Sunday, August 14, 2022

Praying in His Name

There was nothing wrong with the content of the letter. It was carefully thought-through, but may as well not have been written. It was back on my desk, rejected by the post office.

Did I make a mistake in the house number? Was the stamp of insufficient value? Perhaps the machine mistook my ‘B’ for an ‘8’ in the postal code …

Some time ago I became concerned about the habit of closing our prayers with “in the name of”, followed by whatever name or title of the Savior was our choice: “Jesus” or “Lord” or “Lord Jesus Christ”.

Form vs. Content

“In the name of” is a convenient and generally accepted way of ending one’s prayers, and I did it most of the time, but I began searching for some example in the New Testament that would show me the importance of doing so. I found none. Later I read an article by an evangelical scholar and apologist who was concerned about the same thing, so perhaps I was not out in left field. Surely we all believe that the content and spirit of what we pray does far more to gain God’s ear than a few rote words which because of their frequent use in public prayer rarely indicate much more than “I have finished praying; you can pray now.”

Assuming the content of our prayers is in accord with what God has already written to us, that we are reverent in approach, and remember what his names reveal as to his nature, is there any formula we should use that guarantees our worship, praise, request or thanksgiving will be received? Is there anything we can put “on the envelope”, so to speak, that will make up for the insufficiently thought-through wording of a letter inside? The current practice suggests we may think so. Not that the habit is evil, but the constant use of a good thing can deceive us. The form is repeated often in prayer meetings.

Two Essentials

Prayer is an act of faith. “Whoever would draw near to God” (whether for the forgiveness of sin or as an expression of fellowship with him) “must believe” (not feel) “that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” He is not about to reject us: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” is his promise. That does not mean he will approve everything we profess to do or say “in his name” — and prayer is certainly one of the things to be included in whatever believers do.

Confidence in prayer depends firstly on our appreciation of the character and the promises of the One in whose name we pray; and, secondly, the integrity, sincerity, honesty, and humility of the one who prays. It does not require perfection; our Advocate and Great High Priest is before the throne for that reason. But without sufficient attention to these two things, we can expect returned mail.

An Ambassador’s Job

Agents or ambassadors are those who represent and speak for someone who is not present. They can act for persons, businesses or nations. They act and speak in the interest of the individual or group that bestowed authority upon them. If invited to do so, they may express their own thoughts or wishes when in discussion with those who commission them, but once sent out they are to speak and act under the name and authority of the one who commissioned them, not their own.

Allow me to expand on the mail analogy of my first paragraph. What did the Lord intend us to understand when he said, “If you ask anything in my name”? He was not referring to his truly wonderful names as if one of them would serve like a stamp of sufficient value on the envelope containing our requests. Was he not rather wanting us to be concerned that we ask as true agents or ambassadors, making sure the sure the content conforms to Heaven’s present purpose; asking his help in doing his will?

As a doctrine this concept is condensed for us in 1 John 5:14, and a clear historical example of the doctrine in action is given in Acts 4:23-31. Readers desiring to “improve their stroke” — as my golfing son Mark would put it — will benefit from examining these references.*

Which Name?

Purists might call us to strictly conform to their wishes and argue over what name or title we should employ when engaged on the Savior’s behalf publicly, when witnessing to those in the world, or when worshiping with the local church. It can be very helpful to use titles with discernment though. Once, I asked a “churched” person how Christians should decide between what was right or wrong. “Ask Jesus”, was the reply. We then looked at a few verses containing names and titles showing him to be more than “Jesus”. My friend left, and later that night on bended knee “found the Lord”. But in a prayer meeting you expect these differences to be understood. Surely those present do not deny his lordship though they may choose to close a prayer with “in the name of Jesus”, and those addressing him as “Lord” are not necessarily overlooking the preciousness of the name Mary was told to call her son. Each of his names or titles carries its own weight. We ought always to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

— Colin Anderson, “In His Name”, February 2016

* The Acts passage does use the phrase “the name of”, but it was not as a closure to what they wanted for themselves. Instead, it expressed the desire of those threatened saints that, as they continued to witness to Christ, the Lord who made heaven and earth would support that testimony by signs and wonders done by his holy servant’s name and authority. They wanted his name and no other to receive credit.

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