Mark D. Roberts

Part 2 of series: Should Christians Pray “In Jesus’s Name” in Civic Gatherings?
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In several passages from the Gospel of John, Jesus instructs us to pray in his name. For example:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14; see also 15:16; 16:23-24, 26)

This command has led many Christians to end their prayers with something like “in Jesus’s name” or “through Christ our Lord” before they say “Amen.”
I often end my prayers with “in Jesus’s name.” But when Jesus told us to pray in his name, he wasn’t talking about the words with which we end our prayers. Perhaps the clearest proof of this comes in the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer, found in different versions in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. In neither of these exemplary prayers does Jesus end with “in my name” or something like that. In Luke 11, Jesus continues to teach about prayer, urging us to be persistent (vv. 5-8) and confident (vv. 9-13) when we pray. But nowhere does he say we should speak his name in order to get our prayers heard.
If praying in Jesus’s name is not saying “in Jesus’s name” at the end of the prayer, what is it? We get help in answering this question from other passages in which Jesus uses the phrase “in my name.” For example:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt 18:5)
“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt 18:19-20)

Neither of these passages has to do with saying the words “in Jesus’s name.” Rather, they’re about doing something under his authority, or as his representative. So, in Matthew 18:5, “in my name” means something like “Whoever welcomes one such child under my authority and representing me, welcomes me.” Matthew 18:19-20 is especially telling because verse 19 speaks of prayer, and verse 20 speaks of gathering in Jesus’s name, but not using his name as some sort of ending to a prayer.
All Christians pray in Jesus’s name, and only in Jesus’s name, in that we approach God under the authority of Jesus and, if you will, by his permission and because of his effort on our behalf. We come before God’s throne of grace, not in our own merit, but in the merit of Jesus. I’m reminded of a time when I visited the U.S. Capitol in Washington as a guest of Congressman John Campbell. With him as my guide, I walked freely around the Capitol, entering many areas that were reserved only for members of Congress and their guests. I was welcome in that place, not because of who I was or because of anything I had done, but because I was there “in the name” of Congressman Campbell. So it is when we come before God in the name of Jesus. (Photo: The U.S Capitol in the spring.)
If we are to pray in Jesus’s name, then this means our prayers should reflect Jesus’s own values and purposes. Our prayers should be imbued with the kingdom agenda of Jesus. In order to pray “in Jesus’s name” in this particular sense, our minds and hearts must be shaped by Scripture. We must set aside times of quiet to attend to the still, small voice of the Spirit of Jesus. Ideally, when we pray in Jesus’s name, not only are we approaching God in the authority of Jesus, but also we are coming with Jesus’s own desires.
So, when I say that I always pray “in Jesus’s name,” I am saying, first of all, that I approach the Father only through Jesus, only through what he has done for me on the cross. I hope that my prayers are also consistent with his will, though I recognize that my own agenda can intrude into my prayers fairly easily. Yet my desire is to bring my prayers more and more in line with what Jesus desires.
Should Christians end their prayers with “in Jesus’s name”? It depends. If saying “in Jesus’s name” at the end of our prayers reminds us of whose invitation has allowed us to pray, then this is a fine practice. And if saying “in Jesus’s name” helps us seek Jesus’s own will when we pray, then we ought to say it often. But, if we think that saying “in Jesus’s name” is what it means to pray in his name, then we are missing the point. Moreover, if we believe, as I did when I was young, that “in Jesus’s name” is some sort of magic formula that ensures God will hear my prayers, then we might need to pray without these words, at least until our theology gets a tune up.
In conclusion, we can obey Jesus’s instruction about praying in his name without saying “in Jesus’s name” or some such phrase at the end of our prayers. This gives us the freedom, in our civic prayers, to say “in Jesus’s name” or not. Neither practice is more or less consistent with Jesus’s teaching on prayer.
Tomorrow I’ll explain why I don’t say “in Jesus’s name” when I’m praying in Jesus’s name in civic gatherings.

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