How to Pray in the Name of Jesus

Sixth Sunday of Easter


May 6, 2018

John 16:23–30

Truly, truly, I say to you, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”

 These are Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading. They’re pretty straightforward. It’s clear enough. But every Christian at some point doubts these words. I prayed and my prayer was not answered. I pray and pray and don’t seem to get anywhere. Even worse is when we pray and things get worse. We Christians struggle with prayer. We don’t know the words to say. We can’t find the time. Our mind wanders. We feel like we’re talking to a brick wall. We’re not strong in prayer like others we know.

Prayer is hard. But Jesus makes it sound so easy! Is it really true what He says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you”? It is true. And what is more, these words are not only straightforward and simple, they are rich and powerful. Jesus is not saying, “Think of anything you want, and I mean anything, ask the Father, and tack on the words, ‘in the name of Jesus’, and He will give you exactly what you have asked for.” Every Christian knows from experience that this is not so.

So what does Jesus mean? First, there is the context. Jesus spoke these words in the Upper Room on the night He was betrayed. He was about to celebrate a meal with His disciples and give them something they never would have imagined receiving in the Passover Meal. He was going to give them Himself. It would seem strange. The way He would do it was by giving them the bread of the meal and telling them that in so doing He was giving them His body. When He would give them the wine of the meal He would tell them that He was giving them His blood.

This is unusual. How do people give themselves to others? The most intimate way is in marriage where the two become one flesh. A person gives theirself to another by sacrificing their life for another. You can give yourself to someone by spending your time with them or listening to them or helping them in their need. Jesus has done all of these, including the first one, as He is the Bridegroom and we, His Holy Church, are His Bride. 

But when He was celebrating the principal meal of God’s people with His disciples and instituting something new, He wasn’t just giving them a reminder of Himself, He was giving Himself. On this night in which He was betrayed, He was connecting the giving of His body and blood in bread and wine with the giving of His body into death on the cross the next day and the shedding of His blood on that cross. The disciples didn’t make that connection as they ate and drank His body and blood He was giving them. But once Jesus rose from the grave they would see that this is theprincipal way He gives Himself to His people, in the Sacrament of the Altar. 

So context is everything. Jesus isn’t saying that your prayer consists of coming up with your own desires or whims or even your needs. He is connecting His words about prayer with His own suffering and death for the sin of the world and the giving of Himself in His Holy Sacrament. Your prayer consists of praying in His name, that is, according to His giving Himself to you for your true and greatest need.

As He did in the Lord’s Prayer, in the Gospel reading He directs us to pray to the Father. Whatever you ask the Father. Asking for things comes naturally to children. They ask their dad, they ask their mom. They need something, they ask for it. This is what Jesus is saying, you have a Father. He is your Father in heaven and He wants you to ask Him. And if you think in terms of how Jesus is inviting you to pray you will dismiss any notion of, I can pray for whatever I want and He will give it to me; He said! What do children sometimes do, and maybe even often? They ask for things that aren’t good for them. Or they want something that won’t be good for someone else. They ask with no thought to the larger picture or the consequences. Simply, they ask for things that they should not get. And so mom and dad have to say no.

Jesus is saying, when you ask your heavenly Father, ask knowing what kind of Father you have. He is the heavenly Father. He is the one, as Jesus says in the Gospel reading, who loves you. He is the one who wants only what is good for you. He loves you so much that He has spared not even His own Son so that you may live forever and be free from your sin and the sorrow of this life. 

This is what Jesus means by saying, if you ask in My name. Asking in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean you pray and then at the end you say the words, “In Jesus’ name.” Jesus Himself in teaching us to pray with the Lord’s Prayer did not use those words. And yet the Lord’s Prayer epitomizes what it is to pray in Jesus’ name. Praying in Jesus’ name is praying in accordance with who God is. How do we know Him? We know Him from His written Word, the Old Testament and the New Testament. And we know Him from His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, true God and true man. 

God gives us everything in His Son. When we ask for things that are not in accordance with this we are not praying in the name of Jesus. When we pray for things we want or need with no thought to God and His Word then we praying in our own name, not Jesus’ name. When we struggle with prayer we question God. Why doesn’t He answer my prayer? But we should be questioning ourselves. How much time do we spend in the Word of God? We believe the Bible is the Word of God, but how much time do we spend in it? We know that God makes Himself known to us in His Word, but how much do we really know that Word and therefore Him? We decry that God doesn’t hear us, but isn’t it much truer that we are the ones who are not listening to Him?

When you are in the Word of God you are encountering the mind of God. You come to greater understanding of His will. You are strengthened in faith because you are being filled up with His will and wisdom. You see more and more that He is the one who, as Jesus says, is the one who gives as you ask of Him. And how could this not be true? Has He not given you His Son? As St. Paul says in Romans 8, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” When we ask the Father in the name of Jesus He will indeed give us what we ask for. Seeing that He has given us His Son it is already true. Even before we ask. Seeing that everything in the written Word of God is centered in Christ and points to Him we see that what we ask for is answered in Him. Paul also says in 2Corinthians 1, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.”

It is either true or it is not true. You either believe it or you don’t. Take Jesus at His word. Ask your Father. Ask in the name of His Son. Submit your will to your Father’s will as Jesus Himself submitted His own will to His Father’s will. Your Father will give to you what you ask for. He will keep sending His Son to you, His body, His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. He will continue to strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting in this sublime gift, the gift of His own Son. Amen.