Part 4 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
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In this series I intend to answer the question of whether or not Rick Warren should say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of his invocation in the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. But, as is typical for my blog, I didn’t jump to a quick answer to that question. I began with looking at what the Bible teaches about praying in the name of Jesus. As it turns out, Jesus himself taught his followers to pray in his name. But that does not refer to the words they say at the end of their prayers. Rather, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in his authority and according to his mission. Jesus never taught his disciples to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their prayers, and this practice is not seen in the New Testament prayers of the early church.

The biblical material I’ve surveyed points to a question I’d like to address before finally getting to the issue of Warren’s inaugural prayer. Should we Christians say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers? Given that there is no biblical requirement for this, is it something we should do? Or is it some traditional practice that we should leave behind?
The danger of saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers is thinking that somehow this practice makes our prayers more effective. The phrase “in Jesus’ name” becomes, for us, an incantation, magic words we use to produce a particular effect. I do think this danger exists, because I once believed that I had to say “in Jesus’ name” or something similar at the end of my prayers in order for God to hear them. I don’t remember whether I was taught this by one of my Sunday School teachers at church, or whether I thought it up by myself on the basis of what I observed at church. Nevertheless, for me, praying in Jesus’ name was no more or no less than saying “in Jesus’ name, Amen” before I opened my eyes and went about my business.
Is this really so bad? Well, there certainly are worse things than thinking of “in Jesus’ name” as magic words. But if Christians think they way, they may not realize the deeper and more wonderful meaning of “in Jesus’ name.” They may not understand and celebrate their access to God’s throne of grace through Jesus. And they may not realize that their prayers should reflect Jesus’ agenda, rather than their own selfish interests.
Perhaps a greater problem is that Christians might live under a legalistic interpretation of praying in Jesus’ name, whereby they think that the words “in Jesus’ name” must be used or God will not hear their prayers. Worse still, some Christians might judge other Christians who, for whatever reason, choose not to say “in Jesus’ name” before “Amen.” I have observed this kind of thing and it’s too bad. It misses the true meaning of Jesus’ teaching and it divides the body of Christ. Given what we have seen in Scripture, it’s clear that Christians are certainly free in Christ not to say “in Jesus’ name” when they pray. Judging those who omit this phrase is a mistake.
So, given the potential downside of saying “in Jesus’ name,” is there an upside? Yes, I think so. If I know what it actually means to pray in Jesus’ name, then saying the words “in Jesus’ name” could serve as a reminder to me, and to any who might hear me, of my standing before God as I pray. Moreover, it could also encourage me to pray according to Jesus’ mission. Additionally, if a praying community regularly says “in Jesus’ name” or some equivalent in their prayers, it potentially keeps their focus in the right place. It’s as if they are saying to each other: “We are here because of Jesus. We are able to approach God in prayer because of Jesus. We are seeking to pray that which honors and glorifies him. Let the will of Jesus be done here.”
But what should we do when we’re praying in a more open setting, in which many of those gathered are not Christians? This is the challenge facing Rick Warren next Tuesday. I’ll begin to offer my thoughts on Monday (too late to help our Rick, I’m afraid :)).
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