When Jesus tells you to “ask” in our Gospel reading, He tells you to pray in His name. When our Lord says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you,” He tells you that true prayer is never a waste of breath. For Jesus gives you His word that God the Father will hear your prayers and act on them. And when Christ the Lord promises “that your joy may be complete,” He tells you the benefit of praying in His name.
But did you hear Jesus’ words to “ask for anything”? Is that for real? “Ask for anything”? “Do you know how often I’ve asked God for something, and nothing happened? That must be a mistake. Oh, how often I’ve begged God to give me something. And what did I get? Nothing! My prayers were all in vain.” So how can it be that he says ask for anything?
Dearly beloved, true prayer, prayer in the name of Jesus, isn’t something we can do on our own. Oh, we hear Jesus say “whatever you ask,” but often times we’re clueless about what praying in Jesus’ name means. Think about it Jesus had to teach His disciples to pray--and they were Jews who grew up praying and lived with Jesus for three years! Yet Jesus had to teach them to pray because they had no idea what true prayer was or even how to do it.
Praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean that you simply utter the noise, that you simply make the vocal sounds and say “Jesus.” If that were the case, how did God the Father hear the prayers of the Old Testament saints? By faith, they believed in the Messiah to come, but Jesus didn’t have that man’s name until He had man’s flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary.
If you pray, simply tacking on the words, “In Jesus’ name” to end a prayer, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s praying in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ name isn’t some good-luck charm. Jesus’ name isn’t some magical incantation. Praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean that you may ask for anything you want--because you attached the name of Jesus to your prayer--and that makes it acceptable to God. That may not even be real prayer. It may be nothing but sin pretending to be a prayer!
Simply saying “in Jesus’ name,” and naming it and claiming it as your own, doesn’t mean that God is duty bound to give it to you. It’s a lie that says if you pray hard enough and long enough and yearn for it enough, you will receive whatever you pray for from God. It’s a lie that says that if you pray that way, God cannot deny you. Do you think our God is really that weak and wishy-washy?
Think about it. Do you really want to pray for something that may be against the will of God? Since when does faith want to do anything contrary to God’s will? Know that, such a theology of prayer is from Satan and it feeds the beast of our sinful flesh.
Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask that God’s will be done--not ours! Praying in Jesus’ Name is simply another way of saying that. So prayer in Jesus’ name is praying that no matter what you may want, you want God’s will to be done--even if means overriding and changing what you actually prayed for!
Praying in the name of Jesus is more than making the right sounds or noises. It’s more than mouthing the syllables: “in Jesus’ name.” To pray in Jesus’ name is praying in a way that lines itself up with the faith given to us. That means it doesn’t seek something that goes against the will of God the Father.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” And then Jesus told them why: “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). So praying in the name of Jesus is the prayer of true faith, the faith that wants to glorify God. And so it is a prayer to God the Father through the Son, conformed by His Spirit. Yes, praying in Jesus’ name is yielding to God’s holy will. Any other prayer is not a prayer in Jesus’ name, no matter how you end it.
And we know what the will of God is, don’t we? It’s when you turn from your sins and are saved. That’s the life of repentance we Christians are called to live every day. It’s “when [God] breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which would hinder us from hallowing His name and prevent the coming of His kingdom” It’s when God the Holy Spirit strengthens and keeps us firm in the faith until God brings us home to heaven. That’s God’s good and gracious will. It’s no mystery. He has shown us His will in His holy Scriptures.
The power of prayer is the power of what makes anything what it is in the Church--the Word of God! What makes baptism a baptism? The Word of God. Without the Word of God, baptism is no baptism, but boring and plain water. But with the Word of God, it is what God says it is: life-giving water and a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
What makes the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s Supper? The Word of God. Without the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper is some cheap, drunkard’s wine and some strange-looking, flat-tasting bread. But with the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body and blood, through which you get Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins (Matthew 26:26-28).
So also it is the Word and promise of God that makes prayer a prayer. Your faith doesn’t make bread the body of Christ; His Word does. Your faith doesn’t make prayer what it is: His Word, His promise, His love and mercy do. Do you now see how the Word drives even the responses of faith, such as prayer? It is, indeed, as Jesus says, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Yet, most people mistakenly believe that prayer, like they misunderstand faith, is the heartfelt yearning for something. And so prayer becomes more about what you pray for and how badly you pray for it--than to Whom you pray.
When a prayer implodes into itself, then that prayer is not a true prayer. When a prayer implodes into itself and becomes what we want and not what God wants for us, when it becomes only about this life--of which Jesus told us not to be anxious--then that prayer is not a true prayer. Such prayer is but anxieties, worries, and complaints couched in wants and wishes. Such a prayer is but words of wanton unbelief masquerading as a pious prayer.
When prayers become that--when your praying implodes into itself and becomes all about what you want and not what God wants for you--then your prayers aren’t prayers in Jesus’ name, but prayers in your own name. That’s when prayer becomes about you and what you want--and not about Jesus and what He wants to give you. Yes, even our prayers can become idolatrous.
Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive.” But why does Jesus say this if He doesn’t say so to fulfill your every wish and whim? Jesus goes on to tell us why. “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be complete.”
For the joy our Lord promises is not the flesh-pleasing joy of this fallen world--or whatever else you feel will satisfy and better your life! Earthly self-gratifications quickly fade. No, the joy our Lord promises is rich and enduring. It’s a joy that’s so generous that nothing more needs to be added to it. None of the world’s promises can even touch it. And all other joys can’t compare with the joy our Lord promises and gives.
For the joy our Lord gives is heavenly joy, not because you can’t have it until you get to heaven. It’s a heavenly joy because this joy is found in--and is given by--the One who came down from heaven: Jesus Christ. And so this joy is more than happy feelings that come and go. This joy is more than the emotional stirrings we are all chasing after like lust-filled teenagers. This joy that our Lord promises is the joy that our Lord is. And so it surpasses all understanding.
Our Lord is our Joy. And we joy in our Lord. That’s who we are in Christ and that’s what we do when we pray in Jesus’ name. And so that is our prayer. Why? Because Jesus lives, resides, and remains in you, even as His Spirit has granted you the gift of you living, residing, and remaining in Jesus.
And so we pray, not simply because Jesus tells us to. We pray because it’s who we are. We pray because prayer is the Lord’s Word in action in our life and in our being; it’s faith expressing itself in living flesh. Prayer isn’t just doing what we should do, but it’s being who we are in Christ.
For you can pray only because of who you are: a baptized, redeemed, forgiven, and holy child of God. And because of that, you “ask” as Jesus bids you to do. For you have access to the Father through the Son because the Holy Spirit has given you the Lord’s Word. And with that Lord’s Word, you are in communion with God: a union and an intimacy that not only enables, but also gives you the confidence to speak, say, and ask.
So, what is it your asking? It’s not whining for a better life; it’s not begging for stuff. It’s not breathing out words that act as if this world is our true home. What then is prayer?
Prayer is the living and breathing and movement of faith. Prayer is how faith lives. I’ll say it again, prayer is the living and breathing and movement of faith. Prayer is how faith lives. And so our asking is an asking that lines itself up with our Lord, that it even uses the Word that He is. So we ask for whatever He says. “Ask anything,” our Lord says. And so we ask for anything He says.
“Ask anything,” our Lord urges. And so we ask not for the world, but for heaven. “Ask anything,” our Lord pleads. And so we ask for life itself--the Life of the World that He is and that He freely bespeaks and enlivens in us. For that is what praying in Jesus’ name really is.
Dearest children loved by God, our prayer is not whatever happens to pop into our sinful heads, whatever advertisers have told us we can’t live without, whatever the latest fad in the church may be. Our prayer is the Word that Jesus is, His Word being our word back to Him. Yes, our prayer is the Word that Jesus is, His Word being our word back to Him.
Let’s take a step back and imagine what Jesus’ thoughts on prayer might be and what he might tell us about his prayer life.
Prayer is something that has always been a part of me. I prayed when I needed to hear my Father’s heart, when I was baptized by John, when I chose the twelve, when I did mighty works, when I broke bread, and when I blessed the children. I prayed when facing my darkest hour, and I prayed as I gave my life upon the cross. I prayed in public before others, and I prayed alone. I prayed in the daytime, and I prayed at night. When I prayed with my disciples just before I was arrested in the garden, you were included in that prayer. When I taught my disciples how to pray, it was for your understanding as well. I know that I am not physically present with you today as I was with my disciples so many years ago, but my heart of prayer has not changed. I am praying for you now because you are mine. My love for you today is great, and my heart for you is full. I pray peace over you and blessings upon you. I pray that your life will bear much fruit, that you will grow in grace, that your faith will increase, and that you will stand strong until the day that I see you face to face. (love, Jesus)
We may not be as eloquent in our words as Jesus and when we pray, don’t worry about what we will say or how it will sound to others. Pray to your Father in heaven, and pray from your heart.
God speaks and we listen. His Word gives what He says. And faith recognizes the gifts received with eager thankfulness, praise, and prayer. When we say back to God what He has said to us, we say what is most sure and true. And most sure and true is His name. And so we pray in Jesus’ name. And so we pray always wanting God’s will to be done, even if--and especially if--God’s will is not what our will is.
So what do we say when we pray? We say what our Lord says. And what do we pray for? We pray for what our Lord promises. And what do we ask? We ask that our joy may be complete. For then, we have said what He says, and asked for what He gives. And then our joy will be complete.
‒ Pastor Pam