…In Jesus’ Name, Amen: Why prayer doesn’t work, and when it does

Last weekend I presented a message titled “Christians are people who pray.” In it I asked the question, “How many of you have ever prayed for something ‘In Jesus’ name’ and it didn’t happen?”

Our messages are currently limited to “live online” due to the Covid crisis; as such, I couldn’t ask for a show of hands from the crowd. However, our tech team told me the chat room “blew up” with people agreeing with this puzzling phenomenon.

Why? Jesus clearly said in John 14:14 “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
He repeats this same amazing invitation (or a variation of it) in 14:13; 15:16; 16: 23, and verse 24.After all, this is GREAT NEWS! The Son of God, the Savior of the World appears to be promising us guaranteed answers to prayer, if we only ask “in Jesus’ name.”

Everyone from Darlene Zschech to Israel Houghton have sung songs about the victory that belongs to Christians “In Jesus’ name.”  I’ve preached about it countless times and try to “practice what I preach.”

I’ve prayed for countless things “in Jesus’ name;” many times those prayers are answered in amazing ways, but here’s the problem, many times they are not. I’ve prayed for the healing of loved ones and friends…nothing. I’ve asked God for opportunities to share my faith with an unsaved acquaintance…nope. I’ve asked Him to move in a certain direction or situation in the church I lead…”crickets” in other words…an apparent overwhelming silence from the Divine who promised “ask anything in my name, you’ve got it!”

I first learned about praying in Jesus’ name as a teenager while I was new in my faith. “Wow” I thought, “This is going to be amazing!” So, I prayed very sincerely, but many times nothing seemed to be granted to me because I did some spiritual name-dropping.

I was convinced enough of my faith in Jesus that I didn’t abandon my beliefs, but later in college (in a Biblical theology class) I investigated my disillusionment. I remember doing a 20 page paper, complete with “Greek work” (analyzing the original language of these New Testament passages) to try to discover what was wrong.

I made a helpful discovery. Prayer in Jesus’ name is not like a spiritual master card that I simply “swipe” at the end of a prayer, expecting my every wish to be His command. Nor is the phrase “in Jesus’ name” some divine magical spell I chant to guarantee compliance from God.

The phrase “in Jesus’ name” must be understood in the context of the conversation Jesus was having at the time He said it. He was with his closest followers as recorded in John 13-17. He is at “the last supper” with his disciples and teaching about the relationship He has called them to. The idea of praying “in Jesus’ name” is less about using a word formula than it is a description of how Jesus wants us to live in relationship with Him.

Now, a brief note from ancient Biblical culture: To a Hebrew, a name meant so much more that what we call someone. To know the name of someone was to be in touch with the person, at their core. To speak or ask in someone’s name was a bestowal of that person’s authority to the one invoking the name. To ask in someone’s name was a reflection of living in a place of privilege due to the closeness of the relationship.

To ask in Jesus’ name reflects a state of one’s life and relationship with Christ. “In Jesus’ name” is in the dative case, reflecting almost a place or state of being, a sort of “being in the zone” spiritually. The context of the Last Supper is an invitation to follow Jesus with heartfelt devotion. To be intimately grafted into His love and purpose. As such, we live fruitful lives and love others patterned after the amazingly selfless way Jesus loved.  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and devoted to accomplishing the will of our Heavenly Father that Jesus modeled.

When I pray in Jesus’ name, it is the opposite of trying to muscle God into compliance with my wishes; every time I pray like that, I’m ripe for disappointment. To pray in Jesus’ name is a reflection of a heart deeply devoted to the heart of a Heavenly Father, abiding in the love and purpose of Christ. I find that my will aligns consistently with His will, and invoking His name is just adding the seal of approval of a heart well-placed, and a life being spent bearing fruit that pleases God.

When that is the condition of my heart, my prayers are meaningful, my love is unselfish, and I am “grafted” into His life. When I ask in this place, my prayers are answered with regularity. My joy and desires align with His, and He is eager to say “yes.”

View/Review My CLC Sermon About Prayer Now

Do You Have Unanswered Prayers?

My book “God, Where Are You? dives deeper into why it feels like our prayers go unanswered. I would encourage you to get a copy from Amazon.com and check it out. Hundreds of copies have been sold. Get your copy here.

One thought

  1. This man is as pure at heart as they come, my first meeting with him at a gym in Sidney Oh, said It all. His words and his actions spoke volumes. Stan Tharp and CLC’s is one of the most grounded churches in this country. We are fortunate to have them in our back yard.

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