Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Praying "In the Name of Jesus"

I was once asked to offer an opening prayer at an event that was attended by several hundred people, and I was aware before I prayed that the group did not hold a common faith. Some were Christians, but a few others were Jewish, and still others considered themselves irreligious. I thought a long time about the prayer, and opened the prayer addressing “God,” and closed the prayer with “Amen.”

A few of my Christian friends were concerned that I didn’t close my prayer with “in the name of Jesus.” While it is true that I was hoping to allow more than just the Christians in the room to enter into the prayer, I argued that all of the prayers that Christians pray, regardless of the closing words, are prayed in the name of the Jesus. Also, to make those words a requirement for each prayer is to cast a bit of shadow on the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.

Why do we pray, “In the name of Jesus”? Does God need to hear that, or do we? It isn’t a formulaic command in Scripture, as far as I can tell. What do we think is happening when we pray that way?

I’ve been thinking about this topic again, and reread a paper titled “Prayer in the Name of Jesus” that I wrote for a Systematic Theology course in 1997, when I was a seminary student. I think I still agree with myself, at least on some things. I share excerpts from it now:

“Our perception of God’s greatness and mystery can result in a sense of distance that makes him seem difficult to approach. If Jesus is seen as one who is distinct from God because he seems familiar in his humanness, then he becomes more accessible than God. If prayer is directed to Jesus on that basis, then he has become less than God, slightly more than a man, and an inappropriate target for prayer. In that role Jesus becomes middle-man rather than mediator; if he stands in the middle, separate from humanity and God, then prayer to him is misdirected.

“When prayer is offered to God in the name of Jesus, it is done in the recognition that God has made himself known by revealing himself in the person of Jesus Christ. We pray to our Father in Heaven, acknowledging what he has done for us through his son, Jesus. The phrase ‘in the name of Jesus’ is not the equivalent of first-class postage, used as a tag at the end of a prayer to insure it gets priority attention. It reflects the understanding that we, as ones who have been redeemed by Christ, are praying to the loving, compassionate, gracious Father.

“When prayer is rightly directed to Jesus (rather than to God in Jesus’ name) it is done by virtue of God’s revelation to us by his Spirit, that he is the very one we see in Christ. To pray to Jesus is not to lower the hurdle of prayer, but to adore God the Father in his appearance to us in his Son. Such a prayer is directed to God the son, who has come to us as one us to reveal the Father.

“Jesus is God who has become flesh, rather than flesh who has become God. He is, therefore, the legitimate object of our worship and prayer. When we pray in the name of Jesus we are praying to God who has revealed himself to us . . . Prayer to Jesus as the living God is the equivalent of prayer to God the Father in the name of Jesus the Son.”

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