Prayer in Jesus’ Name

We can be mindlessly formulaic at times.  Once, when working on the staff of a medical practice, I returned a patient telephone call.  I got her voice mail and proceeded to leave a detailed message concerning prescriptions, dosages, etc.  As I wrapped the message up I reached that point in the telephone formula where I should have said some version of “Have a nice day, goodbye,” but in a half-aware way my needle skipped to the wrong concluding formula and I said “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”   Woops.

Just as we can be mindlessly formulaic in our telephone messages, we can be mindlessly formulaic in our prayers.  “In Jesus’ name, Amen” is a standard Christian formula for concluding a prayer, but we might lose sight of its importance.  Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt.  Contempt is not something we want to describe our handling of the name of Jesus!

Praying in Jesus’ name is a controversial topic in our pluralistic culture.  A military chaplain or a Christian praying in an inter-faith gathering can provoke controversy or even disciplinary action by concluding a prayer in the name of Jesus.  Is it important to pray in Jesus’ name?  Is this a hill worth dying on?  Are all prayers equal prayers whether prayed in Jesus’ name or not?

Well, on the one hand, using the formula “in Jesus’ name” isn’t magical.  You can say the words without considering their meaning, which would be equivalent to not saying them or praying them at all.  We are perfectly capable of auto-piloting it.  On the other hand, it is possible to pray “in Jesus’ name” even when not using the term.  A sincere prayer offered to the Father in the Spirit in recognition of Christ’s intercessory work is prayer in Jesus’ name whether we say (or think) those particular words or not.

Apart from the specific verbiage, though, it is important to emphasize that there is no basis for expecting our prayers to be answered apart from praying “in Jesus’ name.”  This is because of Christ’s ongoing intercessory work.  In short, Jesus didn’t just die to save us from our sins, he lives and actively intercedes for us now.  His high priestly work includes both his once for all offering of a sacrifice for our sin and an ongoing ministry of intercession.  This is what the epistle to the Hebrews refers to:

24 …but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:24-25 ESV)

If we don’t pray in Jesus’ name (that is, in view of his intercessory work on our behalf) we have no expectation that the Father would give ear to what we have to say.  This intercessory work isn’t just a nice thing, it is an absolutely necessary one.  Imagine a radio station broadcasting but there being no receiver on the other end.  Radio waves are all around us, but without the equipment to receive those signals they might as not be there at all.  Christ is the necessary intermediary, delivering our requests for favorable reception to the ear of the Father.