May 3, 2011

Aren’t We Supposed to Pray in Jesus’ Name?

[A]nd forgive us our sins,
     as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation. 

For those of us who are used to saying the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ model prayer in Luke 4 ends abruptly and too soon. “And don’t let us yield to temptation” is the final line. Nothing about delivering us from evil. Nothing about God’s kingdom, glory, and power. Not even a resounding “Amen.”

The brevity of this prayer in Luke suggests that Jesus did not teach one single prayer that was to be uttered verbatim by all of his followers. Rather, he employed a model prayer that could be lengthened or shortened and adapted for different situations. This does not imply that we should not memorize some version of “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father.” But it does mean we shouldn’t fret about getting all the words exactly right. I doubt God is worried about whether we ask to be forgiven for our debts, trespasses, or sins. I, at least, need forgiveness for all three!

But it is perplexing to some Christians that Jesus’ model prayer does not end with “in my name” or “in Jesus’ name.” Isn’t that how Christians are supposed to end their prayers? Didn’t Jesus himself teach this in John 14:13-14: “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask for anything in my name, and I will do it!”? Is Jesus’ model prayer in Luke defective or incomplete without “in Jesus’ name” added to the end?

As a boy, I was taught that all of my prayers should end with the words “in Jesus’ name” or something like that. I prayed faithfully using those words because they seemed to be almost magic. If I failed to say “in Jesus’ name,” I feared that my prayers would not be answered by God. Worse yet, I worried that omitting “in Jesus’ name” was somehow dishonoring to him.

Several years ago, I did an in-depth study of what it means to pray in the name of Jesus. (You can find a summary of that study in my blog series: Praying in the Name of Jesus.) I found that praying in his name is not a matter of saying certain words at the end of our prayers, such as “in Jesus’ name” or “through Christ our Lord” or something similar. If Jesus had wanted his followers always to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers, surely he would have included this in his model prayers in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. In fact, when Scripture mentions praying or acting in the name of someone, this is not a matter of saying certain words. Rather, it’s talking about something much bigger and more significant. For us, praying in the name of Jesus means praying in his authority and for his purposes. Praying in Jesus’ name involves bowing before his sovereignty and seeking his sovereign will.

If saying the words “in Jesus’ name” helps you to pray in this way, then by all means say “in Jesus’ name.” But, whether you say these words or not, all of your prayers should be in the name of Jesus. Every time you pray, you are doing so because Jesus himself has opened up access to God. You stand before the Father’s throne, not in your own authority, but in that of the royal Son. Moreover, your goal in prayer is not to convince God to change his will. Rather, you are seeking to pray according to his will (“Thy kingdom come; thy will be done”). In this way, you are truly praying in the name of Jesus.

So, we ought not to worry that Jesus’ prayer in Luke does not include “in Jesus’ name” at the end. In fact, when we use this prayer of Jesus as our guide, when we pray for God’s name to be holy and when we ask for his kingdom to come, we are praying in the authority and for the purposes of Jesus...which is to say, in his name.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Were you taught to say “in Jesus’ name” or “through Christ our Lord” at the end of your prayers? How have you understood this practice? How might your prayers be different if you understood yourself to be praying in the authority of Jesus? How might your prayers be different if you sought to pray according to his will and for his purposes?

PRAYER:

Father, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
Give us each day the food we need,
     and forgive us our sins,
     as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation. 

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