We don’t use his name to get whatever we want. We us it to seek what he wants.
Jesus told us to use his name when we ask the Father for things—that if we particularly ask for stuff in his name, the Father’d give it to us.
You’ll find a lot of Christian prayers end with the customary, “In Jesus’s name, amen.” Or grander versions like “In the mighty name, and through the precious blood, of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, amen.” However you wanna pad it.
More often it takes the form of JesusName. No possessive; just JesusName, like it’s one word.
But we don’t really think about what it means to use Christ Jesus’s name in prayer. We just do it for traditional reasons.
- ’Cause it’s Christian custom. It’s how we “hang up the phone” once we’re done praying.
- ’Cause it’s uniquely Christian. Any pagan could pray to any god, but we pray to the Father of our Lord Jesus, which we make explicitly clear when we mention Jesus’s name.
- ’Cause Jesus told us to.
- ’Cause it’s a magic spell: “I prayed in JesusName, and he said if we do that, we get what we want. So I’m getting what I want.”
But all these reasons are incomplete.
What does it mean to ask for stuff in someone else’s name? You may never have had to do this; you either asked for stuff in Jesus’s name, or your own. But some of us have had to use other people’s names. (With their permission, of course; I’m not talking about identity theft.) Your credit report sucks, so you talk your sister into co-signing an auto loan. You can’t get a good dinner reservation under your own name, so you name-drop a more important person to see whether that’ll work—and it does. You can’t get into the gym because you’re not a member, but your Dad is, so you mention him.
That’s what we do when we pray for stuff in Jesus’s name. Yeah, God’s adopted us as his kids, and loves us and wants to do great things for us. But he also wants to see we have a living relationship with his Son. Praying in Jesus’s name implies we have that relationship. ’Cause we do, right?
’Cause you’ve read what happens when we don’t.
Acts 19.13-17 KWL
- 13 Certain traveling Judean exorcists tried to cite Master Jesus’s name
- when they dealt with an evil spirit, saying, “I compel you by Jesus!—whom Paul proclaims.”
- 14 There was a certain Judean head priest, Skeva. His seven sons were doing this.
- 15 In reply the evil spirit told them, “I know Jesus and know of Paul. Who are you?”
- 16 The man in whom the evil spirit was, was strong enough to jump and defeat them all.
- They escaped that house naked and wounded.
- 17 This became known by all the Judean and Grecian inhabitants of Ephesus.
- Fear fell upon all of them, and Master Jesus’s name was exalted.
Jesus’s name, many Christians claim, unlocks every door. It’s the password to Ali Baba’s magic cave. Well, here it wasn’t. These guys didn’t know Jesus, and the evil spirit beat the clothes off them. And everyone in Ephesus who was tempted to try likewise, realized the critters weren’t playing around: The name can work, but doesn’t if you lack the vital relationship. So they got rid of their good luck charms, and sought that relationship.
The magical power of JesusName?
That’s the trouble with trying to use JesusName to access power—yet we have no standing with Jesus, and we’re asking for crap Jesus doesn’t approve of. We’re treating his name as a magic spell. We’re using it wrong.
I know; certain Christians get super nervous when I talk about magic. They’re the sort of folks who won’t say “Satan” out loud for fear the devil might hear them, and rush from their congressman’s side to theirs, and tempt them to go back to drinking heavily. They don’t believe Christians are curse-proof. They fear bringing up magic will call down unholy things… so I’d better quit.
Magic magic magic!
Okay: Magic isn’t real. It’s trickery. It looks real, but only because illusionists and fakes have put a lot of time and effort into making it look authentic, either to entertain us or con us. And devils, which have a vested interest in tricking people into parting ways with God, have also invested themselves into making people believe in it. Sad to say, there are a number of Christians among the believers—who insist they’d never dabble in it, and try to stay far away from it. They surely do fear it.
And ironically enough, in trying to keep magic away from them, they do wind up dabbling in it. They put up crosses, as if they’re good-luck charms. They say particular prayers, as if they’re good-luck incantations. They bust out the anointing oil and mark all the doorposts. You do realize it’s the Holy Spirit, not the oil, who defends us from evil?
Even when we’re not talking about the magic-phobic, there are way too many Christians who hail the power of JesusName—but wield it in some rather ungodly, rather superstitious ways.
If you really want something, they insist, pray in JesusName. It is guaranteed to work. Better than posting a classified ad to St. Jude. Better than their St. Christopher medals. They’ll even give you testimonials. “I needed healing. So I called on JesusName and I got it!” And so forth.
Didn’t call on Jesus himself. Didn’t ask the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Just invoked JesusName. Hocus pocus, my eyes now focus!
(“Hocus pocus” is another example, by the way. Comes from the Latin hoc est corpus/“this is my body,”
Okay, sometimes God legitimately answers the prayers of people who are asking for stuff in the wrong way. Some of those folks have legit relationships with Jesus, but some of their religious practices need a whole lot of correction. Others have no relationship, have no repentance, and God dismisses their prayers—but they’re so desperate for prayer results, they interpret everything as a sign, and take what they can get. They think JesusName worked for them. It did not.
That second scenario is a frightening one to find yourself in. You realize there are people at the End who’ll claim, “Lord, we did this ’n that in your name,” to which he’ll reply, “I don’t know you; I never did.”
Yeah, Christians will psyche themselves into thinking they can do the supernatural, ’cause they followed all the right steps. They can activate prophecy instead of waiting for the Holy Spirit to talk to them. They can activate healing by reciting JesusName. They can throw out demons when they follow the right steps and say the right words. Just like Skeva’s sons—without all the beating.
Lots of religions claim they can do that stuff too. But they pin too many of their hopes on the procedure. The elements. The words. Not the Holy Spirit. They’re working independently of him. That’s what makes it religious magic.
We can’t invoke Jesus’s name, yet work independently of him. And if we try… well, may God wake us up to our dangerous error.
Submit to Jesus’s name.
Remember when Jesus had two of his kids get him a donkey for Palm Sunday?
Luke 19.30-34 KWL
- 30 Jesus was saying, “Go into the village before you.
- When you enter it, you’ll find a colt which’d been tied up, on whom no person has ever sat.
- Loose it. Bring it. 31 When anyone asks you, ‘Why do you loose it?’
- you’ll say this: ‘The Master has need of it.’”
- 32 Going away, those
Jesussent found just as he said.
- 33 As they loosed the colt, its masters told them, “Why do you loose the colt?”
- They said, “The Master has need of it.”
Or when he had two more of them prepare the upper room for Passover?
Luke 22.10-13 KWL
- 10 Jesus told them, “Look, when you enter the city,
- you’ll meet with a person carrying a water jar.
- Follow him into the house, wherever he enters.
- 11 Tell the housekeeper of that house, ‘The Teacher tells you,
- ”Where’s the guest room where I can eat Passover with my students?”’
- 12 He’ll show you a large level upper room. Prepare there.”
- 13 Going away, they found just as he’d told them, and prepared Passover.
In both these instances, the students requested things in Jesus’s name. They got the donkey because “the Master has need of it.” They got the guest room because “the Teacher tells you.” In their own names, they might’ve got these things—but their own names didn’t carry the weight of Jesus’s. More likely they’d have heard “Who are you?”—just like the evil spirit said to Skeva’s sons.
This is what “In Jesus’s name” means. It means, “I presume I can ask for these things, because I’m following the Lord, and it’s on his behalf.” Like a company credit card, Jesus grants his name with the expectation we’ll use it for his purposes, with his approval. Not stupid and selfish things. Use the company credit card to buy yourself a Lexus, and if they don’t fire you, they’ll at least make you pay ’em back. No, the company credit card isn’t an analogy for how Jesus’s name works. Ask for the wrong stuff in Jesus’s name, and God won’t grant your requests yet give you consequences; he’s not an ironic sadist. He’ll just decline.
Yet too many Christians use “In Jesus’s name” not for requests, but for arrogant demands. After all, didn’t Jesus promise God would give us whatever we want in his name?
Actually, no. Jesus promised we’d get what we ask for—never demand. We’re in no position to demand anything of God. We have no business doing so. That’s not how you treat your Father.
Neither are we guaranteed everything we ask for. Even Jesus didn’t get everything he asked for.
When to call upon Jesus’s name.
In the Lord’s Prayer, you might recall Jesus doesn’t tell us to end it with “In Jesus’s name.”
But you’ll notice, in the Lord’s prayer, we’re actually praying for stuff in our own names: I would like daily bread, to have my debts forgiven, to have God’s help against temptation. For that matter, I want God to make his kingdom come, and for his will to be done on earth as in heaven. Jesus didn’t have us finish this prayer with “In Jesus’s name” because we don’t really pray for those things on his behalf. Just our own.
So when I make my prayer requests, I’m likewise asking on my own behalf. Till he tells me one way or the other, I dunno whether Jesus wants me to have ’em. Yeah, he wants me to have daily bread. But what about a new car? or a new house, new computer, a trip to France? Well, I need feedback.
I might have altruistic reasons. I wanna go to France to help a church, or I want a new house so I can hold small group meetings in it, or a new car so I can go to Christian functions. (Then again I might be full of baloney, ’cause 90 percent of my use of that new house and car would be totally selfish.) Regardless, should I use his name to request these things, when I don’t know if he’s cool with them?
I can use Jesus’s name to access the Father; that’s perfectly justifiable. I can use Jesus’s name to ask for stuff I know he wants me to have, like courage to do what’s right, strength to resist temptation, love for neighbors, greater fruit of the Spirit, wisdom, forgiveness, for people to be saved, and other things he’s revealed in the scriptures. And I can absolutely ask for God’s will to be done, in Jesus’s name: It’s always Jesus’s will for the Father’s will to be done. You can pray for this stuff too. Go for it.
Otherwise, I ask to know God’s will. Does he want me to have these things? Has he forbidden them lest they trip me up? Is he fine either way? (Yes, sometimes he’s fine either way. Only sin is black-and-white with God.) I don’t wanna waste time pursuing something God doesn’t approve of. And while I wouldn’t mind knowing his reasoning, he doesn’t have to share it: I have to trust him.
If he does tell me it’s okay to pray for a car, you can bet I’m praying for a car in Jesus’s name—and I’ll be grateful for whatever model he grants me. But unless I know his will, I have no business trying to use his credit card.
So when we pray, let’s use Jesus’s name with all appropriate humility and submission. He’s not a soda machine which spits out cans; he’s not a magic lamp which grants wishes. He’s our Father, and his will is what’s best. Seek it, and trust his reasons, for they’re all good, for God’s good. Trust him.