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« More Ire to Come? | Home | What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus? Section 2 »

What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus?

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Part 2 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
Note: This is a revised and expanded version of a previous post.

Yesterday I raised the issue of whether or not Rick Warren should pray “in the name of Jesus” when he gives the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama. I noted that another Christian leader who will be praying at an inaugural event, Bishop Gene Robinson, has made it clear that he will not do this sort of thing because he does not want to be “especially Christian” in his prayer. (For stinging critique of Robinson’s approach to this opportunity for prayer, see Jim Berkley’s blog post: “Speaking Nonsense to No One in Particular.”)

Before I can answer the question of whether I think Rick Warren should say “in the name of Jesus” at the end of his inaugural prayer, we need first to explore what it means to pray in the name of Jesus.

I should note that this is something that matters a great deal to theologically conservative Christians who take the Bible seriously. The idea that we should pray in the name of Jesus comes from Scripture, as we’ll see. Most of those who insist that Warren must say “in the name of Jesus” or “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his prayer base their conviction on the Bible. Though many more theologically liberal Christians often say something like “in the name of Jesus” at the end of their prayers, they tend to assume more freedom in applying the Bible to their actions, and thus would allow an inaugural invocator to deviate from what seems to be the biblical norm. Therefore, my exploration of the biblical meaning of praying in Jesus’ name will be especially relevant for Christians who seek to follow biblical teaching in all they do. Rick Warren would certainly be such a Christian. (Oh, and for the record, so am I. Not saying I succeed, however, just that I try.)

So what does the Bible teach us about praying in the name of Jesus? If we turn to the Gospel of John, we find this statement on the lips of Jesus himself:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Other passages in John’s Gospel make a similar point (15:16; 16:23-24, 26).

So doesn’t this rather conclude the matter? Jesus himself teaches us to pray in his name. This seems to leave no option for any praying Christian, including Rick Warren at Obama’s inauguration.

But things aren’t quite so clear as they might at first seem. If Jesus wanted his followers to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers, we must wonder why he didn’t think to include this at the end of what we call The Lord’s Prayer. This exemplary prayer is found in two different forms (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) in the New Testament, but neither ends with anything like “in the name of Jesus” or “in my name.” In Luke 11, Jesus follows his model prayer with further instruction about prayer, urging us to be persistent (vv. 5-8) and confident (vv. 9-13) when we pray. But nowhere does he say we should speak his name in order to get our prayers heard.

In fact, when Jesus speaks of praying in his name, he is not referring to adding a catch phrase at the end of a prayer, though there is not necessarily anything wrong with this practice. I do in fact end most of my prayers with some version of “in Jesus’ name.” But I don’t do this because that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about praying “in my name.”

If praying in Jesus’s name is not saying “in Jesus’s name” at the end of the prayer, what is it? We get help in answering this question from other passages in which Jesus uses the phrase “in my name.” For example:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt 18:5)

“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt 18:19-20)

Neither of these passages has to do with saying the words “in Jesus’s name.” Rather, they’re about doing something under his authority, or as his representative. So, in Matthew 18:5, “in my name” means something like “Whoever welcomes one such child under my authority and representing me, welcomes me.” Matthew 18:19-20 is especially telling because verse 19 speaks of prayer, and verse 20 speaks of gathering in Jesus’s name, but not using his name as some sort of ending to a prayer.

When Christians welcome children, or gather together, or pray, we do these things in the name of Jesus, whether or not we say “in Jesus’ name.” To pray in Jesus’ name is come before God’s throne of grace, not in our own merit or authority, but in the merit and authority of Jesus. We have no right to approach God’s throne of grace in our sinfulness, but in the righteousness of Jesus, we can be bold when we come before God in prayer (Heb 4:14-16).

I’m reminded of a time when I visited the U.S. Capitol in Washington as a guest of Rep. John Campbell, who was my congressman when I lived in Irvine. With him as my guide, I walked freely around the Capitol, entering many areas that were reserved only for members of Congress and their guests. I was welcome in that place, not because of who I was or because of anything I had done, but because I was there “in the name” of Rep. Campbell. So it is when we come before God in the name of Jesus. (Photo: The U.S Capitol in the spring.)

The fact that Jesus did not require his disciples to use the phrase “in the name of Jesus” at the end of their prayers is demonstrated by other passages of Scripture. I’ll visit these in my next post.

Topics: Praying in Jesus's Name |

7 Responses to “What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus?”

  1. Bill Goff Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Hi Mark, I am wondering how you view Jesus’ criticism of the practice of the clergy of his day to pray in public and his admonition to his disciples to pray in secret. Is there any warrant for Jesus’ followers to pray in public, especially in civic settings?
    I vaguely recall a story about a pastor in Appalachia who prayed passionately in public with the families of endangered coal miners. When a TV crew showed up and learned of his prayer, they asked him to repeat it for the camera. He declined saying something like, “My prayers are to God not for TV.”
    Last fall I was part of the cast of the play To Kill a Mockingbird. Just prior to our opening night performance, as the cast was in a circle holding hands, our director surprised me by asking me to say a blessing or a prayer. I prayed thanking God for the opportunity to be part of such a meaningful play at such a time in history (a few days after Obama’s election) and asking God to help us all do our best. I did not use the phrase “in Jesus name”. It is my impression that God answered the prayer. That night we all gave our best performance.
    I think it was Martin Luther who said that prayers should be frequent, brief and intense. I like that. FBI prayers. Perhaps they should also mostly be private. What do you think?

  2. Bill Goff Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Hi again Mark. I also believe that blog comments should be brief and not repetitious! I entered my comment twice because I didn’t see that it took the first time. Perhaps it made your screener work overtime. I’ll try to be more patient in the future!

  3. RevK Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Q. 98. What is prayer?
    A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God,for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.

    … and the Larger…

    Question 180: What is it to pray in the name of Christ?

    Answer: To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.

    Question 181: Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?

    Answer: The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator; and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone, we are to pray in no other name but his only.

  4. Mark Roberts Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Bill: Good questions. I need to think about them

    RevK: Great quotes! I had forgotten about them, esp. the “not by bare mentioning of his name.” Thanks.

  5. What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus? Section 2 | Says:
    January 15th, 2009 at 12:02 am

    […] I’m claiming in this blog post is nothing new. One of my commenters, RevK, pointed me to a couple of passages in the Westminster catechisms. The Larger Catechism includes […]

  6. Jim Berkley Says:
    January 15th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Public prayer is difficult. It is SO easy to grandstand when leading prayer, drawing attention to oneself or one’s ideas, rather than addressing God with and for the people. So there are difficulties.

    But there are many instances when public prayer seems both right and necessary. For instance, think of the wording of the Lord’s Prayer: “OUR Father… Give US this day… Forgive US OUR debts…” and so on. The language is not solo; it’s corporate. It certainly appears to be meant to be prayed together.

    And again, haven’t prayers been part of worship in all times and all places? In Acts 2:42, it appears that together the new converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the PRAYERS.” All of this seems to be done in union.

    Acts 4:24 has Peter and John’s friends “raising their voices TOGETHER to God and saying, ‘Sovereign Lord….’” This group in prayer was granted its joint petition.

    It seems that in talking about being alone in a closet, Jesus was making a point that people ought not trumpet their own supposed piety by making a show of prayer. That counsel obviously is authoritative. But it doesn’t appear that Jesus is making a statement that all prayer ought to be intensely private and personal and no prayer ought to occur in a group together.

    At least that’s how the whole counsel of Scripture makes sense to me.

    Jim Berkley
    Bellevue, WA

  7. Bonnie Durland Says:
    January 19th, 2009 at 7:18 am

    To pray in the name of Jesus has meant to me that we are to be drenched completely cell by cell in forgiveness, love, non-judgmental action … it isn’t about mouthing a phrase … it is about being the living essence of Christ … to pray is to breathe the Holy Spirit … to be emptied and filled in His name … this is the blood of Christ … for me this is Truth. Any movement of thought wanting something and thinking it will be answered by mumbling some “special” words is False. We need to see what is true and what is false.


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