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

Jesus told us, more than once, we can use his name whenever we ask the Father for things.

John 14.12-15 KJV
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
 
John 15.16 KJV
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
 
John 16.23-24 KJV
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

Usually Christians are fully aware of this fact. Which is why whenever we want our requests fulfilled, we do ask for stuff in Jesus’s name.

Well, more accurately we ask “in Jesus name.” No possessive. (It’s not like most people know how to use apostrophes properly anyway.) It’s kinda the traditional, rote, thoughtless way we’ve grown accustomed to praying: Before we say amen, we throw a “In Jesus name” in there just to make extra sure we get what we want. It’s not a reminder of who we follow and who’s our Lord; it’s an incantation. It’s what we say to unlock the power. It’s magic.

Yeah, no.

’Cause we have that one bible story where people try to use “in Jesus name” as the magic words, and fail miserably. You might’ve heard it.

Acts 19.13-17 KJV
13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. 14 And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? 16 And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.

Many Christians claim Jesus’s name unlocks every door. Here it didn’t.

Usually it’s presumed it’s because Sceva’s boys weren’t Christian. Didn’t personally know Jesus; they were just using his name because they knew Christians use it, and heard it gets results. But no; Luke stated these kids were Jews, and their dad was a priest, which meant they were Levites; they’d be likewise trained as priests. Any priestly training, whether instructed by Sadducees or Pharisees, would’ve taught them the Law—so they knew you don’t call upon any other name but God’s.

Exodus 23.13 KJV
And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.

Jews didn’t do exorcisms in any other name but God’s. Still true: We Christians recognize Jesus is God, so that’s not an issue. So Sceva’s sons would’ve have known better than to invoke Jesus—unless they were Christian. Or thought themselves Christian. Where they got their Christianity we don’t know; as “vagabond Jews” they traveled from city to city, and picked up Jesus along the way.

But they didn’t know him as well as the thought they did. Certainly the evil spirit they tried to fight, didn’t detect anything of Jesus about them, which is why it could beat the clothes off them.

Sceva’s kids didn’t get what they sought “in Jesus name,” because the name is not a password, a spell, a magic word; it’s not just a name we drop because we wanna appear important. When we ask for something in another person’s name, like when Jesus’s students borrowed a donkey—

Mark 11.2-6 KJV
2 And [Jesus] saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. 3 And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. 4 And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. 5 And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6 And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.

—we’re properly asking for something they want, not something we want. If we only ask for something we want, yet never take the other person’s wishes into consideration—“I’d like a kilo of your finest cocaine, and here’s a blank check from my dad”—should we be surprised at all if that other person stops payment on the check?

The reason Jesus is cool with us using his name, is because we’re supposedly following him. We do as he teaches, try to develop his character, and want what he does. We abide in him, as he does in us. If this is the case, feel free to invoke Jesus’s name every time you pray.

And if it’s not, and our assumptions about what Jesus wants are based on projecting our own bad attitudes or desires upon him, I really don’t expect him to fulfill our requests. He might anyway—but it won’t have anything to do with us; we just happened to ask for something he wants to do for his own reasons, regardless of our reasons.

It’s gotta glorify the Father.

Obviously we don’t only hear “in Jesus name” at the conclusion of prayers. Some of us invoke him a dozen times: “We ask for these things in Jesus name! In Jesus name! I command these things to take place in JESUS name!” Some of us get loud about it too. Kinda like we wanna make sure Jesus heard us invoke his name.

But no, that’s not really why Christians get loud. They get shouty because they want to “lift up the name of Jesus,” and they imagine the way we do it is to project his name though loud voices, microphones, and really powerful sound systems. The poor people in the sound booth are constantly having to adjust things lest these screamers blow out the speakers.

But why’d Jesus offer to let us use his name to request stuff? He doesn’t say it’s to lift up his name; it’s to glorify the Father. I’ll quote him again.

John 14.13 KJV
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

It’s so Jesus can do great things through us, and in so doing, people will praise his Father.

Now, are any of our requests getting people to praise our Father? More often pagans are grumbling, “Lookit these greedy, selfish, power-hungry Christians. Demanding money from him. Asking God to elect their candidates. And they don’t do a thing for the needy in their town. Lookit that pastor driving a Lexus to his million-dollar home. Isn’t he supposed to be running a nonprofit? We need to tax these churches, and give all that money to the needy.” And yeah, if the churches are enriching their employees instead of helping the needy, I don’t really see how I can disagree with these pagans.

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 getting the worldly successes they expected to have by this point in their lives. They fervently pray for these things: In their minds, somehow their personal wealth, or some kind of top-down national reform, will glorify God.

Me, I’m pretty sure we get so blinded by our personal desires for our will to be done, we go about prayer all wrong.

James 4.3-4 KJV
3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Hopefully we’re not as far gone as James described, but this is kinda the path we’re on.

When we use 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 totally asked the Father for stuff for himself—like not getting crucified. Mk 14.36 (And you might remember the Father’s answer to that one was no.) But Jesus’s other prayers, where the Father’s answer was yes, where miracles happened and sick people were cured and demons were thrown out, are 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 pray for things which prosper us, or ask 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 they grow an earthly kingdom, or truly contribute to Jesus’s kingdom? (Will he have to undo them or destroy them when he returns?)

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