Just hours before Jesus’ death, He promised His disciples, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14 NKJV).
Two thousand years later, those words continue to echo around the world. Millions of us will end our prayers today “in Jesus’ name.”
But what about the promise? If we consider ourselves as Christ’s people, we probably would say that we pray in Jesus’ name. Yet who among us would suggest that, by doing so, we get everything we ask for?
Maybe we don’t take the promise literally. After all, common sense tells us that our Lord wouldn’t be treating prayer like a blank check that just needs to be filled out and signed in His name. Loving parents don’t give their children everything they want. Besides, some of us would be dangerous if we could say the right word and get anything we asked for. But, if that’s the case, why did our Lord later repeat His promise to honor all requests made in His name (15:16; 16:23)?
What did Jesus mean when He promised to honor any request made in His name? Thankfully, we don’t have to guess what He meant. In the same teaching, Jesus went on to make it clear that getting answers to our prayers involves more than adding His name to the end of our requests. While likening His relationship to His disciples as that of a vine and a branch, He said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7 NKJV).
Later, the apostle John gave us some additional clarification. In his first New Testament letter, John urges his readers to continue believing in the name of the Son of God, and then immediately adds, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15 NKJV).
Here for a third time, we have a promise of answered prayer. Yet all three instances seem to come with a different condition. How can we be sure that “abiding in Him” and “asking according to His will” are clarifications of what it means to “pray in Jesus’ name”?
The answer comes in another question:
What’s in a name? In the ancient Middle East, personal names were often chosen more for their meaning than for their sound or popularity. In that sense, a name was often regarded as a reflection of a person’s character.
In a culture where names had such significance, the meaning of Jesus’ name, therefore, did more than give His disciples access to His Father. When He said, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it,” He was saying that when our requests line up with His own heart and will, He gives us what we ask for.
What does asking in the name of Jesus look like? The answer comes to us in a model prayer that was like a mirror of our Lord’s own heart.
When His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Matthew 6; Luke 11), He showed them how to pray in His name when He taught them to say,
Our Father in heaven, may Your name be honored: This was the Son’s deepest commitment. He was born to honor the name of His Father (Luke 1:31-32).
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: As expressed by His first recorded words, He had come to do His Father’s business (Luke 2:49; John 5:30).
Give us today our daily bread: Knowing what it is like to go without food and shelter, the Son rested in His Father’s ability to provide for Him (Matthew 4:4; 8:20; John 4:32).
Forgive us as we forgive others: Even though He was without sin, He prayed for those who were crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NLT).
Deliver us from the evil one. In the face of insult, hunger, and fear, Jesus defeated our enemy by resisting every temptation to not trust His Father—even to death on a cross (Matthew 4:1-11).
Together, then, each element of the Lord’s Prayer shows us how to make requests in His name.
Admittedly, this might cause us to pray in ways that at first might seem more general than we are used to. But what could be more pleasing to our God than to express our desire to honor His name in every circumstance; to request that His will be done in the face of our worst fears; to pray for provision one day at a time; to ask for forgiveness as we show mercy in all of our relationships; and to request deliverance from our enemy in each moment of temptation?
In time, we may learn that praying this way may actually enable us to focus on the “whats” that we know are rooted deeply in His heart. Over time, we may actually discover more confidence in our requests as we learn to leave with Him the “hows” and “whens” of His answers.
With a renewed awareness of what it means to pray in Jesus’ name, we can pray together,
Father in heaven, please help us to use the name of Your Son not only to come gratefully into Your presence, but to ask for what You have taught us to request—for Your honor, for the sake of Your Son, and for our joy. —Mart De Haan