Perhaps many never ask why, though they always do it. Other people resist any formula that they think reflects unthinking ritual. Yet Christ commands this (John 14:13-14). We ought certainly to think about what words we use in prayer. Praying in Christ’s name is important because our prayers must be distinctly Christian. But praying in Christ’s name means vastly more than merely mentioning His name. It’s even possible to say “Lord, Lord” without the heart being yielded to Christ (Matthew 7:21). This is a question that takes us to the heart of true prayer. We can only come to God through Christ as Mediator. We can only ask anything in prayer for Christ’s sake.
It’s interesting that the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q180) asks the question “What is it to pray in the name of Christ?” The answer given is “To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake; not by bare mentioning of his name, but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation”. This is a helpful summary. John Brown of Wamphray further develops these themes with practical help as well as a fully biblical explanation.
1. What Praying in Christ’s Name Assumes
(a) A Sense of Our Unworthiness
We are convinced our sinfulness, vileness, and distance from God because of sin, wickedness, and rebellion. We cannot think to approach God with acceptance in ourselves. We have nothing to commend ourselves to God who is a consuming fire to all who are lying in their sins and not yet reconciled to Him through the mediator. Without this we and all our acts of worship must be an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15:8, 29; 21:27; 28:9). We must renounce everything within ourselves as any grounds of access to God or hope of acceptance.
(b) Faith in Christ as Mediator
We must have knowledge of and faith in Christ as mediator. He alone and none else in heaven or in earth is appointed to this office, or is qualified and equipped for it.
(c) Faith in Christ’s Work
We must know what Christ has done to make peace and to open a door of access to the Father. We can have boldness and confidence in our access to God and the throne of grace because Christ as a priest has offered a sacrifice of reconciliation to atone and reconcile us to God. He is daily interceding on the satisfaction offered and accepted. He presents Himself in heaven for us to plead and advocate our cause.
(d) Being Reconciled to God through Christ
We must have fled to Him as the only city of refuge and peacemaker and laid hold on Him by faith. We can never make right use of Christ in a particular request if we have not laid the weight of our whole soul on Him.
(e) Asking According to Christ’s Will
Christ will not allow us to take His name in vain but unquestionably we would if we ask anything in His name which He would not approve or is contrary to His law and command.
(e) Believing this is the Only Way of Access
Only through Him and His name will we and our prayers be accepted before God. If our hearts hesitate and doubt concerning this we cannot ask rightly in the name of Christ. This is because we cannot ask with confidence that asking in His name will not be in vain. We must believe firmly that whatever we ask the Father in Christ’s name He will do it (John 14:13 and 16:24).
2. What is Involved in Praying in Christ’s Name?
(a) Drawing Encouragement to Pray from Christ
Through Christ the throne of God has become to us a throne of grace and mercy. We should be encouraged to come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace for help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16). He has reconciled us to the Father by His blood and purchased mercy, pardon, and grace to us by His death and sufferings. He stands before the throne as our intercessor and advocate, there to procure favour for us and to plead our cause and make our prayers acceptable. These things should be our sole ground of encouragement in approaching God.
We see many things, indeed, all things wrong in us, which may discourage or dishearten us from drawing near to God. Yet this glorious name of Christ and His mediatorial office allure and force us forward despite all discouragements.
(b) Drawing Confidence and Boldness in Prayer from Christ
There is a boldness and confidence as opposed to fears, fainting, and doubting. The basis for this is Christ, His name, offices and work. The boldness and confidence with which the apostle would have us approaching (Hebrews 4:16) is the boldness and confidence of a child that comes to the father and tells all that is in his heart, concealing nothing and without fear or shame, whoever be present. And this must be founded on Christ alone and on what He has done to procure this to us. When we base our boldness and confidence in drawing near to God only on Christ, then we ask in the name of Christ.
(c) Drawing Hope of Acceptance from Christ
When we ask in Christ’s name, we must roll ourselves as sinners on Him and come to God in His arms so that He may make us acceptable (for we must be accepted in the beloved). Thus, the enmity and wrath being taken away, our petitions may have free access to the throne of grace.
(d) Drawing Strength in Prayer from Christ
We ask in His name when we draw up our petitions in Him or by His Spirit in us, and when we advance with them in Him, as going to God in the hand of Christ, by the Spirit, and so roll all our difficulties and encumbrances on Him, or whatever stands in our way, either to hinder us from coming or to retard us or discourage us in us going. Then do we pray in His name, when leaning to His promises of strength and through bearing, we adventure over the belly of all discouragements and of felt weakness and unworthiness.
(e) Drawing Our Hope of Acceptance from Christ’s Work
Christ is the one mediator and the only peacemaker. Only He makes us and all our service to be acceptable to the Father. When we ask in His name, we put our petitions in His hand so that He may present them to the Father and offer them up with incense out of His censer (Revelation. 8:3). Our hopes will not fail us, nor will we conclude the matter desperate, even if we discover much guilt and unworthiness in ourselves. These grounds are the same whatever we may be. Christ’s merits abide fresh with the Father, however it may be with us.
(f) Drawing Confidence and Boldness in Prayer from Christ
This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (1 John 5:13–14). When we ask in His name, we rest confident that our prayers will go into the throne of grace through Him who is our advocate with the Father. All our hopes lean on Him and here we rest and are quiet.
3. How Do We Pray in Christ’s Name?
(a) Consider Our Unworthiness
We must remember constantly what we are by nature – worthless sinners at a distance from God, having nothing to commend us to God except misery and poverty. Nor do we have any grounds in ourselves to expect admission to God or His favour and acceptance.
(b) Consider that Christ’s Work is to Make Us Accepted
Christ’s office and work is to bring sinners to the Father and make them accepted. He presents their requests and cause in heaven. He is appointed by the Father for this and will be faithful to Him that appointed Him. He is a faithful high priest and will faithfully perform His work.
(c) Consider that Christ Delights to Help Us
Jesus Christ has great delight in this as man with the true and tender affections bowels of a man. During His days on earth He was tempted and experienced in Himself the pain, pressure, grief and powerful necessity that we suffer, though without sin. It is like the mother’s affections which cause her to run to help her beloved child in trouble with delight and readiness.
(d) Consider that the Father is Pleased with Christ
The Father, having appointed Him to be high priest, intercessor, and advocate will certainly be well pleased with Him in discharging these offices. He will accept all such as come to Him thus and make them and their supplications welcome. He will prevail at the court of heaven for all He speaks for, and therefore that all the requests which He presents will be heard in due time.
(e) Consider Christ’s Work as Mediator
We should make use of Christ in all His offices. Particularly, as ushering our way to the Father on the ground of what He has done. He has purchased freedom of access to us to approach with confidence as resting on Him and trusting in His merits.
(f) Consider Christ’s Sympathy Towards Us
That we should eye Him as a tenderhearted, compassionate, sympathizing high priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And on this ground we should approach with warmed affections, confidence, freedom of spirit, cheerfulness, and alacrity, making all our requests known through Him.
(g) Consider that Christ Will Never Forget to Intercede
Christ will act the part of a tender-hearted, loving, and sympathizing high priest, intercessor, and advocate. He will cheerfully welcome us as though waiting to receive our prayers to put in His censer and to be employed by us in these His offices.
(h) Consider that We Can Always have Confidence in Christ Despite Ourselves
We need not be up or down in our hopes and expectations of acceptance according to our spiritual condition. The ground of our acceptance always remains the same; it is not in ourselves but in Him with whom the Father is well pleased.
(i) Consider Christ Alone
We expect what we desire only on His account who has purchased and procured all to us that we need. We do this despite whatever we may observe in ourselves which would weaken our hope and expectation, or make us despair of receiving a good answer.
(j) Consider the Answer to be Guaranteed
Laying our whole weight on Christ and on His merits, we act in faith in the specific matter that we ask. We leave ourselves and our requests wholly on Christ, putting them in His hand and trusting in Him who is a faithful high priest and tender of all the concerns of His people. We wait in confidence and hope for a good return in God’s own time, only in and through Jesus Christ.
Thus we see that to ask in the name of Christ is something far different that merely to mention His name in prayer, as to say, “Grant us, Lord, this or that for Christ’s sake,”. Many may be satisfied with this and think that when they have barely made mention of His name, they have done enough.
This is updated and extracted from John Brown of Wamphray’s very full book on prayer called Godly Prayer and its Answers.