After two months of a pandemic, the world seems to have embraced a common realization that we are not ultimately in control of life. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and when I watch society, I get the feeling that we are still resisting this truth. There is nothing we would like more than to return to “normal”; at least the normal we would choose. It is safe to say there’s a lot of praying going on in many languages and traditions with hopes that our heart-felt cries will achieve our desired results. In our earnestness ,we may even offer our prayers “in the name of Jesus.” Why not?! Jesus told us, “I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Father might be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Unfortunately, I haven’t always received the desired response which begs the question, “Was he serious, or do I simply not understand what he meant?”
I remember having a conversation with an Anglican colleague about prayer. He confessed that he refuses to end his prayers with “In the name of Jesus,” because for many, it has become the way to ensure that your prayer carries more weight and has power to influence a divine outcome. His attitude caused me to ponder, “What does this phrase actually mean? What was Jesus inviting us into?”
The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible states that in Hebrew culture, both Old and New Testaments, names are more than a label to identify a person. Your name holds your character and nature. Speaking a person’s name doesn’t simply get their attention, it invokes their very essence; their whole being, body, mind and spirit. Knowing and speaking someone’s name is the beginning of communion; an invitation to a meaningful relationship of mutual respect and union.
Genesis 2:20 says that God brought the animals before Adam to see what he would name them. Adam named the animals not to assign them a nature and character but to honor the relationship he had with them, the nature and character he witnessed in them. This speaks to his union with—not to his power over—creation.
The change of character and nature of persons found in the Bible is often expressed in the change of their name. Simon confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus changed his name to Peter, the rock on which he would build his church (Matthew 16:18). Saul, the oppressor of Christians, became Paul, the great evangelist, after his encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9). Let’s not forget Abram, Sarai and Jacob, among others.
To truly know someone’s name is to know them intimately. Like Adam and the animals, Jesus understood the nature of God. The full nature and disclosure of God is revealed in Jesus Christ. In John 17:26, we hear Jesus speaking to God: “I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
The name of Jesus is synonymous with the name of God because he reveals the true nature of God. To “believe in the name of Jesus” (a phrase only used in 1 John 3:23) is to believe in the nature of God as expressed in human life. To take the Lord’s name in vain is to use God’s (Jesus’) name in ways inconsistent with God’s nature. I wonder how many times I’ve (we’ve) used God’s/Jesus’ name with a self-righteous, vengeful heart (in vain).
Look up verses that refer to Jesus’ name and notice how these insights influence the meaning of the passage. For example, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, (my nature, my values, my heart) there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20); or, “Whoever welcomes these little children in my name (my compassion, my sense of union) welcomes me” (Mark 9:37).
To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in the nature of, with the heart of, holding the values and world view of Jesus. If we truly surrender our will to God, we pray in union with, and as, Jesus Christ. It doesn’t give our words special authority but invites our intention to be in the nature of Jesus; to align our words with Jesus’ heart. Believing that there is “power in the name” doesn’t mean we can use Jesus’ name to insure our desired outcome. It means there is power in the nature of divine love, mercy, forgiveness, patience, hope, and compassion to change our minds, hearts and lives for the glory of God.
We aren’t the first people to experience a pandemic and we won’t be the last. But like all others before us and those who will follow, we have reason to pray; pray in the divine love, mercy, forgiveness, patience, hope, compassion…in the name of Jesus Christ, and we will witness the glory of God in all of creation.
“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that my Father may be glorified in the Son.” —John 14:13
Rev. Rick Beck is a retired Moravian pastor, having served in team ministry with his wife, Wendy, in all three districts of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in America. Rick is currently offering spiritual direction through the FCJ Christian Life Centre in Calgary, Alberta, where he also trains and supervises spiritual directors. He also consults with churches wishing to establish spiritual direction groups in their congregations. This piece originally appeared on the Southern Province Board of Cooperative Ministries’ Spotlight Blog.