’s pollutions and temptations and evils, that you may be cleansed from all your sins, that you may love your neighbor. Give thanks to God for redeeming you by the blood of Jesus. Seek that blood and that body here; for by these He overcame the world. They are given and shed for you for your forgiveness.
In your praying, know that Christ Jesus is on your side. He is your mediator, who gave His own life as a ransom for you. You’ve been bought out of bondage to sin and Satan. You’re released. You are free. And when you don’t know what to pray for or what words to say, remember what the Scriptures say, that “the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). He helps us in our weakness when we don’t know how to pray as we ought. He formulates and gives voice to the petitions of our hearts. In the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, our prayers are brought to our loving heavenly Father, who answers them always according to His good and gracious will. That is what it means to pray in the name of Jesus, in the reality of your being baptized into the name of the blessed Holy Trinity. Never think of this as a small thing. God Himself has invited you to pray. He’s not joking around. The Lord of all says to you once again, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to the Rev. Christopher Esget)