February 7, 2013

Praying in Jesus’ name

My husband was asked by a Jewish friend to pray for the nations at his daughter’s bat-mitzvah. He agreed and soon received a phone call from the rabbi with the outline of the ceremonies and some special instructions. He said, “And please do not add anything, any words, to the end of your prayer.” My husband told the rabbi that he understood and assured him he would not embarrass the synagogue.

Since then, I’ve noticed how often Christians add “in Jesus’ name” to the end of prayers, sometimes without seeming to notice they are doing it. I’ve done it too. Because we are told to pray in the name of Jesus, we do it. But do we know what it means? Today’s devotional verse offers a major clue…

Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. (Luke 7:7)

This centurion was not praying, but he had the right attitude about approaching Jesus. Other versions of the Bible translate this as, “I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you” which is also correct and shows how this man knew he was a sinner and had no merit or worth in himself to approach the Lord Jesus Christ.

The devotional says, “You are much more sinful than you think you are, much more unworthy than you know yourself to be.”

My pride does not want to think about this, but it is true. Apart from Christ, I am a hopeless case. My sin is deep and permeates far too much of what I try to do. Without Jesus, I have no power to escape sin’s power and I am not worthy to approach Him, in prayer or even in worship.

Yet the centurion’s attitude is the very attitude that gives me access. Because I am a sinner is actually the very reason I can claim His grace and come into His presence. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to die for the ungodly, for sinners such as me.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)

The centurion wanted healing for his servant, but knew he had no right to ask for it. A sinner wants healing for his soul, his sinful blight, but only by knowing and admitting our lack of worth do we have claim to His grace and healing power. Jesus Christ is able and willing to save those who come to God through him, but we must come just as we are.

By doing that, I discover some amazing things. My emptiness does not affect his fullness, but releases it. My weakness does not alter his power, but makes it available. My inability does not diminish his omnipotence, but gives it freedom to work. My undeserving does not restrain his love, but opens the door for it to rush in and change my life.

This applies to that day when I was saved, but also every day when I pray. I have no merit, no special place where I can stand before God and suppose that He should hear my cries. Yet He bids me come, not representing myself and my needs, but representing Him and His large heart, His deep concerns, His love for me and for sinners like me. I can pray in His name because He tells me to do it, but I cannot assume that I have a right to pray in any other way.

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:24)

While my large and often painful burdens press me to Jesus, my unworthiness is not a barrier to His hearing and acting on my behalf. Instead, it is the very reason that He allows me the privilege of asking. This is one small part of what it means to pray in His glorious name.

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