Sixth Sunday of Easter - Rogate May 5th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Praying “In Jesus’ Name”: What does this mean? - John 16:23-30
Vicar Jason Toombs
Our risen Lord says, “Whatever you ask of the Father ... He will give it to you.” With these words Jesus promises that whatever you ask, the Father will give it. Have you asked? What have you asked for? Was it things you want? Did you ask from your heart? Lots of questions, too many questions in fact. We need to get to some answers quickly lest you tune me out.
God has promised that He listens to our prayers and answers them. Which raises a difficult question for us, since we ask God for many things which we don’t receive. I asked God for a wife but I still don’t have one. I asked God to make me skinny but I’m still overweight. I asked God for many things, but I still lack. You’ve asked God the Father, but what you asked for hasn’t come to pass. Why? Jesus said, “Whatever you ask of the Father ... He will give it to you.” What have we done wrong? We have prayed to God from our heart not realizing the sinner’s heart is an idol factory. It creates idols, false gods, for us to worship: a perfect spouse, a Jesus whose sole job is to love us in whatever sin we are currently committing, a God we build having all the qualities that we like and none of the ones we don’t, a leader we can get behind.
We naturally pray from sin-filled hearts, hearts which desire earthly things. Hearts that long for more money, a bigger house, better children, a perfect boyfriend who listens to everything she says, a drop dead gorgeous girlfriend who lets him play video games without nagging, a spouse that is always there when you want them and knows when you want to be left alone. These are a few of my wanted things. These are the things we ask God to give us.
We try to bargain with God, asking Him to help us, then we will do something for Him. God, if you help me on this pop quiz, I’ll go to church for a month. God, if you help me get this raise, I’ll up my offerings at church. God, if you help me overcome this obstacle, I’ll completely change my life, I’ll be in church, I’ll help usher, I’ll do anything for you. We think that if God helps us, we will do better on our own after that. If He does this, then I’ll “turn over a new leaf” to show Him I really mean it. Pretty soon we are back to our old sinful ways. We try to strike a bargain again. We’ve turned over so many leaves, we don’t need any more mulch for the garden.
Like kids with freshly baked cookies, we are always wanting more. More food, more drink, and we’ll be merry. More money in the bank, the 401K, the IRA, the 529 Plan and we can take it easy. We think more is better. We don’t want what God has given us, we want more. Like Israel of old, we loathe this worthless food God gives. The daily bread God gives is enough to sustain us, enough to nourish us, but we want more. We want the latest and greatest: new clothes, new shoes, new computers, new fashions, new flavor of the month. We don’t want the old things of God: His grace, His mercy, His law bringing us to repentance, His Gospel forgiving us. We want Gospel freedom in all things, free to do as we please and be blessed by God while doing it.
When we pray from sinful hearts we treat God like a vending machine, pressing the buttons of the things we want. Then we argue with God, “Why haven’t you given these things to me, God? I’ve listen to Jesus, I’ve asked you.” Demanding of God the things we want, then storming away angrily when He doesn’t fulfill our desire. We continue our argument, “I’ve showed you I’m ready to change my life. I’ve done all of this for you. Can you hear me?” Like the hypocrites on the street corner: we pray louder, we pray longer, surely this will get His attention.
But He still hasn’t answered our prayer. And then we remember what Jesus said, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” Oh, that’s it. We forgot to pray in Jesus’ name. How foolish of me. I forgot to end my prayer with those magical words, “In Jesus’ name.” Those words redeem my prayers, those magical works make my prayers acceptable by God. By adding those three words, God has to accept my prayer. So now I’m praying “in Jesus’ name” just like He told me to do. Maybe that’s why God didn’t answer my prayer for a wife, I forgot to pray, “In Jesus’ name.”
Maybe, maybe I have to do things “to the glory of God” for Him to accept my prayer. I’ll up my offerings and make sure to write “to God’s glory” on my check and then my prayers will be answered. I need to do my good works “to the glory of God” and I’ll have a lot of credit with Him. I’ll be sure to remind the widow who’s lawn I rake that I’m doing this “to God’s glory” and she’ll thank God for me. I’ll offer some lemonade free of charge to the neighborhood kids in cups that have Bible verses written on them, this will surely help me before God.
I’ve ended my prayers “in the name of Jesus” and I’ve done more works “to the glory of God,” surely He will answer my prayer. Then I wait for God to answer my prayer. Still waiting. Didn’t He hear me? Were my works not satisfactory to get His attention? Is He even there? Doubt sets in. The world, echoing the ancient serpent, says, “God isn’t there for you. God isn’t there. Why believe in Him?”
Yes, why believe in Him if He doesn’t answer our prayers? That’s a great question. Should we believe in a God that doesn’t answer prayers the way we want them to be answered? The mind starts agreeing with the heart, God hasn’t fulfilled my prayers in the way I want them. Have we been looking at prayer, and our works, in the right light?
No! We have been looking at prayer from our perspective, through the eyes of sinful, fallen creatures. We haven’t been looking at prayer the way Jesus was talking about in our Gospel reading.
Jesus said, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name.” How should we pray? What does praying “in Jesus’ name” mean?
It means the cross. The name Jesus means “the Lord saves”, so praying “in the name of Jesus” means to pray through the cross. And don’t forget the resurrection. Nor the soon to come ascension. We pray through our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ, for He has joined Himself to us through Baptism, He feeds us His very Body and Blood. He is our Salvation. And He prays with us. We don’t pray only to Jesus, we pray with Him to Our Father. We pray the Our Father, the prayer Jesus handed over to us. We pray alongside of Jesus, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” This is our prayer, our daily prayer.
The God who has saved you also knows that you daily need things that only He can provide. And out of His deep love for you, He gives. He gives you daily bread which encompasses all the things that you daily need. Even without our prayers He gives them to us. He daily takes care of us, daily gives us food and drink, house and home, and all things. He gives us a family to enjoy celebrating the good times, to find comfort in when sadness looms, and to love. He gives us beauty to enjoy in the arts, in the sportsmanship while competing, in the celebration of happiness at the birth of a baby. He gives us His Spirit to intercede for us when we know not the words to pray. The Spirit knows our needs and lifts these before the Father when we can’t come up with the proper words. He makes sure our petitions are heard before the Father.
God daily forgives us, we receive daily comfort from Him. As we daily return to this most precious gift, thankfulness wells us in the new hearts He gives us. By His Word and Spirit, we become “doers of the word,” forgiving others as we have been forgiven. We forgive others who sin against us because God has first forgiven us. After all, they too are people for whom Christ died. Christ has forgiven us for the hurt, the anguish, the pain and suffering we caused as He suffered in our place on His cross. We forgive others for the hurt, the anguish, the pain and suffering they have caused us.
We come with humility and receive forgiveness from Christ and likewise, with meekness and gentleness, we forgive one another. We cannot keep track of their sin against us, there is no waiting until that 491st time they sin against us only to let them have it. God has not kept a tally of our sins only to damn us, nor are we to do the same with others. Free forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ.
Through the cross of Christ, we are forgiven. Through the cross of Christ, we forgive one another. Through the cross of Christ, our prayers, however feeble, however inadequate, however fallen they may be, are acceptable by our Father in heaven. He hears them as He is our dear Father. The cross shows the deep love of God. He loves us in this way, He does not spare His only begotten Son. The Son does not spare His life but freely lays it down for your sake. The Father is reconciled with humanity in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, true God, true man. His blood shows the love of God, poured out freely for the forgiveness of sin. Blood and water flowing from the side, covering the church, covering you.
You and I have many concerns, and our Father wants to hear them. Living daily from the Good News of the Cross, God will continue to strengthen new hearts in us, new hearts that truly pray in Jesus Name, hearts that truly pray: Thy will be done. God is faithful, He will do it, for you have been washed three times, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You have been claimed by God as His own child. You call God Our Father, you speak with Him, you have His ear. And He hears you, hears you with His Son, hears as you pray to Him, “In the name of Jesus.” Amen.