07 January 2009

In Jesus' Name

“In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.” Is this just habit, a formal closing in public prayer? Or, is it a powerful declaration that we who pray in that name are in him to whom that name belongs? Well, Christians from the time of Christ onward have prayed in the name of God’s Son. But only for the past two-hundred years or so has that name been relegated to the end of every prayer. Even though in many prayers it may be added as an afterthought, a nice closing that informs others in the room the prayer is about to end, the practice itself became popular during this modern era when the deity of the Son was being everywhere challenged. Ending petitions to the Father in the name of Jesus was a way for orthodox Christians to defend his divinity.

Nonetheless, praying in his name — whether at the beginning, middle, or end of a prayer — has much scriptural warrant. The apostle John records Jesus saying, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (16:23). Far from a how-to lesson on “name-it-and-claim-it” prayer, Jesus is preparing his disciples for a time when he would not be present with them in the body. After his ascension, the disciples will not be able to ask Jesus anything at all to his face; but at the same time, after his ascension, they will have the Holy Spirit revealing truth to them. Thus, they will be able to petition the Father directly in the name of the Messiah, that is, in a spirit of full agreement with the will and purposes of Jesus, whose will was, of course, always in accord with his Father’s.

Praying in his name, then, simply means that we are privileged to implore the Father boldly through the authority of his Son. In the name of the Logos, our Lord, we express praise and adoration of the sovereign God. In the name of Christ, our Messiah, we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. In the name of the Savior, our Shepherd and Overseer, we give thanks to God for his great goodness and profound love. In the name of the Son of Man, we petition God for ourselves and others, entreating him to show mercy and grace by virtue of our union with the Suffering Servant, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Instead, Jesus gave up his power and glory, becoming like one of us (Phil. 2:6–8). So, then, may we become like him, and may our praying in the name of Jesus be more than a mood-setting formal ending.

{This originally appeared in Tabletalk 28.7 (July 2004): 44}


steve said...

Praying in his name, then, simply means that we are privileged to implore the Father boldly through the authority of his Son.

…and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am always struck by how under-Trinitarian we Presbyterians can be, especially when it comes to understanding the nature of prayer. Latent anti-Pentecostalism perhaps?

As you suggest, sensing myself a bit how “In Jesus’ name” is something of a minimalist modern construct, my read through historically Protestant closings yields something closer to, “Hear us for the sake of Christ alone, Amen.” If anyone is trying to make sure the right name is exclusively uttered, this covers it, as well as conveys the Christological sense that his merits alone are our ground for every thanks and petition.

Chris Donato said...

Sorry, Zrim, that would've put me over the word count. ;) One way to curb this under-Trinitarianism might be to actually address the Spirit in prayer—a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

I've heard others close prayers in a similiar manner you describe, and I've always thought highly of it. Despite its brevity, it does indeed capture so much. I tend to drift toward the liturgical, however: "For we pray these things, O Father, in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, who is one with you and the Spirit, now and forever. Amen."

Thanks for stopping by.

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