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When Jesus was walking the earth in the days of his incarnation, a religious leader from among the Jews approached him one evening to have a little chat. The man’s name was Nicodemus, and although he apparently was a bit apprehensive about Jesus, he did recognize something about Jesus.

[Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)

This man freely admitted that there was something going on in and through Jesus that was more than what a mere human could do. Evidentially, God was present in a manifest way in Jesus. Although Nicodemus didn’t fully understand who he was talking with in meeting Jesus, he got that part right.

Sometime after Jesus’ ascension, Paul and Barnabas, two of his disciples, were in the city of Lystra. As they were ministering in the city, they came upon a man who had been lame since birth. Paul spoke a word to him and the lame man was made whole and began to walk. Seeing this, the crowd that had gathered recognized something. 

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us. (Acts 14:11)

The crowd readily confessed that something going on in and through Paul and Barnabas that was more than what mere humans could do. Evidentially, divine power was present in a manifest way. Although the crowd misinterpreted just who Paul and Barnabas were, they rightly understood that something from God had happened.

In writing to one of the churches he planted, Paul spoke to the Corinthians about what should happen in their gatherings. Paul had explained what it was that the Spirit of God wanted to do in and through the followers of Jesus when they gathered in his name. He then wrote about what wouild happen when someone who didn’t know God entered their midst.

When the believing community is living in the Spirit in the way they were designed, by God, to live, Paul writes that “an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

Apparently, Paul thinks that if the community of faith is living in the way they were designed to live, then those who come into the experience of that community from outside the fellowship will recognize that divine power is present in a manifest way. It’s not that this experience alone will necessarily lead to faith–there will be the need to communicate the message of the Gospel to the unbelieving one. But Paul suggests that even these unbelieving ones will be confronted with the reality of God’s active presence.

When Nicodemus met up with Jesus he saw that God was present in a manifest way in and through him. When those in Lystra encountered Paul and Barnabas they concluded that God was present in a manifest way in and through them. When an unbelieving person enters the congregation of the Corinthian Christians Paul says that one should experience God’s presence in a manifest way in and through them.

It would seem that the followers of Jesus should so live like Jesus that the reality that “God is with you” –that we are not just doing merely good human stuff–should be clearly seen.

And that is a startling conclusion. I wonder if any would confess to seeing such evidence in my life and the lives of those with whom I do this Christian life.

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In the fifth chapter of his letter, James makes reference to Elijah (5:17-18). James offers him as an example of effective praying. He cites the times when Elijah prayed for rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years and when he then did pray for rain and the rain poured.

James intends for this to be encouraging, but when I talk with other followers of Jesus about this example it is sometimes heard as discouraging. Why? Because we don’t have lives of prayer like that! We don’t live in prayer in such a way that we ask the Father for things so definite, so massive, so life-altering . . . and see the answers to those specific prayers granted in such demonstrative ways. But James is suggesting that there is open to the friend of Jesus a kind of praying that looks like that.

I think that James probably got the idea from Jesus. Jesus speaks of that kind of praying more than once. In his final moments with his closest followers before his betrayal and death, he spoke of their lives of prayer.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”  (John 14:23-24)

This sounds a lot like the way Elijah prayed. Asking and receiving. Receiving in such clear ways that joy overflows. So I wondered if there might be something in Elijah’s praying that mirrored what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name” (obviously, he couldn’t have used the name of Jesus, not knowing the name of the yet-to-be-revealed Messiah). As I looked through 1 Kings 17 (an early chapter devoted to Elijah and what God was doing through him), I stumbled upon something.

In this chapter we read about a prayer offered by Elijah. He asks God to raise a young boy from the dead. And God does that (1 Kings 17:21-22). No doubts that joy flowed from the answer to that prayer. This is like what Jesus spoke about. But what about the “in my name” part?

If we remember that to pray “in Jesus’ name” means much more than simply tacking those words on to the end of our praying (see the post “Not Just a Postscript”), then there might be something to help us in 1 Kings 17.

The young man raised from the dead is a widow’s son. Elijah had imposed upon the widow to provide for him during a time of famine. And the imposition came with both a divine commission and a divine provision. God provided a miraculously-unending supply of flour and oil so the woman and her son and Elijah would be provided for. It was while living in that provision during the time of the drought (remember, Elijah had prayed that it not rain in the land for three and a half years!), that the widow’s son died.

What helps me understand the context of Elijah’s bold and answered prayer is what we are told of him throughout the chapter.

In verse 2 we are told “the word of the Lord came to him” giving him instructions. According to verse 5, “he went and did according to the word of the Lord.” As the story unfolds in verses 8 and following, the word of the Lord came to him again and he did what the Lord instructed him to do. In verse 14, he makes reference to what the Lord has told him; in 16 the author says that what was happening was in accordance with the word the Lord had spoken to Elijah. Then we get to Elijah’s prayer when faced with the death of the widow’s son.

He called to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, have you also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray You, let this child’s life return to him.” The LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. (1 Kings 17:21-23)

Apparently, Elijah is on intimate terms with God; he repeatedly refers to God as “my God.” He feels free to raise a question before God in the face of the calamity. And he “called” to the Lord. That’s an interesting word. It’s found in Genesis 3:9 when God called to Adam after the fall. Hagar called to God (Genesis 16:13) having been driven from Abraham’s house by the jealous Sarah. It is the word used in Genesis 22:11 of the angel calling to Abraham to hold his hand and not kill Isaac while on the mountain. It seems to be used to refer to the start of a conversation.

This whole chapter, then, is so very helpful. Elijah is living in intimacy with God. He and God are, apparently, talking a lot about what God is up to, what God wants Elijah to do. And Elijah is content to align himself with all that God wants. He is living “in God” and what he does he does as God’s representative. Thus, when he prays, he is praying “in God’s name”–that is consistent with what God wants, an overflow of his intimacy with God, prompted by how God has been speaking to him, flavored by the richness of his life with God.

And when prayer to God is the outflow of the heart of one who is living in that kind of intimacy, that prayer is answered in clear and joy-producing ways.

In the book of Malachi, God insists that the children of Israel stop bringing offerings to the Temple (Malachi 1). That’s quite an astounding charge, seeing as God was the one who instituted the sacrificial system.

Apparently there was a right way to bring a sacrifice and a wrong way to bring a sacrifice. The idea of bringing a sacrifice was the right idea, but when not carried out consistent with God’s design, the sacrifice was worthless and God would not receive it.

It seems to me that a similar dynamic is evident in prayer. The idea of praying to God is the right idea, but when not carried out consistent with God’s design, the prayer is relatively worthless and God does not give it much heed. This doesn’t mean that we must pray perfectly–as if there is just the right formula to make prayer “work.” But it does mean that it is possible to not pray well and as a result not experience a life of prayer the way the Lord intended.

Jesus touches on a number of facets of prayer when speaking with his followers in a conversation he has with them in the upper room before his crucifixion. Explaining to them how they will do life in relationship with him when he is no longer physically present with them, he calls them to a rich prayer life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”  (John 14:23-24)

This seems to be an almost unbelievable invitation to prayer. The Father will give to those who pray. Prayers will be prayed and the answers will be granted. The answers to prayer will result in a fulness of joy.

I am sure that this kind of prayer is not typically the picture of my life of prayer. I often talk to the Father about stuff with great uncertainty regarding what is going on in life. I find that often my praying seems to result in little evidence of clear and certain answers. And my life of prayer and the answers I receive (when I see the answers) don’t typically flow into a life full of joy.

My prayer life is not commonly a source of great joy. My prayer life is frequently devoid of receiving what I have specifically asked for. My prayer life characteristically feels a little bit more like whining and complaining about how things are going.

So I what I am thinking is simply this. The idea of prayer is a good thing–Jesus invites us to pray. But my experience of prayer seems to fall short of what Jesus invites his friends and followers into. And that leads me to wonder about how and why I pray.

If my asking is not followed by answers and those answers are not flowing into a fulness of joy, is it possible that I have not come to understand what it means to “ask . . . in [Jesus’] name”?

Three times in his discussion with his friends while in the upper room before his death, Jesus underscored what he was saying by using the expression “Truly, truly, I say to you” (or, “Amen, amen,” depending on the translation). The words appear in John 14:12 and 14:20 (both passages which have been explored in previous posts) and in 14:23-24 (which was the focus of one prior post as well).

The third time it is recorded that Jesus used this expression, he is speaking about prayer.

“In that day you will not question me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”  (John 14:23-24)

Jesus clearly wants his followers–and that includes those of us who have entered into relationship with him who are alive today–to “ask the Father” and have those requested granted. For many contemporary followers of Jesus, that kind of praying seems a bit foreign.

We have experienced praying for something and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting only to conclude that nothing (apparently) is going to happen. We have also experienced asking the Father for something in prayer and seemingly getting something other than we have asked only to conclude that the Father has responded to the prayer by giving us something better for us although it was not what we specifically asked for.

But in this passage Jesus seems to be saying that there will come a time–for his followers in the upper room it was a day yet to come and for us it is the day in which we live–where we will ask the Father for specific things and he will grant those very things we ask.

Now before you go off and start insisting that Father grant you a girlfriend or boyfriend (or spouse!) to your liking, or begin making requests for new cars and a better job and straighter teeth and more hair, we have to listen to all that Jesus says about praying this way. And the critical piece seems to be that this kind of prayer that gets answered in such clear and positive ways is prayer that is offered “in Jesus’ name.”

That is not just a postscript tacked on to the end of our prayers. To pray “in Jesus’ name” does not mean we are supposed to add the phrase “in the name of Jesus” to our litany of requests. It is not a formula; it is not a “magic word” that guarantees we get our prayers answered the way we want.

To pray “in the name of Jesus” is about the way and the how and the why of our praying and not merely about the words we say.

Back in the Old Testament, in 1 Samuel 25:5, David the king of Israel, sent some soldiers to a man named Nabal and required of them to greet Nabal “in my name.” This could not have meant that David thought these soldiers would simply tack on the words “in David’s name” to their greeting when meeting Nabal (although, of course, they could have used those words). To greet Nabal in David’s name was to greet him as David’s representatives, standing before Nabal in David’s place, greeting him the way David himself would have had he been there, relating to Nabal the very way that David would have if he himself had been able to come.

And therein is a simple picture of what it means to pray “in Jesus name.”

If our praying–our requests raised to the Father–are a genuine outgrowth of our intimacy with Jesus and we ask for what we do as Jesus’ representatives, standing before the Father clothed in Jesus, speaking to the Father the way Jesus himself would, relating to the Father the way Jesus does (because Jesus made a way for us to do that!), and asking for the kinds of things that Jesus draws us to ask, then we can be assured that the Father will answer such prayers.

Praying “in Jesus’ name” is not about tacking on a postscript to our prayers but about praying as an expression of our deep and abiding intimacy with Jesus.

There are essentials and there are welcome additions and then there are peripheral things. It is that way in much of life. If you are shopping for a car, the essentials are pretty evident–working engine, four wheels that turn, brakes and lights that work, and things like that. Air conditioning might be a welcome addition (although, I know, for some that is an essential!) as well certain kinds of seats or a radio or CD player. What of things like heated seats, tinted windows, power side mirrors, and a built-in GPS system? For most people those are peripherals.

When it comes to the Christian life there are essentials and welcome additions and peripherals as well. There are issues that are at the center of the target when it comes to life with Jesus and then there are things that move out beyond the center toward the periphery. I am not suggesting that some of the things at the periphery don’t have a place or shouldn’t be welcomed. I only am suggesting that there are some things that are necessarily central to everything else in the Christian life.

Obviously, coming to faith in Jesus–personally responding in dependent trust to Jesus’ offer of life because of what he accomplished in dying and rising for us–is the center of the center. Without that being settled in our hearts, nothing else matters. Once you come into a life with Jesus, that you have time with him is important; the specifics of where and when you have such time is not nearly so critical.

In the upper room–the place Jesus shared his last meal before his betrayal and crucifixion with his closest followers–Jesus spoke about how they were going to experience ongoing life with him after he was no longer physically present with him. He touches on lots of different aspects of life–and all that he said to them was important. It all should matter to us. But interestingly enough, Jesus highlights a few things. He verbally underscores some of his words by introducing a statement with the words, “Truly, truly” (or “Amen, amen” in some translations). Jesus wants us to grasp the critical nature of these particular statements. These are essentials to ongoing life with him.

In previous posts we’ve looked at two of those statements. (See “Real Joy is Evident” and other posts on John 16:22 and “Are We Sure About That?” and other posts on John 14:12.) There is one more “truly, truly” that calls for our attention.

“In that day you will not question me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”  (John 14:23-24)

This “essential statement” is going to require more than a single post to unpack; the implications here are massive.

The “day” Jesus is referring to is the day his followers will experience the joy of the resurrection (as is evident from the context of these remarks). In that day–once they realize that Jesus has risen just as he said he would–they will not be caught up in asking Jesus to explain everything he meant–as they had been doing in the upper room–but they would be launched into a new life of prayer. Their “questioning” will wane because they will finally grasp what Jesus has been telling them about his life and death and resurrection. And recognizing that he has drawn them into this resurrection life of shared intimacy with the Father, they will pray as they never have before.

Part of what Jesus says here that really stirs me is that what will characterize the post-resurrection life of his followers is the way they pray. Praying–asking and receiving from the Father–is one of the defining characteristics of their lives with Jesus when he is no longer physically present. And that is not what characterizes my life–even though I am living in the same post-resurrection life. I tend  to live as if such prayer is peripheral rather than essential.

I’m going to have to wrestle this idea down into where I live, but for now I am simply growing in my awareness that Jesus wants me to know that an active and effective life of prayer is an essential to our lives–those of us who live in this post-resurrection world.

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