How Shall I Pray?
Could there be a more important question for a Christian man to ask? How shall I approach the King of Glory?
When we read Christ’s promises regarding prayer, we are apt to think that He puts far too great a power into our hands—unless, indeed, we hastily conclude that it is impossible for Him to act as He promises. He says, ask “any thing,” (John 14:14) “whatsoever,” (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23) “what ye will,” (John 15:7) and it shall be done.
But then He puts in a qualifying phrase. He says that we are to ask in His name. That is the condition, and the only one, although, as we shall remind ourselves later on, it is sometimes couched in different words.
If, therefore, we ask and do not receive, it can only be that we are not fulfilling this condition. Therefore, if we are true, sincere disciples of His, we shall take pains (infinite pains, if need be) to discover just what it means to ask in His name; and we shall not rest content until we have fulfilled that condition. Let us read the promise again to be quite sure about it. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
This was something quite new, for our Lord said so. “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name,” but now, “ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)
Six times over our Lord repeats this simple condition, “in my name.” (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24,26) Evidently something very important is here implied. It is more than a condition: it is also a promise, an encouragement, for our Lord’s biddings are always His enablings. What, then, does it mean to ask in His name? We must know this at all costs, for it is the secret of all power in prayer. And it is possible to make a wrong use of those words. Our Lord said, “Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:5) He might well have said, “And many shall think they are praying to the Father in my name, while deceiving themselves.”
Does it mean just adding the words, “and all this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ,” at the end of our prayers? Many people apparently think that it does. But have you never heard—or perhaps even offered—prayers full of self-will and selfishness which ended up in that way: “for Christ’s sake. Amen”? God could not answer the prayers James refers to in his epistle, even if those who offered them added, “we ask these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those Christians were asking “amiss.” (James 4:3) A wrong prayer cannot be made right by adding some mystic phrase!
And a right prayer does not fail if some such words are omitted. No! It is more than a question of words. Our Lord is thinking about faith and facts more than about some formula. The chief object of prayer is to glorify the Lord Jesus. We are to ask in Christ’s name “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) Listen! We are not to seek wealth or health, prosperity or success, ease or comfort, spirituality or fruitfulness in service simply for our own enjoyment or advancement or popularity, but only for Christ’s sake, for His glory.
Let us take three steps toward a right understanding of those important words, “in my name.”
(1) There is a sense in which some things are done by God only “for Christ’s sake,” (Ephesians 4:32) because of His atoning death. Those who do not believe in the atoning death of Christ cannot pray “in His name.” They may use the words, but without effect. For we are “justified by his blood,” (Romans 5:9) and “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14) In these days when Unitarianism under its guileful name of Modernism has invaded all sects, it is most important to remember the place and work of the shed blood of Christ, or “prayer”—so-called—becomes a delusion and a snare.
Let us illustrate this point by an experience which happened quite early in Mr. Moody’s ministry. The wife of an unbelieving judge—a man of great intellectual gifts—begged Mr. Moody to speak to her husband. Moody, however, hesitated at arguing with such a man, and told him so quite frankly. “But,” he added, “if ever you are converted will you promise to let me know?” The judge laughed cynically, and replied, “Oh, yes, I’ll let you know quick enough if I am ever converted!” Moody went his way, relying upon prayer. That judge was converted, and within a year. He kept his promise and told Moody just how it came about. “I began to grow very uneasy and miserable one night when my wife was at a prayer meeting. I went to bed before she came home. I could not sleep all that night. Getting up early the next morning, I told my wife I should not need any breakfast, and went off to my office. Telling the clerks they could take a holiday, I shut myself up in my private room. But I became more and more wretched. Finally, I fell on my knees and asked God to forgive me my sins, but I would not say ‘for Jesus’ sake,’ for I was Unitarian, and I did not believe in the atonement. In an agony of mind I kept praying, ‘O God, forgive me my sins,’ but no answer came. At last, in desperation, I cried, ‘O God, for Christ’s sake forgive my sins.’ Then I found peace at once.”
That judge had no access to the presence of God until he sought it in the name of Jesus Christ. When he came in Christ’s name he was at once heard and forgiven. Yes, to pray “in the name” of the Lord Jesus is to ask for things which the blood of Christ has purchased for us. We have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” (Hebrews 10:19) There is entrance by no other way.
(2) But this is not all that those words “in my name” mean. The most familiar illustration of coming “in the name” of Christ is that of withdrawing money from a bank by means of a check. I can draw from my bank account only up to the amount of my deposit there. In my own name, I can go no farther. In the Bank of England I have no money whatsoever, and can therefore draw nothing from there. But suppose a very wealthy friend of mine who has a big account there gives me a blank check bearing his signature, and bids me fill it in to any amount I choose. What should I do? Should I just satisfy my present need, or should I draw as much as I dare? I should certainly do nothing to offend my friend, or to lower myself in his esteem.
Well, in a similar sense heaven is our bank. God is the Great Banker, for “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father.” (James 1:17) We need a “check” wherewith to “draw” upon this boundless store. The Lord Jesus gives us a blank check in prayer. “Fill it in,” says He, “to any amount; ask ‘any thing,’ ‘what ye will,’ and you shall have it. Present your check in My name, and your request will be honored.” Let me put this in the words of a well-known evangelist: “That is what happens when I go to the bank of heaven—when I go to God in prayer. I have nothing deposited there; I have no credit there; and if I go in my own name I will get absolutely nothing. But Jesus Christ has unlimited credit in heaven, and He has granted me the privilege of going with His name on my checks. When I go thus, my prayers will be honored to any extent. To pray, then, in the name of Christ is to pray, not on the ground of my credit, but His.”
This is all very delightful, and, in a sense, very true. If the check were drawn on a Government account, or upon some wealthy business, one might be tempted to get all one could. But remember, we are coming to a loving Father to Whom we owe all, and Whom we love with all our heart, and to Whom we may come repeatedly. In cashing our checks at the bank of heaven, we should desire chiefly His honor and His glory. We should wish to do only that which is pleasing in His sight. Cashing some of our “checks”—answering some of our prayers—would bring dishonor to His name, and discredit and discomfort to us. True, His resources are unlimited, but His honor is assailable.
But experience makes argument unnecessary. Dear reader, have not we all tried this method, only to fail? How many of us dare say we have never come away from the bank of heaven without getting what we asked for, even though we have apparently asked “in Christ’s name”? Wherein do we fail? Is it because we do not seek to learn God’s will for us? We must not try to exceed His will.
I will tell about a personal experience I had, which is probably quite unique. It happened over thirty years ago. I had not told it publicly before, but now I see that it makes such a splendid illustration of what we are now trying to learn about prayer.
A well-to-do friend, and an exceedingly busy one, wished to give me one pound towards a certain object. He invited me to his office, and hastily wrote out a check for the amount. He folded the check and handed it to me, saying, “I will not cross it.1 Will you kindly cash it at the bank?” On arriving at the bank, I glanced at my name on the check without troubling to verify the amount, endorsed it, and handed it to a clerk. “This is rather a big sum to cash over the counter,” he said, eyeing me narrowly.
[A crossed checked must be deposited instead of cashed.]
“Yes,” I replied laughingly, “one pound!”
“No,” said the clerk: “this is made out for one thousand pounds.”
And so it was. My friend was, no doubt, accustomed to writing big checks, and he had actually written “one thousand” instead of “one” pound. Now, what was my position legally? The check was truly in his name. The signature was all right. My endorsement was all right. Could I not demand the one thousand pounds, provided there was sufficient in the account? The check was written deliberately, if hurriedly, and freely to me—why should I not take the gift? Why not?
But I was dealing with a friend—a generous friend to whom I owed many deeds of lovingkindness. He had revealed his mind to me. I knew his wishes and desires. He meant to give me one pound and no more. I knew his intention, his “mind,” and at once took back the all-too-generous check. In due time I received just one pound, according to his will. Had that donor given me a blank check the result would have been exactly the same. He would have expected me to write in one pound, and my honor would have been at stake in my doing so.
Need we draw the lesson? God has His will for each one of us, and unless we seek to know that will we are likely to ask for “a thousand,” when He knows that “one” will be best for us. In our prayers we are coming to a Friend—a loving Father. We owe everything to Him. He bids us come to Him whenever we like for all we need. His resources are infinite.
But He bids us to remember that we should ask only for those things that are according to His will—only for that which will bring glory to His name. John says, “If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.” (1 John 5:14) So then our Friend gives us a blank check, and leaves us to fill in anything. But He knows that if we truly love Him we will never write down—never ask for—things He is not willing to give us, because they would be harmful to us.
Perhaps with most of us the fault lies in the other direction. God gives us a blank check and says, “Ask for a pound,” and we ask only for a shilling—one twentieth of a pound! Would not my earthly friend have been insulted had I treated him thus? Do we ask enough of our heavenly Friend? Do we dare to ask “according to his riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19)?
The point we are dwelling upon, however, is this: we cannot be sure that we are praying “in His name” unless we learn His will for us.
(3) But even now we have not exhausted the meaning of those words, “in my name.” We all know what it is to ask for something “in the name” of another. And we are very careful not to allow anyone to thus use our name who is not to be trusted, or he might abuse our trust and discredit our name. Gehazi, the trusted servant, dishonestly used Elisha’s name when he ran after Naaman. In Elisha’s name he secured riches, but also inherited a curse for his wickedness (2 Kings 5:20-27).
A trusted clerk often uses his employer’s name and handles great sums of money as if they were his own. But this he does only so long as he is thought to be worthy of such confidence in him. For he uses the money for his master, not for himself. All our money belongs to our Master, Christ Jesus. We can go to God for supplies in His name if we use all we get for His glory.
When I go to cash a check payable to me, the banker is quite satisfied if the signature of his client is genuine and that I am the person authorized to receive the money. He does not ask for references to my character. It is not his place to enquire whether I am worthy to receive the money or to be trusted to use it aright. It is not so with the Bank of Heaven. Now, this is a point of greatest importance. Do not hurry over what is now to be said.
When I go to heaven’s bank in the name of the Lord Jesus, with a check drawn upon “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:8) God requires me to be a worthy recipient. Not worthy in the sense that I deserve anything from a holy God, but worthy in the sense that I am seeking the gift not for my own glory or self-interest, but only for the glory of God.
Otherwise I may pray and not get. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may spend it in your pleasures.” (James 4:3)RV The great Heavenly Banker will not cash checks for us if our motives are not right. Is not this why so many fail in prayer?
Christ’s name is the revelation of His character. To pray “in His name” is to pray in His character, as His representative sent by Him: it is to pray by His Spirit and according to His will; to have His approval in our asking, to seek what He seeks, to ask help to do what He Himself would wish to be done, and to desire to do it not for our own glorification, but for His glory alone. To pray “in His name” we must have identity of interests and purpose. Self and its aims and desires must be entirely controlled by God’s Holy Spirit, so that our wills are in complete harmony with Christ’s will.
We must reach the attitude of Augustine when he cried, “O Lord, grant that I may do Thy will as if it were my will, so that Thou mayest do my will as if it were Thy will.”
Child of God, does this seem to make prayer “in His name” quite beyond us? That was not our Lord’s intention. He is not mocking us! Speaking of the Holy Spirit our Lord used these words: “The Comforter… whom the Father will send in my name.” (John 14:26) Now, our Savior wants us to be so controlled by the Holy Spirit that we may act in Christ’s name. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) And only sons can say, “Our Father.”
Our Lord said of Saul of Tarsus: “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) Not to them, but before them. So Paul says, “It pleased God… To reveal his Son in me.” (Galatians 1:15-16) We cannot pray in Christ’s name unless we bear that name before people. And this is only possible so long as we abide in Him and His words abide in us. So we come to this: unless the heart is right, the prayer must be wrong.
Christ said, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)
Those three promises are really identical—they express the same thought in different words. Look at them:
- “Ask any thing in my name, [and] I will do it.” (John 14:14)
- “Ask what ye will [if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you], and it shall be done.” (John 15:7)
- “Ask any thing according to his will… [and] we have the petitions.” (1 John 5:14-15)
And we could sum them all up in the words of John, “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” (1 John 3:22) When we do what He bids, He does what we ask! Listen to God and God will listen to you. Thus our Lord gives us “power of attorney” over His kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, if only we fulfil the condition of abiding in Him.
Oh, what a wonder is this! How eagerly and earnestly we should seek to know His mind, His wish, His will! How amazing it is that any one of us should by our own self-seeking miss such unsearchable riches! We know that God’s will is the best for us. We know that He longs to bless us and make us a blessing. We know that to follow our own inclination is absolutely certain to harm us and those whom we love. We know that to turn away from His will for us is to court disaster. O child of God, why do we not trust Him fully and wholly? Here we are, then, once again brought face to face with a life of holiness. We see with the utmost clearness that our Savior’s call to prayer is simply a clarion call to holiness. “Be ye holy,” (1 Peter 1:15) for without holiness no one can see God, and prayer cannot be effective.
When we confess that we “never get answers to our prayers,” we are condemning not God, or His promises, or the power of prayer, but our own selves. There is no greater test of spirituality than prayer. The man who tries to pray quickly discovers just where he stands in God’s sight.
Unless we are living the victorious life we cannot truly pray “in the name” of Christ, and our prayer-life must of necessity be feeble, fitful, and ofttimes unfruitful.
“In His name” must be “according to his will.” But can we know His will? Assuredly we can. Paul not only says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:5) he also boldly declares, “We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16) How, then, can we get to know God’s will?
Remember that “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” (Psalm 25:14) So in the first place, we must not expect God to reveal His will to us unless we desire to know that will and intend to do that will. Knowledge of God’s will and the performance of that will go together. We are apt to desire to know God’s will so that we may decide whether we will obey or not. Such an attitude is disastrous. But, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching.” (John 7:17)RV
God’s will is revealed in His Word, the Holy Scriptures. What He promises in His Word I may know to be according to His will. For example, I may confidently ask for wisdom, because His Word says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God… and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5) We cannot be people of prevailing prayer unless we study God’s Word to find out His will for us.
But it is the Holy Spirit of God Who is prayer’s great Helper. Read again those wonderful words of Paul: “In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness; for we do not know what prayers to offer nor in what way to offer them. But the Spirit Himself pleads for us in yearnings that can find no words, and the Searcher of hearts knows what the Spirit’s meaning is, because His intercessions for God’s people are in harmony with God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27)WNT
What comforting words! Ignorance and helplessness in prayer are indeed blessed things if they cast us upon the Holy Spirit. Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus! We are left without excuse. Pray we must; pray we can.
Child of God, you have often prayed. You have, no doubt, often bewailed your feebleness and slackness in prayer. But have you really prayed in His name?
It is when we have failed and know not “what prayers to offer” or “in what way,” that the Holy Spirit is promised as our Helper.
Is it not worthwhile to be wholly and whole-heartedly yielded to Christ? The half-and-half Christian is of very little use either to God or man. God cannot use him, and man has no use for him, but considers him a hypocrite. One sin allowed in the life wrecks at once our usefulness and our joy, and robs prayer of its power.
Beloved, we have caught a fresh glimpse of the grace and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is willing and waiting to share with us both His glory and His grace. He is willing to make us channels of blessing. Shall we not worship God in sincerity and truth, and cry eagerly and earnestly, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10) and then, in the power of His might, do it?
Paul once shot up that prayer to heaven: “What shall I do?” What answer did he get? Listen! He tells us in his counsel to believers everywhere just what it meant to him, and should mean to us: “Put on… beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering… above all these things put on love…. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)RV
It is only when whatsoever we do is done in His name that He will do whatsoever we ask in His name.