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The Power of Praying in the Name of Jesus
In anticipation of His death, Jesus began preparing His apostles for life without His physical presence. As He taught and instructed them, one theme stood out above the rest: that of praying to the Father in His name.
Why was Jesus so insistent upon this teaching? What does it mean for us today?
The fact that Jesus repeats Himself multiple times during His “farewell discourse” (John 14-17) is a good indication that we need to pay close attention to His message.
Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. If you abide in me, and my works abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. Go and bear fruit that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name. Until now you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
(John 14:13; 15:7-8,16; 16:23-24)
When read together, these verses are repetitive—which is the point. It becomes clear that in His final days, Jesus felt the urgent need to stress the crucial foundation of true Christian prayer.
When our prayers are united with Jesus—in His name—they must, by necessity, be in alignment with Divine Will.
“Prayer is the experience of knowing that God is the source of everything we claim as our own. To pray is to say with Jesus, ‘Not my will, but yours. Not my words but yours. Not my worth, but yours. Not my glory, but yours. Not in my name, but in yours.”
(Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation)
It would be hypocritical to pray for worldly things in Jesus’ name, such as a new Porsche or to win the lottery. A “prayer” like that isn’t truly a prayer at all. It’s an attempt at direct God toward our will, not His. It’s also a violation of the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex. 20:7). Superficial, self-centered “prayer” demonstrates a heretical attempt to use Jesus’ name as a sort of “magic spell” for personal gain, which is an obvious abuse of God’s mercy.
Jesuit priest and biblical scholar Scott M. Lewis sums this up in a succinct yet thorough way:
“To pray in the name of Jesus has nothing to do with a quasi-magical power in pronouncing a name. It means to ask for something with the same mind and heart as Jesus and presupposes abiding in Him through the Spirit.”
When prayers are genuine—if we authentically live in Christ so His words will live in us (John 15:7)—then our prayers are from the Paraclete, the Spirit Christ has sent (“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever,” John 14:16). By listening to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit, we’re guided toward prayer that’s in alignment with God’s will.
Through authentic prayer we open ourselves to the Spirit whom Christ has sent to be our helper and guide.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “In the Holy Spirit, Christian prayer is a communion of love with the Father, not only through Christ but also in Him” (CCC 2614).
This manner of surrendering prayer gives us an understanding and acceptance of God’s will for our lives, as well as the grace-filled joy to want what God wants—no matter what that may be, and however unexpected. By opening ourselves to Christ, by welcoming Him to abide in us and send His Spirit into us, we allow ourselves to merge into alignment with Divine Will.
God is then glorified, and we begin to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8).
Ending a prayer with “in Jesus’ name” is a personal fiat (Luke 1:38). It’s a confirmation of Jesus’ suffering and surrender: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to You … yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36; see also Luke 22:42).
This is a statement admitting that even though we may have made our request with the best of intentions, we still recognize the fact that we’re imperfect humans. We often fail to pray as we should, and that’s why we need to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26).
“In Jesus’ name I pray” is the same as saying, “I’ve placed my needs before You, but I know that Your will for me is far greater than what I want for myself. And so, not my will, but yours be done.”
This is an open acceptance that joy and peace will be given in all circumstances, especially if those circumstances don’t end up as we expected (Tobit 8:15-16). If the unexpected happens in response to our prayer, we know that all things work for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28) because we prayed our fiat—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word” (Luke 1:38). This Word of God is the Word made Flesh.
Before His cruel torture and death Jesus blessed us all with a divine promise:
Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me … Peace I leave you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid …in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world … Now I am coming to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have joy fulfilled in themselves.
(John 14:1,27; 16:33; 17:13)
Through continual prayer—prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name, with the Holy Spirit abiding and guiding—we can find our ultimate hope. Jesus “is able for all time to save those who draw near to God, through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
When we authentically pray in Jesus’ name it becomes easier to see the grace-filled gift Christ has given us.
Rather than mumbling “in Jesus’ name we pray” in an off-handed, automatic, or rushed fashion, we need to truly live within the words—and allow the Word to live within us.
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