“In Jesus name” and why it doesn’t always work.

We don’t use his name to get whatever we want. We us it to seek what he wants.

Jesus told us we can use his name whenever we ask the Father for things.

John 14.12-15 KWL
12 “Amen amen! I promise you believers in me will do the same works I’ve done.
And they’ll do greater things, because I’m going to the Father.
13 And whatever you might ask in my name,
I’ll do it so it can glorify the Father by the Son.
14 Whatever you might ask me in my name, I’ll do!
15 When you love me, keep my commands!”

He told us as much more than once. Jn 15.16, 16.23-24 And we want stuff from him. So that’s precisely what we do: We pray for stuff in Jesus’s name.

Well, we pray for stuff “in Jesus name.” That’s usually the way Christians phrase it. Often it legitimately does mean “the name of Jesus.” But too often it means the magic name of Jesus. Because just like “please” and “thank you” are “magic words” we use to be polite and get our way, “Jesus name” is considered the magic word to get Jesus to give us what we want.

Hence we don’t just hear “in Jesus name” at the end of Christian prayers: “In Jesus name, amen.” We sometimes hear it repeated time and again in certain prayers: “We ask for these things in Jesus name! In Jesus name! I command these things to take place in Jesus name!” Oh, they’ll get loud about it too. Kinda like they wanna make sure Jesus heard them invoke his name.

Obviously “in Jesus name” is not a magic spell we use to get whatever we want. Certainly it’s not a successful magic spell, anyway. ’Cause if it had any power on its own, it should’ve worked for certain Judean exorcists in Acts.

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 children 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.

Many Christians’ll claim Jesus’s name unlocks every door, but here it wasn’t. Skeva’s kids didn’t personally know Jesus, and this evil spirit somehow knew it—and beat the clothes off them. They didn’t get what they sought “in Jesus name.”

Because it’s not about the name, and never really was. It’s about the relationship. If you know Jesus, know his character, and want what he does, feel free to invoke his name every time you pray. That’s why he’s cool with us using it.

But if you don’t know Jesus, and your assumptions about what he wants are based on projecting your own bad attitudes or desires upon him, I really don’t expect him to answer your prayers. If he does, it won’t have anything to do with you; you just happened to ask for something he wants to do regardless, for his own motives.

We’re not meant to use Jesus’s name unless we know Jesus and share his motives. If we use his name for any other reason, we’re like a kid who stole Dad’s credit card without permission, and Dad found out and cancelled the card immediately: It ain’t gonna work!

It’s gotta glorify the Father.

Why’d Jesus offer to let us use his name to request stuff? Like he said in John 14.13, it’s so it can glorify the Father by the Son: It’s so Jesus can do great things through us, and in so doing, people will praise his Father.

Which means if people won’t praise his Father, but instead grumble, “Look at those greedy Christians, asking God for money and political power, and they don’t do a thing for the needy in their town”—well we’ve hardly given Jesus any motivation to do a thing for us, have we? But that’s usually what we’re doing.

I’ve sat in prayer meetings where Christians were writhing in agony over the direction our country appears to be going politically. Or frustrated because they’re not achieving the worldly successes they were hoping to have by this point in their lives. They fervently pray for these things because somehow, in their minds, their successes, or some kind of top-down national reform, will glorify God. Me, I’m pretty sure they’re so blinded by their desires, they’re doing it wrong.

James 4.3-4 KWL
3 You ask, yet don’t receive because you ask for evil!
—so you might spend it on your hedonism.
4 Adultresses! Haven’t you known friendship with the world is enmity with God?
So whoever wants to be a friend of the world, is rendered God’s foe.

Hopefully they’re not as far gone as James was describing, but that’s kind of the path they’re on.

When we’re using Jesus’s name to ask for stuff, ideally we should be asking on behalf of other people. Look at Jesus’s own prayers. Yeah, he asked the Father for stuff for himself. Like not getting crucified, Mk 14.36 and you remember the Father’s answer to that one was no. But the other prayers, where the Father’s answer was yes, where miracles happened and sick people were cured, and demons were thrown out, were typically his prayers for others. Because selflessness reflects God’s love better than most things. Love isn’t self-seeking. 1Co 13.5

So when we’re praying for things that prosper us, or asking God to do something about the things which outrage our sensibilities: I’m not at all saying we shouldn’t talk to God about such things. We can talk to him about anything, and should. He wants us to request daily bread Mt 6.10 and offers to care for our regular needs. But do the things we want God to do on our behalf “in Jesus name” truly bring him glory? Seriously; think about this for a bit. Do they glorify God, or do they magnify us?

Do we bring this attitude of glorifying God with us to our “in Jesus name” prayers? Or are we treating the name as if it’s the password to Ali Baba’s magic cave, ’cause access to all the heavenly power and riches comes by invoking our Lord? If that’s what we’ve reduced Jesus’s name to, we kinda deserve to have a demoniac beat some sense into us.