Troublesome Topic: What does it mean to pray “in the name of Jesus?”

There are many places in the New Testament where we are told to pray in the name of Jesus. One example is Jn 14:13-14 where Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Many of us were taught as a child to end our prayers with the words, “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Really? Is it that simple? Is it just a formula? If so then why don’t we get all our prayers answered that we have ended with those “magic” words? My friend, it is much deeper than just a few words.

To ask in the name of Jesus means to ask based on who Jesus is, what His character is, what He has accomplished, and what He wants to do. But wait, there is more. When someone did something in the name of someone else, for instance a messenger carrying a message on behalf of an authority figure, he was taking that person’s place; the authority and purpose of the other individual is now carried by the one acting in the name of the authority figure. When we do anything in the name of Jesus we must be about His business, not our own, and we must be following His will and His bidding. When Jesus told His disciples to ask anything in His name, He was pointing to the true meaning of prayer. He was saying, in essence, “When you ask something, already knowing it is my will, knowing it is in agreement with who I am, knowing it is an expressed part of my mission, you will never be rejected.” That is praying in Jesus’ name.

Earlier I said that true prayer means to come alongside God in His great endeavors, to join God in what He is doing, to ask Him to be what we already know He is, and manifest that to us so we can see it and participate even more. Now I will add that true prayer is praying something “in the name of Jesus.” I do not mean using that phrase at the end of a prayer; I mean that the content of the prayer come from God in the first place, that it be according to the will of God clearly expressed in Scripture.

I John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears whatever we might ask, we know that we have the answer to the request we asked of him” (emphasis added).

Consider Romans 8:26-27. When the Holy Spirit intercedes for us He does so “according to God,” or “in accordance with the will of God.” This is the pattern we are to follow—pray in accordance with the revealed will of God.

It is not about attaching certain words to the end of our prayer, but about our first rule of prayer mentioned above—to always pray what we know is God’s will. Praying in Jesus’ name means to pray for things that will honor and glorify Him. So pray His heart. Pray based in His person and His character, not based on our wants, or even our needs.

Also consider James 5:13-15A: “Is anyone among you suffering hardship? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick. Let him call for the elders of the church to come to him, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (emphasis added). This makes is sound like we will get what we want if we pray; if someone is sick, prayer will heal him; if someone is suffering prayer will . . . well, it doesn’t say specifically what will be done. We read it and it sounds so positive, so sure. But we often miss that small phrase in the middle, “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Once again the words “in the name of the Lord” define how we should pray. So this is not a blank check, our prayers must be in line with His nature and according to His revealed will.

Why are we instructed to pray in Jesus’s name rather than in the name of God the Father? It is through Jesus that we get the best idea of who God is. Jesus was God with skin; He showed us how God would act if He were one of us. He was not some mystical idea, He was a real, breathing and sweating person just like us. But He was also God. So we are to pray according to what we know about God through Jesus.

It is also through what Jesus did for us on the cross that we can be reconciled to God. So there is a way in which praying in Jesus’ name rests on the merits of what Jesus did. However, consider this: if true prayer is praying only the revealed will of God, and is based on the nature of God Himself, does it need to have the words, “In Jesus’ name” added to it? No. It already qualifies. Notice that the prayer of the believers recorded in Acts chapter 4 does not end with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Why should we ask God to do what we already know He wants to do? Because that is how God has invited us to participate in the plan. We are like a cheering crowd encouraging our hero to show the world all his exploits. And the crazy part is that God does respond to those kind of prayers. He does indeed turn it up a notch when we pray as He asks us to. Amazing!