✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Jesus declares in today’s Gospel, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.” That’s a pretty amazing promise, isn’t it. And it’s true. But let’s be sure and listen carefully to what Jesus says. For there are some who misunderstand those words to mean that you can ask for literally anything you want, and as long as you pray it sincerely in faith and add the tag line “in Jesus’ name,” God will grant it to you. I’m sure you’ve heard this referred to before as the prosperity gospel, health and wealth teaching, “name it and claim it.” If you pray for something by name and claim it as your own and truly believe God will give it to you, then you’ll receive it–be it a better paying job or healing from some disease or a new car or any number of things. And if you don’t receive it, well, then it’s because you didn’t pray hard enough or have strong enough faith.
But that’s certainly not what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. It is written in James 4, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3-4) So prayer in Jesus’ name is certainly not a blank check to fulfill all your worldly dreams and desires. We must confess that too often that’s how we utilize prayer, to try to get God to follow our will rather than asking Him to conform us to His will, to get Him to make our dreams and plans come to fulfillment rather than seeking our place in the fulfillment of His plan of salvation.
To pray in Jesus’ name means, first of all, that you pray as one who is baptized. For it is in the water that He put His name on you and gave His name to you so that you may come to the Father in prayer. In Baptism the Son of God joined you to Himself and made you members of God’s family so that you now have access to the Father as His children. When someone is baptized, during the ceremony the pastor lays his hands upon their head while the Lord’s Prayer is prayed. That is meant to be a visual declaration that the gift of calling God “Father” is being given to the one baptized. Now they, too, are given permission to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It’s as if Jesus is giving you His username and password at the font. It’s not identity theft, it’s an identity gift. In Jesus you are counted as sons of God with all the benefits that entails. You are given the privilege of coming before the Father with the same status and standing as Jesus Himself! God hears you just like He hears Jesus. The name of Jesus opens heaven to you. It unlocks the door to the Father’s heart.
This is so important to remember, because apart from Christ, heaven is closed to you, locked tight. Your sin is like an impenetrable barrier that separates you from your Creator. And you can’t break through from this side. But by coming to you from the Father and taking on your human nature, Jesus broke through the sin-barrier from the other side. Through His cross and resurrection and ascension back to the Father, He has given you an opening and a portal to heaven. There is only one way to access God, to come to Him in prayer, and that is through Jesus.
Non-Christian religions, therefore, do not lead to the true God, even if they teach that there’s only one God–not Judaism, not Islam, not Buddhism, not the nature religion of Native Americans. For they all reject Jesus as being the incarnate Son of God and the Savior from sin. And He is the only way to God, as He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus also said in Luke 10, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” These other religions don’t even have God the Father, for they’ve rejected His Son who reveals Him.
So listen to today’s Epistle reading and take it to heart: “There is One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” You can’t come to God the Father directly; you need an intermediary, a go-between. It is sheer foolishness and arrogance to think that you can just waltz into God’s presence and that He has to listen to you based on your own merits. That wouldn’t be true even with an earthly authority. You can’t just presume that because you want to talk to the governor or the president that they’re required to make an appointment with you and listen to you. You have to have an in, something or someone that gets you into their presence. How much more so, then, with the King of kings! There has to be a reason for you to be given an audience with Him. And don’t ever think that your own merits and good living will do the trick, like some cash bribe to a politician. God doesn’t do quid pro quo and bargaining; he can’t be bought by anything that you do.
No, to pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith in what He has done to save you, to know that it is only because of His merits that you can come before the heavenly throne with your petitions and prayers. It is to pray knowing that Christ is your sole passageway to the Father. Like Moses was for the people of Israel in the wilderness, so Jesus is our intermediary, our go-between, our eternal peacemaker with God. As the bronze serpent was lifted up, our Lord Jesus was lifted up on the cross for us, so that everyone who looks to Him in faith may be saved from the venom of sin and be restored to fellowship with the Father.
Prayer in Jesus’ name, then, is prayer that begins with Jesus and His coming to us–not only in His ministry 2000 years ago, but also as He comes to us now through His words and Spirit. Christ is still the Mediator between us and the Father. Christian prayer begins with listening to the Gospel of Christ, listening to and meditating on the words of the Scriptures read and proclaimed, and then on the basis of that Word, speaking back to Him in faith, making requests based on what He has said and promised, praising Him for what He has done.
That is the Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer: The Father speaks to us through His Son by the Holy Spirit. And we speak by the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father. First the Father comes to us through Christ with His words of life; and then, having been filled with His life, we are enabled through faith in Christ to pray those words back to the Father and bring our needs and requests before Him. True prayer is based not on the poverty of our sinful hearts, but on the richness of God’s faithful Word.
This is our response, then, to those espousing a “name it and claim it” theology. Godly prayer is shaped by God’s words. Prayer in Jesus’ name is prayer that proceeds from faith in Him. And faith never prays “My will be done,” but, “Thy will be done.” Faith trusts that God’s will in Jesus is good and gracious. For the name “Jesus” literally means “The Lord saves.” When we pray in Jesus’ name, therefore, we are asking the Father for all of the saving gifts that have been put into that name which is above every name. All of this and more is the meaning of Jesus’ words, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”
So, with this right understanding of Jesus’ words, the question must be asked: Do we take Jesus at His Word? Does this tremendous promise and privilege move us to pray and to seek Him? All too often, we must confess that we are lazy in our prayer, or we want to pray but are easily distracted from it by other priorities. The devil, the world, and our own flesh are always seeking to divert us from prayer. You must therefore prepare yourselves to oppose them. When they prompt you to think that there’s something else you must do first, then you must say, “No; as soon as the need arises, I will pray. For when I have need to call upon God, that is the right time to do it. As God says, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.’ And if I do not feel ready or worthy to pray, God will make me ready and worthy. For I know that He loves me, not because I am so good and righteous, but because of Christ, whom I love and in whom I believe.”
And when you are tempted to think that your prayer won’t do any good, be reminded of Jesus’ promise. He said, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” He urgently invites you to come to Him as dear children to a loving Father. If earthly fathers, who are sinners, generally know how to give good things to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! If I told you that there was a rich man or a king sitting on a pile of gold saying, “Ask and you will receive,” you wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’ll get around to it later.” You’d go right to him and make your request. How much more should you do so with the King of heaven! God will never turn away a heart that trusts in Him. And even if your prayers in Jesus’ name aren’t answered immediately or precisely the way you’d like, they will all be answered for your good. Sometimes the best thing God can do for you is not to give you what you want, at least not right away. In the end though all your faithful prayers will be answered “yes” in the resurrection, when Jesus comes again to bring us the richness of heaven and the restoration of our bodies and the fullness of joy and peace. For it is written in 2 Corinthians, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are all ‘Yes’ in Christ.”
Therefore, the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Pray without ceasing.” Pray silently; pray out loud. Use the morning and evening prayers and the meal prayers given you in the Catechism. Pray the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer given you in the Scriptures. If nothing else, simply pray, “Lord, have mercy.” You will never have a shortage of things to pray for in this fallen world. Jesus said it plainly, “In the world you will have tribulation”–both as a result of the curse of sin and death, and because you are seeking to live faithfully as a Christian. Both of those things are bound to bring you trouble, sooner or later. However, Jesus goes on, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” In Him, by His cross and resurrection, the victory is won; all that troubles you has been overcome and defeated. So pray with boldness and confidence in Him who is the risen Conqueror, who has given you His triumph, who has opened the door of heaven to you. And believe Him when He says, “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 ✠