In the 16th chapter of John, Jesus says: “My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.”
Jesus said such things a good many times. There is no need to tone these words down, to pare the claws of the Lion of Judah. Jesus means what He says about asking God and receiving. He knows we need encouragement, for we pray too little and fail to trust Him when we do pray.
But our Lord’s invitation to pray and His promise to hear us is not the same as these “name it and claim it” faith healers, or these “Jesus wants you to be rich” phonies grinning at us from a TV screen.
Christ is not a celestial vending machine. Prayer is not like rubbing Aladdin’s lamp to coax God out like some genie to grant us our wild-eyed wishes.
Christians who regularly read their Bibles know how the heroes of faith wrestled with God in prayer. They know the account of Jacob wrestling in prayer with God on the banks of the river at midnight. They know the story of Joseph unjustly enslaved and imprisoned for years, or of Job deprived of health, wealth and children, or of David hunkering down in caves every night as Saul’s hit men chase him, or of Paul’s ministry amid persecutions and shipwrecks. We know better than to think of prayer as sitting on Santa’s lap.
Only let us look carefully at what Jesus does say in such passages. He is quite fond of that phrase: “In My name.” What does this mean? Jesus’ name is not just His title – Lord, Savior, Christ. His good name is His reputation as set down in the Bible. To pray in the name of Jesus means to base our prayer on everything Jesus has told us about Himself – especially His life, death and resurrection by which He has made us friends to His Father.
If I say I am doing something in someone’s name, that means I am doing it on their behalf or in accordance with their wishes. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are harmonizing our hearts with God’s heart. Christian prayer is not the hot product of my own selfishness, a foot-stomping demand that God want what I want. “In Jesus name” is not some magical charm to dress up a prayer that reeks with self-will. To pray in Jesus’ name is to joyfully believe that what God wants is what I will want – and what I truly need. It is to know that my Father will not withhold one thing that is truly good for me.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord,” said the sweet psalmist of Israel, “and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Those two things go together. Delighting in the Lord means that whatever God desires I also will desire and delight in. What God wants will make me truly happy. Better yet…blessed!