Summary: Do we really get everything we ask for in prayer?
Feast of Ss Philip and James
1 Cor 15; John 14
We are confident in the almighty power of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, because His Blessed Resurrection is the guarantee of that power, and of His saving will for all people. And of His sacred words, too, right?
But is there anything in the Gospels that is more confusing than this statement: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”? I had a parent of one of my students several years ago who said that his son had told him he was losing his faith because he prayed for something and hadn’t gotten it yet. I thought of the film “Bruce Almighty,” and what would happen to the world if God said yes to all the billions of selfish–and selfless–requests that are poured out to Him every day. I actually recommend that film from 2003 because it shows the results of God programming a computer to give that “OK” response to every prayer. It results in world-wide chaos when everyone believes he has a right to whatever he wants, and those rights inevitably conflict.
Nor is the name of Jesus some sort of magic talisman that turns on the spigot of divine largesse. I think of a preacher I once heard who insisted that we always add “in Jesus’s name” at the end of every prayer, as if it was some sort of religious brand name that would insure recognition and acceptance at the heavenly checkout lane. No, experience and logic both teach us that there must be something deeper at work here, that Jesus must mean something more.
To a first-century follower of Jesus, praying to God after baptismal incorporation into the Church had a new meaning. If he was a Jewish convert, his prayer had changed. As a Jew, he stood in awe of the one who was so different from us, so jealous, and so powerful that the very mention of God’s name, YHWH, was forbidden. They used euphemisms instead–the word Adonai in Hebrew, which we translate Lord. Here Jesus reveals the inner relationship of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, and the solidarity of God with man that is made real, in the flesh, in Jesus Himself. He invites us to become one with Him, and one with the prayer of Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, that now constantly goes on in heaven. If our will is truly one with God’s will, we can literally ask for whatever we want and expect it, because we will never ask for something outside that will. And, remember, God’s fundamental will is for our good, for our union with the Trinity forever.
If the first-century Christian were a pagan convert, she would have changed her whole thought-process about prayer. For a pagan, the gods were tyrants who treated people like playthings, disposable toys. Prayer was offered, more than anything, to ask the gods to leave us alone and keep their volcanoes and tidal waves and lightning bolts and plagues and enemies away. Jesus presents us with a God who is love, who is totally committed to our well-being, who wants to do good things for us when we ask.
So asking “in the name of Jesus” is first of all a challenge for us to assume the thoughts, actions and attitudes of Jesus. When someone comes to us and asks for prayer, it’s always good to know exactly what we are praying for, and to pray first for discernment of God’s will. We cannot change God’s mind. His mind is fixed on doing good for us. Praying in the name and power of Jesus means first of all that we pray to be in God’s will and purpose. I remember praying for leadership of a general agency in Kentucky, if it was God’s will. I didn’t get that general agency, and a few years later it didn’t even exist. When we pray for healing, we should always pray for a complete healing of spirit, soul and body, and of the relationships that surround the person we pray for.
When we pray, we pray in solidarity with Christ and in union with His will. Then we can do powerful things to bring this society into God’s will. As we turn to God in prayer today, let’s practice praying the way He taught us, most of all that His will be done on earth in us as in heaven.