Dear Keith, I’m having trouble with my prayer life.  I’m not getting a lot of my prayers answered.  (And I’m praying “in Jesus’ name.”)  He indicated that he would answer prayers that were prayed in his name.  Can you shed any light on that?  And can you advise me what I can do to have a better average?  I am committed to Christ and will work hard to pray right.

These are questions most thinking people have faced—good question.

The idea that the Father will answer our prayers if we pray them “in Jesus’ name” came to me first when I was a new Christian.  I was working as a land man in the oil exploration business.  One of my jobs was to buy oil and gas leases in a new area.  The senior land man told me, “Keith, don’t ever forget that you are buying these leases in the company’s name.”

When I heard the phrase, “in the company’s name,” I thought about Jesus saying that the secret to having prayers answered was to pray them in His name. So I listened carefully to what buying leases “in the company’s name” meant.

“When you buy leases in someone else’s name,

1) you buy them in the location the company wants leases

2) You pay the price the company wants to pay

3) you buy only the five-year term the company wants to buy, etc.

In other words you buy each lease as the president of the company would buy it—the same location, price, and all the other conditions set out in the leasing agreement that the president would use if he were buying leases in each different area. And you need to know what different things the president may want in different places you will be sent to buy leases in his name.”

Later, I thought again about Jesus’ saying that God would answer our prayers if we prayed them “in Jesus’ name.”  And it occurred to me that maybe he was saying that God will answer my prayers about any situation if I will learn to pray exactly as Jesus would pray if he were praying about that same particular situation.  That way I will be personally representing God in the world as I pray.

If this is so, then in order to pray “in Jesus’ name” I needed to learn a lot more than I knew about Jesus: what he prayed about, what his priorities are, and what he asked for when he prayed.  As I thought about this, I realized that the content and tone of my prayers was changing as I learned more about what Jesus prayed for, and as I committed more and more of my life to God. Over the years I’ve noticed that many times I just say about a situation, “and thy will be done,” since I often don’t know what is best for other people.  (And I now realize that many of the things I didn’t get when I prayed for them would have ruined my life if I’d gotten them.)

That raised the question: who is “the Father” Jesus always prayed to—and what is our attitude and behavior toward God, the Father, to be?  Over the years I come to see that knowing “the Father” intimately would be like relating to a strong, creative, intimate, and loving Father (more perfect than any earthly father could be).  And Jesus prayed as he thought his Father would (e.g. in Gethsemane he said about his own death, “but thy will be done.”)

What Jesus Said about How to Begin a Prayer Life, Praying in Jesus’ Name

This passage gave me a cameo picture of the attitude and behaviors God wants us to have, as Jesus described how to begin a prayer life “in Jesus’ name”:

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need…” (Matthew 6: 5-13, The Message)

What Jesus Said about How to Pray in Jesus’ Name

In this picture—and many others like it—we see how we should pray, and a little about what it would mean to “pray in Jesus’ name.”

In the passage, just before Jesus gave his disciples the only prayer Jesus ever gave them, Jesus said this about the process of praying to the Father:

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it.  It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—’playactors’ I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (Matthew 6: 1-4, The Message)

Jesus then gave his disciples—and us I believe—the perspective that has helped me more than any other.  He tells us, I think, that if we want to pray as Jesus would—in His name (as Jesus positioned himself before the Father) then we are to position ourselves differently than I ever had.  I had treated God like a business partner ( who had all the money) or like a powerful psychiatrist I would consult (and fire if he got too confronting).  But here Jesus gave what for me became the key to learning how to pray (and live) in his name.  He said it this way:

With a God like this loving you (one who “knows better than you what you need!) you can pray very simply like this.”  [And he began to pray by saying,] “Daddy, in heaven”[1] and what followed is the prayer that Jesus gave us as a model of how we should pray.

What all this means to me is that if I want to pray with the same approach to God that Jesus had (in Jesus’ name) I need pray as if I were a small child and he was a loving daddy, not a business partner or psychiatrist whom I can fire.  And to pray as a small child, I need to surrender as much of my entire life to God as I understand Him, realizing that the answer to my prayer is completely up to God.  That way I can learn to listen and watch for God’s answers with the open mind of a child wanting to learn all I can from his father, the intimate loving Father in whose image Jesus was made, and who accepts me warts and all.

I have spent the last 50 years learning all I can in order to more nearly pray as Jesus would pray.  These are a lot of words, but I’m dead serious when I tell you that in trying to surrender my entire life to the Father, my prayers have changed in many ways.  Some of my prayers have been answered in ways I could not have imagined.  And the ones that haven’t been answered…well, maybe they have, but I’m just not able to recognize God’s answer just yet, since the “answers” may have been something I needed to happen so I could grow up in some area—instead of what I ask for.

Some time I’ll talk more about the kinds of radical changes that have come about in my experience of trying to live for God as a small child and what being blessed by God has come to mean.

“In the world humans pride themselves on prudential wisdom, but the purpose of a Christian is to be a child.  The child spirit is a goal and not merely a starting point.  Though not all children demonstrate it, the ideal child spirit is of one who seeks to learn, because he knows that he does not know, and one who trusts his parent unreservedly.  At best, the world of a child is a world of wonder, unspoiled by cynical judgment of others or by the corrosive effect of consciously hidden motives.  The end, says Christ, is to rediscover the beginning.” Elton Trueblood, Confronting Christ

Dear Lord, thank you that you have let me experience enough pain through my self-centerdness and sinful bad choices that I was forced to face myself, decide to surrender and live for you and begin to learn how to pray and live in your name.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive. Peter took him in hand, protesting, ‘Impossible, Master! That can never be!’

But Jesus didn’t swerve. ‘Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works.’

“Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.  What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself?’” Matthew 16: 21-26 (The Message)


‘‘ ‘Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.’

“ Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. ‘The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

“ ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’” Matthew 11:25-30 (The Message)

[1] The word for our “Father” here is Abba which almost always can be correctly translated, “Daddy.”

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