Today’s Gospel in the Lectionary is John 16:23-33. The first two verses read, “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
What does this mean? Can we ask for anything willy-nilly and expect our prayer to be heard?
No, we must make our requests in Jesus’ Name, which is to say, according to His character as well as on the authority of His person.
Bl. Theophylact (+1107) stresses this in his commentary on the passage, “Consider this: only he who asks in the name of Christ will receive. He who asks for what is worldly and harmful to the soul does not really ask in Christ’s name; therefore, he will not receive. The name of Christ is divine and salvific. When someone asks for what is harmful to the soul, he has not asked in the name of the One Who saves.”
So we must make our petitions not only on Christ’s authority but also in conformity with His nature.
The founding pastor of Applegate Christian Fellowship, Jon Courson, gives a helpful illustration from his own life to demonstrate this, “Short on cash, I decide to cash a check at Valley Bank in California. As I hand the teller my check, however, she says, “This check is out of state. We can’t cash it.”
“Look at the name on the top,” I say. And as she does, she quickly apologizes and cashes my check immediately. It’s great—but it has nothing to do with me. You see, my dad is President of Valley Bank, so I am treated well because of his name. So, too, when I approach the Father in heaven, I don’t come saying, “Did You see how long I prayed last week, Father? Fourteen hours logged in, eighteen chapters read, twenty-two verses memorized. On that basis, I come to You with these requests, and I’m sure You’ll give them to me.” No, I come simply on the authority of the name I’ve been given to use: Jesus’ name.
Third, Jesus give His disciples a name to conform to. If I went into that same Valley Bank, pulled out a gun, and said to the teller, “I’m Jon Courson. Now, give me all your money, or I’m blasting your brains out,” she might perhaps start loading my bag with money—but she would also hit a silent alarm, for although I would be using the name of Courson, I would not be acting in conformity with that name, with the nature of my dad. So, too, when we ask in the name of Jesus, we must do so not only in His authority, but in conformity to His nature. Consequently, if someone cuts me off as I’m driving and I pray, “Father, in Jesus’ name, help that guy to drive off the road”—it’s not going to happen because that’s not in conformity with His nature. Oftentimes, we ask for things that are out of harmony with the nature of our Lord—and we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered. That’s why, for me, a real secret in prevailing prayer is to be in the Word constantly, studying the life of Christ specifically, so that the things I pray for are in conformity with His character.”
So let us approach the Father boldly in the Name of Jesus and obediently in the character of the Son.