In the classic Disney movie, Cinderella, the fairy godmother uses the phrase “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” when does her magical transformations for Cinderella. How cute. There’s also the famous “Open Sesame” used by Aladdin. Or the “Alacadabra” used by modern magicians and illusionists. And, of course, who can forget the incantations of Gandalf the Grey in the Lord of the Rings movies? I guess my point here is that we are familiar with the idea of using some verbal formula – the incantation – that has the power to create what we desire or need at a particular time. This idea has been around for millennia. In the first century world, both Jewish and Greek practitioners of magic believed it was critically important to find the right name of spirit beings in order to ensure that their incantations would work effectively.
It seems to me, that Christians run the risk of falling into the same way of thinking. We look for the right words, the right prayer formula to ensure that God grants our request. Foremost among these formulas is the ubiquitous use of “In the Name of Jesus” appended to the end of every prayer. We have come to believe that those words possess the magical properties necessary to ensure the success of our prayer. “In the Name” is the guarantee that we will get what we want no matter what we are asking for. It has become a type of Christian incantation.
Why is that? The answer I think is because we have misunderstood and misused Scripture, not maliciously or dishonestly but naively. I’m afraid we have been wrongly taught or worse – not taught at all. Let me explain. Jesus made a very simple and direct statement to His disciples; actually He made several statements about this, found in the Gospel of John.
“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (John 15:16)
“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 16:23-24)
“Ask anything in my name” seems pretty straight forth. But what does it mean? I understand Jesus to mean that we are to ask, to pray, as if Jesus was Himself asking. We are to pray as His representative, as His deputy, His delegate, His spokesperson. You see, using His name means we are appropriating His character, wishes and will. We ask the Father for what Jesus would ask. That, to me, makes it much more complicated because it means I really need to understand who Jesus is. I have to take the time to “get into his head” before I start reciting a litany of requests. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
The question to ask ourselves before we ask “in His name” is this: Are we abiding in Him? Will what I ask bring glory to the Father? Will it result in me or another disciple bearing fruit? I don’t have a problem praying “in His name.” I just want to do it when I know that my will is conformed to His. When I’m not sure, I still pray. I just simply pray, “Help.”