In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 16:23 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Many people misunderstand those words of Jesus that I just read. Some say you can ask for anything you want, and as long as you pray it sincerely “in Jesus’ name,” God will grant it to you. This is the “name it and claim it” approach to prayer. If you pray for something by name and claim it as your own and truly believe God will give it to you, then you’ll receive it – be it money or healing or a good-looking spouse or a big house or car or boat. And if you don’t receive it, it is because you did not pray hard enough or your faith was not strong enough.
But that is not what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. Prayer in Jesus’ name is not a blank check to fulfill all your worldly dreams and passions, much less to satisfy self-serving desires which too often are at the root of our requests. Prayer rather is a heavenly privilege with a heavenly focus and foundation.
To pray in Jesus’ name means, first of all, to pray as one who is baptized. In Holy Baptism God put His name upon you, gave you His name, and joined you to Himself through Christ, and made you a member of God’s family. It is through Jesus that you now have access to the Father as His children. God hears you just like He hears Jesus. It is the name of Jesus that unlocks the door to the Father’s heart, not your sincerity or efforts.
Apart from Christ, heaven was closed to all mankind. Sin put up an impenetrable barrier between you and the Creator that you could not break through from your side. But by coming to us from the Father and taking on our human nature, Jesus broke through the sin barrier. Through His cross and resurrection and ascension back to the Father, He has given us an opening to heaven. There is only one access to God: to come to Him through Jesus. Non-Christian religions, therefore, do not lead to the true God – whether it is Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or the nature religion of Native Americans – for they all reject Jesus as being the incarnate Son of God and the only Savior from sin. And He is the only way to God, as He said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith in what He has done to save you, to know that it is only because of His works that you can come before the heavenly throne with your petitions and prayers. It is to pray knowing that Christ is your sole passageway to the Father. Like Moses was for the people of Israel in the wilderness, so Jesus is your intermediary, your go-between, your peacemaker with God. As the bronze serpent was lifted up in the desert, so your Lord Jesus was lifted up on the cross for you, in order that whoever who looks to Him in faith may be saved from sin and restored to fellowship with the Father. Our Epistle lesson proclaimed, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”
Prayer in Jesus’ name, then, is prayer that begins with Jesus and His coming to us, not only in His ministry 2000 years ago, but also as He comes to us now through His words and Spirit. Christ is still the Mediator between us and the Father. Christian prayer begins with hearing the Gospel of Christ, hearing the words of the Scriptures read and proclaimed, and then, on the basis of that Word, speaking back to Him in faith, making requests based on what He has said and promised, praising Him for what He has done.
This, then, is our response to those who preach a “name it and claim it” theology. Godly prayer is shaped by God’s Word. Prayer in Jesus’ name is prayer that proceeds from faith in Him. And faith never prays “My will be done,” but, “Thy will be done.” Faith trusts that God’s will in Jesus is good and gracious, for the name “Jesus” literally means “Savior.” When we pray in Jesus’ name, therefore, we are asking the Father for all of the saving gifts that have been put into that name which is above every name. All of this and more is what Jesus means when He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”
So, with this right understanding of Jesus’ words, the question must be asked: Do we take Jesus at His Word? Does this tremendous promise and privilege move us to pray and to seek Him? No, not as we should. We must confess that we are lazy in our prayer, or we want to pray but are easily distracted from it by other things. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are always seeking to divert us from prayer. You must therefore prepare yourselves to oppose those things. When those things prompt you to think that there’s something else you must do first, then you must say, “No; as soon as the need arises, I will pray. For when I have need to call upon God, that is the right time to do it. As God says, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.’ (Psalm 50:15). And if I do not feel fit or worthy to pray, God will make me fit and worthy. For I know that He loves me, not because I am so good and righteous, but because of Christ in whom I believe.”
And when you are tempted to think that your prayer will do no good, be reminded of Jesus’ promise. He said, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” He urgently invites you to come to Him as dear children to a loving Father. If earthly fathers, who are sinners, know how to give good things to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! If I told you that there was a rich man or a king sitting on a pile of gold saying, “Ask and you will receive,” you wouldn’t sit there and say, “Oh, I’ll get around to it later.” You would go right to him and make your request. How much more should you do so with the King of heaven!
God will never turn away a heart that trusts in Him. And even when your prayers in Jesus’ name are not answered immediately or in exactly the way you would like, they will all ultimately be answered “yes” in the resurrection, when Jesus comes again to bring you the richness of heaven and the restoration of your bodies and the fullness of joy and peace, as St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.”
Therefore, St. Paul also encourages us to “Pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). Do not be like the unbelievers who go through their daily activities without ever giving a thought to the God who made them and who died for them. Rather, in your daily tasks, have an attitude of faith and prayer that looks to God with thanksgiving and relies on Him and calls upon His name in times of need. Though this prayer will often be silent, you should have the practice of praying out loud when you can, even if you are by yourself. Such spoken prayer helps you to focus more clearly and concretely on what you are saying and on the reality of the God to whom you are praying.
Use Luther’s Morning and Evening prayers and the meal prayers given you in the Catechism. Pray the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer given you in the Scriptures. The Lord’s Prayer is really a summary of all that you have been given to pray for in Jesus’ name. Its petitions are broad enough to include all the good gifts that the Father delights to give His children. From there you can pray more specifically and about your own particular needs and your neighbor’s needs and the things for which you want to give thanks to God.
Frankly you will never have a shortage of things for which you need to pray in this world. For there will always be troubles or challenges in your life, not to mention temptations seeking to lure you away from Christ, which should move you constantly to seek God’s help and protection.
Then there are the opportunities you have to pray on behalf of your family members and friends and fellow workers, not only for their earthly well-being but also for their eternal well-being, that they be brought to the faith or remain steadfast in the faith. Then there are the broader needs of good government, the betterment of our society, the fruitfulness of the earth, preservation from war and famine and disease.
And finally, we should pray for the church. For she is persecuted in many places and is constantly under assault by false teachers and those wanting her to compromise with the world.
Martin Luther had this to say about praying for the church: “Everyone who loves the Christian church and the Gospel, and is concerned about their well-being, ought to remember that he must help sustain them. We can do this best of all through prayer, praying that the name of our God in heaven be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done; on the other hand that the name of the devil be reviled, his kingdom overthrown, and his will and designs repulsed. When you do this, then you and every Christian are like warriors on the field of battle with weapons drawn, helping to guard and protect the Christian church against the devil and the world. For every Christian is a soldier who is engaged in battle with the devil. As firmly as other pastors and I do battle through our preaching and teaching, so firmly ought you contend with us by prayer… May each Christian say to himself: Since prayer is so pleasing to God and so highly essential and beneficial for me and for the church, I shall attend church and pray fervently, for I am confident that prayer is not, nor can ever be, in vain.” (House Postils, Vol. I, p. 110)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer; Jesus has overcome the world. Pray with boldness and confidence in Him who is the Conqueror, who has given you His victory, who has opened the door of heaven to you. Believe Him when He says, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.