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In John 14:13-14, Jesus says the following to his disciples:

And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.

It is my understanding that this passage (see also Matthew 7:7) does not teach that God answers any and all petitions we might ask in the name of Jesus (as if God is merely a cosmic vending machine). Rather, it indicates that as we nurture our relationship with Him, our petitions will be more and more aligned with His sovereign will, which He will accomplish anyway. As an example of this, consider Jesus' petition in the garden in Luke 22:42:

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

So it seems clear to me, again based on how I've been taught, that God answers those prayers that align with His sovereign will. Am I thinking about this correctly?

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There's an easy way to find out. Pray two prayers in Jesus' name, and make sure they contradict each other. "In Jesus' name, let me win the lottery next week." "In Jesus' name, don't let me win the lottery next week." I guarantee, at least one of them will not come true. –  Flimzy Dec 19 '13 at 10:08
    
The important question is, what does it mean by 'in My name'? Does it mean any old rubbish with the words 'in Jesus name' stuck on the end or beginning. Or does this it mean something else. –  richard Dec 19 '13 at 15:51

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

God does answer every prayer, but the answer may be “No, I don’t think so.” Mgr Robert Mercer said as much in a sermon (at the funeral of a priest who, gravely ill, died a few days after ordination):

It goes without saying that we are disappointed that God gave no miracle of healing. Jenny and Philip went to Walsingham. They prayed. We all prayed. Doctors and nurses did everything they could. But if there are times when God works miracles, there are even more times when He doesn’t. Jesus may have healed many but there are even more whom he did not heal. God did not intervene to save Jesus from the cross, or St Paul from the sword, or St Peter from crucifixion.

Philip has been offering himself to God throughout his life. At his confirmation, when he married Jenny, when he brought their children to the font, when he went up to Oxford to read theology, at his two Anglican Ordinations, at his two Catholic Ordinations. And God has been accepting Philip throughout his life. And in this time of our confused emotions God is in effect saying to us “Thanks for your suggestion about a miracle, but no thanks. I have a better plan. I am accepting Philip for future ministry.”

If the prayers had been that Fr Philip might be called out of this life of suffering to better things, then those prayers would indeed have been answered with a resounding “Yes!”

So yes, God will answer prayers which, through our lives and experience in him, are aligned with his will. The Church of England recognises this too — it's not just a Catholic thing:

Let thy merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of thy humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions
make them to ask such things as shall please thee;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

[Collect for Trinity 10]

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by “ask in my name” — not just that we perhaps glibly tack a phrase like “In Jesus’ name we ask it” on to any prayer we say; but that we should be “in his name”.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name.

The Greek word όνομα can mean name as in good name, reputation: we need to ask not only “in his name” but “according to his reputation.” Those prayers which do not damage his good name, which are worthy of him, which are worthy of us, he will do.

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+1 for "So yes, God will answer prayers which, through our lives and experience in him, are aligned with his will." That is the way I understand it, too. –  Matt Davis Dec 18 '13 at 16:17

What does it mean to pray "in Jesus' name"? Is it a magical formula that guarantees that your prayer will be heard? For example:

Dear God, please give me a new bike and a chocolate cake and a magical telephone and an elephant. Also, please kill all the bad people. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Does that prayer make more sense because it has "In Jesus' name" at the end? No, indeed not. This is the "cosmic vending machine" or "God as Santa Claus" way of understanding God, and it's pernicious and false. God doesn't act like that.

Let's consider instead the connotations of the word name. It doesn't just mean the word "Jesus" in the same way that "lonesomeday" refers to me. It's very much bound up with the identity of the individual. Think, for instance, back to the Old Testament. The supreme revelation of God's nature to the people of Israel came in the giving of his name:

But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.’ (Exodus 3.13-16, NRSV)

The name of God is who God is. It is so holy, so bound up with his entire identity, that it is never uttered by Jews. It was uttered just once a year by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. It was immensely powerful because it was not just a word but an identity. Similarly, take Psalm 20:

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.

This isn't saying "we're proud that our God is called YHWH", but "our pride comes from who our God is".

This is the sense that "name" is used in the Gospel of John. It's actually used on a whole host of occasions. Here are a few of them to give a suggestion of what it connotates:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (John 1.12)

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3.18)

I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. (John 5.43)

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14.26)

But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15.21)

"I have made your [i.e. the Father's] name known to those whom you gave me from the world. (John 17.6)

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20.31)

Beyond this, we might also point to the occasions where Jesus alludes to the name of God in his speech, such as 8.58: ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’

These give, I think, a bit of a picture of what "Jesus' name" is referring to in John. It refers precisely to Jesus' identity and his purpose. "Jesus' name" is who Jesus is. And we know from the prologue to the Gospel that Jesus is "the Word made flesh". He is the one who has "made God known".

So when we pray "in Jesus' name" we are praying "according to who Jesus is", that is to say according to his nature as the revelation of God; the salvation of his people; the way, the truth and the life; the gate of salvation. We are praying according to who Jesus most fundamentally is. To pray in Jesus' name is to conform ourselves to that identity.

What does it mean, then, to ask for something in Jesus' name? I don't know precisely. But it is rooted in our Christian knowledge of who Jesus is. It is connected intimately to the fact of our salvation. It isn't a separate magical formula that gets us a special hearing.


Andrew Lincoln wrote an chapter on this subject, entitled "God's name, Jesus' name, and prayer in the fourth gospel". It can be found in a book entitled Into God's Presence: Prayer in the New Testament. I'm afraid I don't have a copy, but I read it a little while ago and it is excellent.

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+1 for the discussion on what "name" means. –  Matt Davis Dec 18 '13 at 16:09

You are overlooking several very important points in your question.

  1. Jesus was telling this to his disciples, who he knew were going to establish his Church, and it can be said that he was telling them that he would provide all they needed for that purpose.

  2. It also is true for us today, but you have to remember that that promise was primarily made in connection with doing God's work. John makes this clear in:

John 14:12 through 14 KJV

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

  1. God will never give you anything that is not the best for you:

Matthew 7:9 through 12 KJV

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

So does God ever give you what you ask for just to be gracious to you?

Absolutely!

it is in that Spirit that Jesus said:

Matthew 5:42 KJV

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Matthew 7:11 KJV

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Finally: It gives God great pleasure give you good things just as it gives you great pleasure to give good things to your children.

Matthew 12:35 KJV

A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

Luke 12:32 KJV

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

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+1 for reminding that context is important. –  Matt Davis Dec 18 '13 at 16:08

A man of God once told me that God answers our prayers in three ways-

  1. YES: God answers our prayer when (1) it is His will, (2) God wants to manifest His power, (3) God wants to glorify His name.
  2. NO: God says No to our request when (1) it is not His will, (2) it is not good for us and God knows best. Know that even a 'NO' is an answer.
  3. WAIT: Sometimes God wants to answer us at the right time for His glory. We need to wait patiently for His answer. Jesus allowed Lazarus to die for four days just to show the glory of God.

We need to know the will of God in our life. We need spiritual discernment and spiritual wisdom from God. Let us approach God everyday and pray in the name of Jesus according to God's will.

Let this song be a guide in our life.

In His time, in His time
He makes all things beautiful in His time
Lord, please show me every day
As You're teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say
In Your time

In Your time, in Your time
You make all things beautiful in Your time
Lord, my life to You I bring
May each song I have to sing
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time 
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A fourth answer to prayers uttered "in Jesus' name" is "I have something even better for you!"

Years ago, there was a TV show called "Father Knows Best." The name of that program is a good "mantra" for Christian believers, and we (myself included) need to be reminded that our Father does, indeed, know best, especially when His answer to our prayer "in Jesus' name" takes the form of something even better than what we initially asked for!

Take a child who asks his father for a particular present for Christmas--say a BB gun. The father knows full well the child is too young for such a potentially dangerous toy, so instead of getting the child a BB gun, he gets the child something else with a note attached, which reads, "Don't be disappointed that this gift is not a BB gun. I just know you'll enjoy this gift more, because with this fishing pole we're going to be able to fish together this summer!" You see, the father knows that bonding experiences such as fishing together is going to benefit the child more than a potentially dangerous toy, at least at this particular stage in the boy's life.

God often answers our prayers in that particular way. To pray "in Jesus' name" is to ask for things according to His will and with the realization His will is best and is always in keeping with who He is; namely, the all-wise, all-loving, always compassionate God and Father who always knows best. To think otherwise in our prayers is, ergo, not to ask in Jesus' name but in the name of some lesser god, possibly ourselves!

If God were the kind of God who was in the habit of granting requests which were not in our best interests or in the best interests of His kingdom work on earth, would He really be the Father who knows best? I don't think so.

Final thought: As for persistence in prayer, well, that's a different kettle of fish and is worthy of a separate question. When we initially get a "no," a "later," or a "I have something better" answer, how do we know whether or not to persist in the same prayer? Hint: when we ask something which we know and He knows is "according to His will" but will take some faithful persistence on our part to have "our" answer. Example: the prayer for the salvation of a relative, which God may answer in the affirmative, but perhaps after we die! Think about it. Whose time/timing is better, God's or ours?

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