This may seem like a silly question, but does it really matter how we pray? Think about it, most people pray because they want something; they send up a prayer and ask God for a favor or item and hope for the best. With this attitude, they should call it ‘ask and hope’ instead of calling it prayer.1 They think it is easy – just ask God for something and tack on the words “in Jesus’ name” at the very end, like it is a magical phrase, and then sit back and wait. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13, NLT).2
Is it really that easy? No, of course not, but must we pray using a certain outline or put the words in a certain format? Must we always say, “in Jesus’ name I pray” or “in Jesus’ name, amen,” at the end of our prayer? Well, a lot of people think so. I have already written about part of this prayer problem,3 when used in a public forum, but a lot of questions were received, including those about private prayer, so, as a result, a deeper study is necessary. Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says and what God expects from our prayers.
“The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ is Matthew’s great account of Jesus teaching to his disciples. Here Jesus describes the attitudes and behavior he wants of his followers.” Read the complete account at Matthew 5-7, in which he also tells of ways not to pray. For instance he says, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get” (Matthew 6:5). And he goes on, “And when you pray, don’t babble on and on like the pagans, who think God will hear them better if they talk a lot. Don’t be like them” (Matthew 6:7-8, CJB).
Jesus also speaks about what we should do concerning private prayer. “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). And he gave a model prayer, sometimes called the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ in verses 6:9-13. Jesus tells his disciples to pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
This is the outline for our approach to prayer; praise God and ask that his will and kingdom be forthcoming. Give thanks for the things he provides and ask forgiveness of our sins, as well as protection from evil. And we can request any favors or needs, in line with his will and divine plan. All those things need not be in the same order, nor even those specific thoughts, because elsewhere in the Bible it is shown that the disciples, and even Jesus, himself, did not strictly adhere to those specific words or thoughts when praying. Just approach prayer with personal humility and show proper respect to God.
It shows, however, that prayer should not be a blank sheet of paper on which you can write whatever you want. If you want to pray effectually for things, you must pray according to the revealed will of God.4 As indicted above, the Bible clearly shows that there is a wrong way and a right way to pray.
In Jesus’ Name
I was always told that proper prayer must be offered in Jesus’ name and since I wanted to pray properly, that is the way I prayed, just like in the Charley Pride song, “In Jesus’ Name.”5 A lyric selection follows.
Father open up my eyes to your wonder all around,
Father let me see the good and beauty of this day,
Fill my heart with love for my fellow man,
And if I’m tempted Father, Father save my hand,
In Jesus’ name I pray.
Father give me strength to do what I must do,
Father give me courage to say what I must say,
Let that spirit move me I’m nothing on my own,
Father stand by me, I cannot stand alone,
In Jesus’ name I pray.
It wasn’t until later in life that I decided to get to the bottom of this idea and find out what the true meaning of the phrase ‘in Jesus’ name’ meant.
So, must we pray in Jesus’ name? The short answer is yes and no. Jesus said to do that, but it has a different meaning than what most people think. It means that “we should pray in compliance with his character, praying just as he would pray, and in order to honor his reputation and purposes in this world.” In the Bible, to do something ‘in the name of someone’ was to do it in compliance with that person’s character. This is true in both the New Testament and the Old Testament. It meant to so something just as that person would do it, and in a way that honors the reputation of that person.6 So, prayer in Jesus’ name means that our prayers are reconciled with the personage and actions of Jesus Christ – praying in such a way that harmonizes with what we understand him to be. This should testify to his authority and be consistent with his desires.
When saying something in someone’s name, it means to “act by proxy, on the authority of something or someone greater than [our self]. It’s a concept that our culture has kind of lost, though it still exists, as [in] a storytelling trope. When a medieval herald reads a proclamation ‘in the name of the king,’ or a cop yells at a fleeing thief to ‘stop in the name of the law’, this is what they mean. It’s a convenient shorthand for ‘I’m not just saying this of myself; I’m speaking with the authority of a higher power.’”8 One of the best explanations of this concept comes from Christian author Mark King, who gave the following example.
I was in small department store in my home town. This was in the day before credit/debit cards were common, and I was planning to write a check for my purchases. So I received my total and pulled out my check book and the cashier stopped me. “Do you have a check cashing card with us?” I explained that I did not, so she said that she could not accept a check unless I had a check cashing card on file, but she said she would call the manager.
While waiting for the manager to arrive, she looked at my check. The check had my name on it, and under my name was my dad’s name. “Is this the Leon King who is from Deep Creek?” (Deep Creek is the small community north of town where my dad grew up.) “Yes it is. He’s my dad.”
“Then I know this check is good!” About that time the manager arrived and the cashier told her, “You can take this check, I know it’s good.” The manager took my check back to the office for further consideration but the cashier told me, “If she won’t take your check, you can make it out to me and I will pay for your stuff.”
The manager did end up taking my check, but . . . I was struck by the significance of my dad’s reputation as an honest man and the fact that although I was an unknown, my relationship with him gave me credibility.8
So, the cashier was willing to accept the check because of his father’s name. That is similar to what Jesus had in mind when he told us to pray in his name. He meant that we should pray just as he would pray, to honor his reputation and purpose in this world.
Does that mean we must actually say the words “in Jesus’ name, amen” at the end of our prayers? Well, let’s explore this thought. Reading through the entire New Testament and examining every supplication to God, you will never find a prayer ending with the words “in Jesus’ name, amen.” Although Jesus says to pray in his name, it doesn’t mean that those very words must literally be incorporated into what you say, because it is never done in the Bible.9 You can say it, of course, but you don’t have to do so. In fact, leaving it out sometimes may help others to know it isn’t necessary. If it makes you comfortable saying it, then do so. You can even put this phrase in the beginning of prayer, or in the middle. Just keep in mind that it isn’t necessary and don’t keep repeating it only because of habit.
That phrase is not an ingredient in some kind of prayer formula. If you leave it out, the prayer is still good. In fact, it doesn’t matter what you say, or don’t say, at the end of a prayer – God listens and will know when you are finished. If praying in a group or in front of a congregation, a simple ‘amen’, or something similar, would be helpful to all, indicating that you have finished praying. Otherwise, just let it go.
Copyright © 2018, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Bridges, Jerry, “In Jesus’ Name,” (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 20 January 2013), https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/january-2013/in-jesus-name/
- Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation (NLT), ©2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- Hermann, Ray, “The Trouble with Christian Prayer,” (The Outlaw Bible Student, 28 April 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/the-trouble-with-christian-prayer/
- Morey, Robert A., “A Theology of Prayer,” (The Culture Watch, 16 May 2011), https://www.theculturewatch.com/a-theology-of-prayer
- “In Jesus’ Name” (song title), Charley Pride (recording artist), album: Sunday Morning with Charley Pride, RCA, 1976, song writers: J. Grindele, P. Gibbons, T. Hatch, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpN40IZh2uw (Audio)
- Henderson, Daniel, “Stop Praying ‘In Jesus’ Name, Amen,’” (Strategic Renewal, 2013), http://www.strategicrenewal.com/2013/04/22/stop-praying-in-jesus-name-amen/
- “What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ Name?” (Christianity Stack Exchange, 15 June 2016), https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/4408/what-does-it-mean-to-pray-in-jesus-name
- King, Mark, “Praying in Jesus’ Name,” (Blogos, 17 October 2016), http://www.blogos.org/theologyapologetics/praying-Jesus-name.php
- Koukl, Greg, “In the Name of Jesus,” (Stand to Reason, 24 February 2013), https://www.str.org/articles/in-the-name-of-jesus