October 28, 2012

Pray in Jesus’ Name

One classic book on prayer affirms that prayer is the most important work that any Christian does. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult. 

The Bible tells me to pray without ceasing, but hours can go by when I do not think about praying. My life is too comfortable. Prayer is far easier when life is difficult, but I’m not ready to ask for trouble just so I can be more diligent. I’d rather practice this spiritual discipline because of promises like this one…

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:22–24)

Jesus was talking about His coming crucifixion and resurrection. Even though the disciples did not understand at that time, this promise remains for them and for us, for me. 

The first thing He speaks of is a joy that cannot be taken away. This is part of what makes my life comfortable. No matter what happens, His joy is there and ready to bubble up and overcome sorrow. When your soul is happy, events and circumstances mean very little. Joy overcomes all.

Then Jesus makes an incredible promise beginning with “whatever you ask” which covers everything. However, there is one caveat; I am to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. These are not words to be tacked on to the prayer, as if they are a magical incantation. They are an attitude of the heart.

In this life, I am an ambassador for God. I represent Jesus Christ while I walk this earth. This role seems too lofty and is also far too easy to forget, but the Bible declares it. I stand on this earth as God’s representative to others. Yet in the above verses about prayer, Jesus says that I also stand before God as His representative. I come to the Father in the name of Jesus, asking in that name (not my own) for those things that are on my heart. Incredible! How can this be?

In his second epistle, Peter explains how God has, in His divine power, given me all I need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the Lord. He has called me and granted to me His precious promises. Through all that He has given me, I have become a partaker of His divine nature and escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires. 

While I am not saved by works, Peter makes it clear that I’m to add to that gift of faith a disciplined life that includes virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. He says that if these qualities are mine and increasing, they keep me from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Goodness and good deeds are the marks of a saved person.

Yet even as a saved person, I can lag in spiritual disciplines and good deeds. For that, Peter says if I lack these qualities, I am nearsighted to the point of blindness and have forgotten that I was cleansed from former sins. That is, my assurance of my salvation can be muddied up by my behavior. Peter adds, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:3–10) 

When I mess up my life by sin, or even by negligence to practice spiritual disciplines — including prayer — then I forget who I am in Christ. I even forget that I represent Him to others and to God. When that happens, I cannot pray in Jesus’ name for I’ve lost that sense of being His ambassador. I’ve also lost the fullness of joy that He promises to those who ask in His name. And who knows how much goes unanswered that I could have prayed?

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