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Jesus promises his followers that he will do whatever they ask, as long as they pray in his name (John 14:13-14). It follows that a prayer in Jesus’s name is a prayer that will undoubtedly be answered. It follows that a prayer in Jesus’s name is a prayer that will obtain its outcome regardless of how impossible the request. It follows that every disciple of Jesus can wield omnipotence, that any one of us can tell the Almighty God to jump and He will respond, “how high?”
Does this mean that we can get whatever we want, as long as we tack the words “in Jesus’s name” on the end of our prayers?
Not quite. While I had initially hoped that this would be the case when I was a less mature Christian, as I’ve grown in my faith I’ve become increasingly thankful that it is not what the Lord meant when he gave this promise (I would have ruined my life long ago if he had always given me everything I had asked for). Jesus’s words in John 14:13-14 are not a lamp imprisoning him as our personal genie. Instead, they direct us in prayer, teaching us how to pray.
There are three things we should know if we are to be able to pray properly in Jesus’s name. First, when we pray in Jesus’s name, we recognize that we are praying with his authority, not our own. We recognize that the name of Jesus is above every name (Phil 2:9-10), that our Lord has complete and utter power over all things (Matt 28:18; John 13:3; Eph 1:20-22; Col 1:17; Rev 3:7). We acknowledge our own weakness and emptiness in comparison, recognizing that apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:4-5). And we remember that despite our weakness and sin, Jesus loves us without limit and has chosen to share his eternal life, his authority, his righteousness, his inheritance, his very self, with us (1 Cor 6:15, 17; John 20:21; 2 Cor 5:20; Col 3:17).
Second, when we pray in Jesus’s name, we are praying that His will be done rather than our own. Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is the preeminent example of this type of request (Matt 26:39, 42). To pray in Jesus’s name is to pray as his representative or ambassador. Just as an ambassador of a country does not present her personal will but rather that of the state when she is acting in the name of that country, so also ambassadors of Christ should pray what Christ desires. It will never do to pray for harm to another person or to satisfy sinful lusts in the name of Jesus (James 4:3), for we know that Christ never desires these things. Rather, we know what he delights in and what he desires by reading, studying, and meditating on the Scriptures.
To better pray in Jesus’s name, read the Gospels and look at why Jesus came, what he did, what he said, what and how he prayed. Then pray along those lines. With God’s help, do your best to live as Jesus lived so that your entire life is aligned with God’s will. The more that our lives resemble that of Jesus, the easier and more natural it will be to pray in his name.
Note that praying in Jesus’s name doesn’t mean we can’t pray for “small” things or things that aren’t overtly “spiritual” (see John 2:1-11 for instance); we know that God delights to give good gifts to his children when asked (Matt 7:11; James 1:17) and we know that He has tasked Himself with providing for our daily needs (Matt 6:11, 32-33). Praying in Jesus’s name simply means that our ultimate desire doesn’t reside only, or primarily, in the object itself (Matt 6:33), or in other words, that we aren’t simply using God to get what we want.
Finally, to pray in Jesus’s name is to pray with expectation. If our will is aligned with God’s, and if God knows every thought we have before it even reaches our tongue (Ps 139:4), and if God has promised to honor our request, we can know with confidence that God will answer our prayers. Jesus has promised to do whatever we ask in His name, we must take him at his word.
Scriptures: John 14:13-14; 1 John 3:22; 5:14-15; James 4:3; cf. Phil 2:9; Matt 28:18