Summary: Jesus’ words tell us to “ask for anything”? Is that for real? “Ask for anything”?
When Jesus tells you to “ask” in our Gospel reading, He tells you to pray in His name. When our Lord says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you,” He tells you that true prayer is never a waste of breath. For Jesus gives you His word that God the Father will hear your prayers and act on them. And when Christ the Lord promises “that your joy may be complete,” He tells you the benefit of praying in His name.
But did you hear Jesus’ words to “ask for anything”? Is that for real? “Ask for anything”? “Do you know how often I’ve asked God for something, and nothing happened? That must be a mistake. Oh, how often I’ve begged God to give me something. And what did I get? Nothing! My prayers were all in vain.”
Dearly beloved, true prayer, prayer in the name of Jesus, isn’t something we can do on our own. Oh, we hear Jesus say “whatever you ask,” but we’re clueless about what praying in Jesus’ name means. Jesus had to teach His disciples to pray--and they were Jews who grew up praying and lived with Jesus for three years! Yet Jesus had to teach them to pray because they had no idea what true prayer was or even how to do it.
Praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean that you simply utter the noise, that you simply make the vocal sounds and say “Jesus.” If that were the case, how did God the Father hear the prayers of the Old Testament saints? By faith, they believed in the Messiah to come, but Jesus didn’t have that man’s name until He had man’s flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary.
If you pray, simply tacking on the words, “In Jesus’ name” to end a prayer, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s praying in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ name isn’t some good-luck charm. Jesus’ name isn’t some magical incantation. Praying in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean that you may ask for anything you want--because you attached the name of Jesus to your prayer--and that makes it acceptable to God. That may not even be real prayer. It may be nothing but sin pretending to be a prayer!
Simply saying “in Jesus’ name,” and naming it and claiming it as your own, doesn’t mean that God is duty bound to give it to you. It’s a lie that says if you pray hard enough and long enough and yearn for it enough, you will receive whatever you pray for from God. It’s a lie that says that if you pray that way, God cannot deny you. Is our God really that weak and wishy-washy?
Think about it. Do you really want to pray for something that may be against the will of God? Since when does faith want to do anything contrary to God’s will? No, such a theology of prayer is from Satan and it feeds the beast of our sinful flesh.
Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask that God’s will be done--not ours! Praying in Jesus’ Name is simply another way of saying that. So prayer in Jesus’ name is praying that no matter what you may want, you want God’s will to be done--even if means overriding and changing what you actually prayed for!
Praying in the name of Jesus is more than making the right sounds or noises. It’s more than mouthing the syllables: “in Jesus’ name.” To pray in Jesus’ name is praying in a way that lines itself up with the faith given us. That means it doesn’t seek something that goes against the will of God the Father.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” And then Jesus told them why: “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). So praying in the name of Jesus is the prayer of true faith, the faith that wants to glorify God. And so it is a prayer to God the Father through the Son, conformed by His Spirit. Yes, praying in Jesus’ name is yielding to God’s holy will. Any other prayer is not a prayer in Jesus’ name, no matter you end it.
And we know what the will of God is, don’t we? It’s when you turn from your sins and are saved. That’s the life of repentance we Christians are called to live every day. Our Small Catechism says it’s “when [God] breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which would hinder us from hallowing His name and prevent the coming of His kingdom” (Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition). It’s when God the Holy Spirit strengthens and keeps us firm in the faith until God brings us home to heaven. That’s God’s good and gracious will. It’s no mystery. He has shown us His will in His holy Scriptures.