What's in a name?

Like many of you, I guess, I ended my prayers this morning by saying, "And I ask it in Jesus name." Those words, or ones like them, are familiar as the way in which we, as Christians, close our prayers. But all too often they can end up as a mechanical formula, the 'done' way of ending a prayer. But they are as important as the content of the prayer itself, if not more. Why?

First, because in those words we are acknowledging that the only reason we, as sinful people, can present our petitions before a holy God is because we do so coming in the one who has secured for us our forgiveness and clothes us in his righteousness (his right standing with God).

Second, because in these words we see something of the reality that we, as Christians, are joined to Christ, united to him in the Holy Spirit, and that our prayers are a joining into the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In fact the primary purpose of our prayers ought to be about knowing and enjoying the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. We only know in part, of course, but if our prayers do not have knowing God as their primary focus, then the thing or things that are the primary focus mean more to us than God himself.

They also, thirdly, remind us that we need to abide in Jesus for all that we do. Without him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

And fourth, because the words ought to be seen as words of power. Not coercive power, as though we could force the hand of God by their use; nor manipulative power; but a power none the less. Jesus tells us that what we ask for in his name we will receive (John 16:24). We should weigh carefully our requests when we understand that Jesus' name is surety for prayers prayed in it.

But his 'name' is not a magic spell that, if attached to the end of a prayer, means that any and all requests, no matter how self-serving, selfish, bizarre, or just plain world-centred, will be granted. In the Bible the name of God (and of Jesus) is more than just a title. It is who he is in himself, his character, his holiness, his justice and so on. You see that when God proclaims his name to Moses (Exodus 33:19; 34:5-7). When we pray in the name of Jesus we pray in accordance with his nature. We align our wills in accordance with his will. We seek to ascertain his purposes rather than simply our wishes.

Our prayers are precious means of communicating with the living God, seeking him for who he is in Christ Jesus, searching out his purposes and seeking to bring our desires into line with them. They are also, of course, open and honest expressions of our own felt needs and wishes but the granting of those will be in accordance with Jesus' name as well. If the things we think we need are also in tune with his purposes, then we will be granted them. But sometimes we assume we know what is best for us and we turn that desire from being simply a desire into being a thing we feel that we need, and we convince ourselves that God must see it that way also. But God may not see it that way at all. He who knows us better than we know ourselves may see that the thing we think so essential might actually be less than the best for us or even harmful.

Thus when we pray in the name of Jesus we ought to do so with humility, knowing that we are frail, ill-informed creatures and he is the all knowing Creator. We come in humble dependence on him, placing our circumstances before him and sharing our lives with him. We seek out his will and his ways and, ultimately, we seek out him.

There is more to praying "In Jesus name, amen" than simply the right way to end a prayer.


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