Friday, June 4, 2010

In Jesus' Name

Before I had a dog, I used to see pet owners out walking; dog and man strolling along at a companionable pace. I thought every dog was like that. Then we welcomed Sasha into our home.

On our walks, there is no easy, mutual enjoyment of the great outdoors. Sasha goes out the front door like a bullet, dragging me down the steps and driveway. No leisurely pace for this dog. She plows on ahead, leash strung tight, determined to get to where we are going. (Which is back home. I don't get it.) But every morning, I can be seen scurrying down the street behind the dog in an effort to keep from getting dragged off my feet.

I don't walk the dog. She walks me.

I hope you now have a visual picture of my less-than-genteel morning constitutionals. Because we all can tend to do the same thing-when we pray.

Jesus knew our tendency would be to pray just like Sasha likes to walk: charging forward with a laundry list of our own wants, showing little concern for the Master. So He qualified how the disciples should pray: "Ask anything in my name and I will give it to you." (John 16:23) What did He mean by this? Was He giving us a phrase to tack on to the end of a prayer like a stamp of approval? (In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.) Or did Jesus mean something more?

Some might invoke the name of Jesus in an effort to tap into the power that comes with the name. In Acts 19, there were men casting out demons using the name of Christ. "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches," they intoned, "I command you to come out."

One day, an evil spirit answered them. "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" he demanded, then proceeded to beat them to a pulp. Obviously, the name of Jesus is not an incantation used to summon some kind of magical power. So what is it?

To pray in the name of Christ is to acknowledge that our prayers are heard because of the sacrifice and redemptive work of Jesus. Approaching God was a problem because of our sin. Now that sin is covered, and we are told to boldly approach the throne of grace. Hebrews tells us Jesus "lives to intercede" on our behalf. When we pray in His name, we recognize without Him, our prayers would be ineffective.

But it is even more than that. To pray in the name of Christ is to pray in accord with His desires. To do or say something "in the name of" someone else is to assume their approval of that action. Peter used this very phrase in Acts 3 when he commanded a lame man: "In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-walk!" Peter not only identified the power source for the miracle here. He also identified on whose behalf the miracle was being performed. Peter was acting as an ambassador for Christ.

Paul identifies himself as an ambassador in 2 Corinthians 5:20. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." Paul's goal was to present the message of God to others. An ambassador is a representative of his commander. He is not there to expound on his own viewpoint or opinions. He is there to make the desires of His chief known.

When we pray in Jesus' name, we are praying as ambassadors for Christ. This means our requests need to fall in line with what Christ would have prayed. That's a tall order. How can we know what He would ask?

Richard Foster tells us how: "When we have immersed ourselves long enough in the way of Christ, we can smell gospel. So we ask and do as we know He would ask and do. How do we know what Jesus would ask and do, you may ask? Well, how does a couple who has been married many loving years know what each other thinks and wants and feels? We know, even as we are known. This is how we pray in Jesus' name."

The ability to effectively pray in the name of Jesus results from a relationship with Him. When He instructed His disciples in John 16, they had just spent three years traveling by His side as He healed the sick and fed the hungry. They heard His teachings and listened to Him go head to head with the Pharisees. They were in an excellent position to pray in Jesus' name, because they knew Him so very well.

What about us? Our ability to pray in Jesus' name is also dependent on the relationship. We need to make it our business to know Him better and better. And as we learn His ways and develop the mind of Christ, our prayers naturally will fall into line with what He would have us pray.

Don't be discouraged if you feel you don't have that kind of relationship with Him. He'll welcome you right now (and every time you come) just as you are. A deeper relationship happens one baby step at a time.

This article is the latest Dogwood Digest, a devotional newsletter. If you would like to receive this weekly email, use the link on the right of this page to subscribe. Thanks!

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