Why pray in Jesus’ name?

One good reason for praying in Jesus’ name is John 14:13 when Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” But why did he say “ask in my name,” rather than “I’ll do whatever you ask of me”?

Because Jesus was a Jew, and in the Hebrew culture a person was defined by his name. It revealed his character, for instance (like Jacob the “heel grabber”). God also changed people’s names to describe his purpose for them (like changing Abram to Abraham), so when John says in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,” that name for Jesus jumps out as highly significant too, and especially when it’s tied in with “the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (verse 14).

The Father guarantees his instant and intimate attention when we believe in the name “Son of God” for Jesus. But why that name in particular? What does it mean?

To the Jews in Jesus’ day it meant the Messiah (Luke 4:41), the Anointed One (or Christ) that their scriptures predicted would rescue and restore them as a nation, bring them back into close relationship with him, and establish his worldwide kingdom through them. The name “Messiah,” therefore, was all the assurance the Jews needed that God had heard their prayers for deliverance and he would come through as promised. What kept them hanging on and trusting God was that name “Son of God” and what it meant.

But it meant a great deal more when God announced Jesus as “my Son, whom I love” (Mark 1:11). Suddenly the name “Son of God” meant Jesus was literally God’s Son, that God was a Father/Son relationship – and what’s more, that “The Father loves the Son” so much he “has placed everything in his hands,” John 3:35.

The name “Son of God” now stood for the Father’s total trust in his beloved Son to fulfill his purpose for humanity. And when we believe that, that our lives are utterly safe in Jesus’ hands, the Father loves us for it. “He who loves me,” Jesus said in John 14:21, “will be loved by my Father.” The Father loves us for trusting his Son. We can be absolutely assured, then, that when we approach the Father with that meaning of the “Son of God” in mind, the Father hears our prayers and he’ll come through as promised for us too.

So just like the Jews in Jesus’ day we too hang in there, knowing God hears our prayers, because of that name “Son of God” and what it means.

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Does using Jesus’ name guarantee a miracle?

“Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” was the excited cry in Luke 10:17. Even a man who wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples was “driving out demons” using Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38). Suddenly, the use of Jesus’ name carried real power and authority. Say “Out” to a demon in Jesus’ name and out it went. It was like a magic mantra that guaranteed a miraculous answer. It really worked.

Is that how it works today too, then? Can Christians today get the same miraculous results from using Jesus’ name? Can we now heal people and drive out demons in a huge way, just as Jesus’ first disciples did? Did Jesus pass on the same power and authority his own disciples had over demons and sickness to all his disciples in all ages? Does using Jesus’ name in a prayer still guarantee a miraculous answer?

Well, it may produce a miraculous answer, but is that what using his name is for? I ask that, because in a shocking story Jesus told in Matthew 7:22-23 he totally dismissed people who used his name successfully to “drive out demons and perform many miracles” as “evildoers.” So here were people getting real results and real miracles from the use of Jesus’ name, but they also dared to assume that magic tricks in his name was their ticket to the kingdom of heaven (verse 21). It wasn’t; it was doing “the will of my Father,” Jesus said in verse 20, and the will of the Father was belief in his Son. That was the only result the Father was after, and that’s why he gave power to do miracles in Jesus’ name, to prove to the Jews in the first century that Jesus really was the Messiah he’d sent to rescue and restore Israel (Acts 2:22), so that thousands of them would be the first to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour (Acts 3:19-20, 26), which is exactly what happened at the beginning of the book of Acts.

There’s also the story of the Jews in Acts 19:13, who “tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed.” They too viewed the use of Jesus’ name merely as a magic mantra to get a miracle to happen. It backfired horribly, though, when a man with an evil spirit beat them up (verse 16). From that point on “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour” (verse 17), the result being: “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds” (verse 18). The clear fruit of Jesus’ name being properly used and respected wasn’t driving out demons and other great miracles, it was repentance.

The power of Jesus’ name

Jesus was the Son of God. Proof? The power of his name.

We see it first in Acts 3:6 when Peter says “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” and a 40 year old man crippled from birth leaps up the temple steps like a youngster. Peter then yells to the crowd, “It’s the power of Jesus’ name that healed this man,” verse 16, and he says it again in 4:10, “it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that this man stands before you completely healed.” And then Peter drops this little stick of dynamite for the world ever since to contemplate: “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved,” verse 12.

No other religious leader or god has the power to save like Jesus does. But why is that important? Why do we need “saving” in the first place? “Saved” from what, pray tell? What’s “being saved” mean, for Pete’s sake? Well Pete himself answers in Acts 2:40, when he pleads with the crowd, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” or as The Message phrases it, “get out of this sick and stupid culture.”

Corrupt, sick and stupid? Us? Yes, of course us. Our culture is riddled with war, discrimination, one-upmanship, image-building, bullying, cheating, fraud, loveless sex, addictions, loneliness, phobias of all kinds, anger, hatred, cruelty, exploitation of children, cutthroat competition, incompetence, divided homes, magic-show religion and corrupt politicians. We’re hooked on money, security, ambition, rivalry and personal advantage. We’re forever inventing new perversions and new ways of ripping people off, never thinking for a minute that one day we die and then what happens? But we scoff at God and what he thinks. Oh, we need saving all right – saving from death, evil, demons, idols, fraudulent religions and our endlessly destructive human passions.

And there’s only one name by which we’re saved from that lot. Proof? What’s happened to people ever since that name was first used. Speak the name of Christ and people all over the world, century after century, are freed from their fear of death, from jealousy, murderous hatred, sexual perversion, war lust and their idiotic worship of empty gods. Only one name has been used successfully in the fight against our sick, stupid culture. Only one name has proved its power to lift people above this mess into new, healthy living, free of all fear and worry. Just one name has done it, single-handedly taking on all the gods and idols of our culture and rescuing people in their millions from them. Just one.

And let the world prove otherwise if it can.