May 25, 2014 Rogation Sunday
Praying in the Name of Jesus
St. John 16:23-33
The Rev. Jerry Kistler, St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Montrose, Colorado
We’ve come to another Rogation Sunday. The old English word, “rogation,” comes from the Latin word rogare, which you all know means “to ask or to pray.” So you could say that today is “Ask Sunday.” It comes from the time centuries ago when today and the next three days were set aside for special prayer, asking God to bless the fields that there might be a fruitful and abundant harvest. It was even traditional for the people of the parish to process behind the cross around the borders of the parish, singing litanies, and offering up their petitions for a good growing season. It was called “beating the bounds.” And as I’ve thought about it, this might be a good practice for the Church to take up again, not only that there might be a good growing season and a good harvest of the produce of the ground, but for a good growing season of the fruit of the Spirit and a good harvest of souls for Christ in our parishes. Even if we don’t actually process around Durango or Montrose, perhaps we can still use today and the next three days to ask God for such increase.
On this Rogation Sunday we hear Jesus declare to us, “Most assuredly I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.... Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Now there are some who misunderstand Jesus’ words to mean that you can ask for anything you want, and as long as you pray in faith and with the formulaic tag line, “in Jesus’ name,” God will grant it to you. We’ve heard this referred to by many names: “name it, and claim it,” is one, but I sort of prefer “blab it and grab it.” In other words, if you pray for something and claim it in the name of Jesus, be it money, or healing, or an especially attractive spouse, or a big house, or a hundred-thousand dollar speed boat, then you will receive it. And if you don’t, it’s because there’s something wrong with you; there’s a deficiency in your faith. You didn’t pray hard enough, or you didn’t pray really, really believing that God will give you whatever you ask “in Jesus’ name.”
So let’s just begin by understanding what prayer in the name of Jesus is not. The epistle of St. James helps us out quite a bit, as we try to understand why we can’t just name whatever we want and claim it in the name of Jesus. James says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3-4). So first of all, prayer in the name of Jesus is not “friendship with the world.” It is not a means of committing spiritual adultery against God. Having redeemed us from this fallen world, God doesn’t then turn around and give us a blank check to spend on all our worldly dreams and desires so we can plant ourselves right back in it. Prayer is, after all, not just about asking things from God; prayer is ultimately about having communion and fellowship with God. And so whatever we ask that would take our hearts away from God, He is not going to give us. Or He may give it to us, like the father gave his prodigal son his inheritance to go out and waste it on “riotous living,” in order to let us experience the futility and emptiness of worldly pleasures, so we will then return to Him.
But if praying in Jesus’ name is not a blank check to spend on our self-serving, worldly desires, what did Jesus mean when He said, “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name He will give you”?
I’ll never forget the first time I discovered that promise. I was about eleven or twelve, and when I read this verse in my Bible I immediately ran down to my best friend’s house to share my discovery. And as I ran I began to think of all the possibilities. Great plans formed in my young mind. Think of all the things we could do with that kind of power. Think of all the things we could get just by agreeing together in prayer in the name of Jesus. And so when I found my friend I excitedly told him about my discovery. But you know what he said?—he was a cynical Episcopalian. He said, “I tried it; it doesn’t work.” What a let down! I can still remember the horrible sinking feeling I had in my stomach. But then I quickly regrouped and chalked up his lack of success to the fact that he was an Episcopalian and therefore obviously not a true believer like we were down at the Baptist church.
“I tried it; it doesn’t work.” Maybe that’s the way some of us have felt about Jesus’ promise. I think the problem is we tend to focus on the “whatever you ask” part of the equation, rather than the “in My Name” factor. But, you see, it’s only as we understand the “in my Name” factor that we can make sense of the “whatever you ask” part—if you follow my drift. It’s the “in My Name” factor that qualifies the “whatever you ask.” So what does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus?
Well, first of all, to pray in the name of Jesus is simply to pray as those who have been baptized, in other words, as those who now ourselves are in the Name of Jesus. In the Book of Acts, when it says that people were baptized “in the Name of Jesus,” they were more literally baptized “into” the Name of Jesus. It’s not simply that the name “Jesus” was invoked when we were baptized, but that by baptism we were incorporated into His Name. In baptism Christ gave us His Name that we might come to His Father. So it’s not so much that our prayers are in the Name of Jesus, but that we are in the Name of Jesus praying. Do you follow? Being in the Name of Jesus means Christ has joined us to Himself and made us part of His family. In the Son we are now sons of God, and therefore we can come to the Father with the same status and standing as Jesus Christ Himself. Think about that when you go to pray. God hears you just like He hears Jesus. Jesus said, “I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you.” In other words, “You can go to the Father just like I can, because you are in My Name.”
Think about it this way. You know you can’t just call up the President of the United States, or even the governor of this state, and think that he’ll return your call. No matter what the propaganda may tell us about how in touch with the people they are, you’re just not important enough for them to return you calls. But even though they are heads of state and very important people, when their children call, they answer. And so it is because we pray in the Name of Jesus, that is, because we pray as those who have adopted into the family of God, He will answer us when we call.
But to pray as children also means we don’t pray as those who wish to abuse our Father’s good will. We don’t pray as those who wish to receive something that will distance us from our Father. And so, in that sense, being in Jesus’ Name qualifies the “whatever” we would ask. If we are truly asking in Jesus’ name, if we are truly asking in our character as adopted children of God, then the “whatever we ask” will reflect that character, won’t it?
Or maybe another way of looking at it is like this: as the Bride of Christ, as those who have entered into a marriage covenant with Christ, we’ve given up our own name and have taken on His. And with that new name we now have access to places we could never go before. We can now enter into the very throne room of God because we bear the one and only Name that opens heaven’s doors, and unlocks the Father’s heart to our needs and desires. That’s what marriage with Christ does for us. It gives us a new name and a new access to the Father.
But remember, to have that new name means we’ve given up our old name. So praying in the Name of Jesus means we pray in our new name, not in our old. We pray as Christians, not as pagans. It means we pray not as those who seek their own independent life from their husband, or seek to commit spiritual adultery by asking for things that will make us friends of the world, and take our hearts away from God, but to bring us near.
So the promise, then, that “whatever we ask the Father in the name of Jesus He will give us,” can be claimed only if we are keeping faith with our new name, only if we ourselves are asking from the new perspective of being in the name of Jesus.
Secondly, to pray in the Name of Jesus means that we pray with faith in that He has done He has done His name for us. You know, we often ask, “What’s in a name?” And that’s because, for us, a name is something you use so Bob doesn’t come when you call George, or Mary doesn’t get embarrassed when you call across the room and tell your wife she looks beautiful (which, of course, is a frequent occurrence). To us our names are nothing more than I.D. tags we bear so we don’t confuse each other. But in Hebrew culture a person did his name. And Jesus does His name for us, for Jesus’ name means “God saves.” To pray in the name of Jesus means then that we trust that Jesus does His name for us. We trust that He saves us from our sins through his once offered sacrifice. We trust that our prayers ascend to the Father as sweet-smelling incense as they rise up to Him upon the sacrifice of Christ.
But once again it’s James who tells us that one of the reasons why we don’t always receive the things we pray for is because we don’t always pray in the name of Jesus in this sense. We don’t always pray trusting that Christ has done everything necessary for our prayers to be heard and answered. He says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him as of God who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” In other words, if you pray trusting that God hears you for Christ’s sake one moment, and then start thinking that God could never hear and answer the prayers of someone like you the next, then you’re like a person with split personality having an argument with himself: “Yes, I do believe.” “No, you don’t.” “Yes, I do.” “No, you don’t.” We must pray believing that Jesus has done His name for us, that He has done everything necessary of our prayers to be heard and answered. That is another meaning of what it is to pray “in the Name of Jesus.”
Finally, prayer in the name of Jesus is prayer that is in accord with the character of Jesus. Jesus’ name means all that He is and all that He does. It’s His character. So to pray in the name of Jesus means we pray in accord with the character of Jesus’ prayers. We hear the question all the time: “What would Jesus Do?” But we also need to ask, “How would Jesus pray?” But we know how Jesus would pray because we’ve heard Him pray. The night before His crucifixion we heard Him plead with His Father, “O Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Prayer in the Name of Jesus is ultimately prayer that mirrors Gethsemane. And did God answer the prayer of us His Son in Gethsemane? Did God say “yes” to Jesus’ petition? Well, yes, He did. God the Father did allow that cup to pass from Him, but only by making Him experience it first. But this too was Christ’s prayer. He said, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink I, Thy will be done.” And how much greater an answer was the “yes” to this prayer than if God had said He would allow His Son to totally by-pass the cross? How much greater glory does Christ now have because He trusted His Father, that even though He did not spare Him from temporal suffering, it was because He had His ultimate good in mind? Should not that be the way we pray? Should that not be the character of the “whatever we ask the Father in His name”? “Father, not my will, but thine be done.” That, in the end, is really what it means to pray in the name of Jesus.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask and you will receive, that you joy may be full.” You know, I think that’s a lot like Augustine’s famous saying: “Love God, and do as you please.” Well, if you love God what will please you most? To obey Him, to worship Him, to do what pleases Him. “Ask in My Name, that your joy may be full.” If you are in the Name of Jesus, what will fulfill your joy? That whatever the Father desires for you would be done in your life. Ask for that, and you will receive.
This is what it is to pray in the name of Jesus. +