In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. On this Sunday, as the Ascension of our Lord draws nigh, we are exhorted to pray—Rogate in Latin. But far too often, we feel that our prayers are insufficient. “We do not know what to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26). We are ignorant—thinking that we know more than we do or recognizing that we know less than we should. This ignorance impacts our prayers. As our Lord’s instruction to His disciples on Holy Thursday draws to a close and His Passion approaches, Our Lord teaches us to pray in His name, which is done in faith according to His Word, trusting the outcome to the Lord.
2. In teaching His disciples to pray in His name, our Lord instructs His disciples regarding both the foundation and the content of prayer: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:26-28).
The foundation of prayer is this: Our Lord teaches His disciples that the day is coming when they will be given direct access to the Father. The temple curtain will be torn in two and direct access to the Father will be theirs. They will not need to rely on the intercession of another in that day because direct access to the Father will be theirs. The sacrifice of Christ upon the cross has given both them and us direct access to the Father because He is our mediator. We poor sinners were barred from paradise and the presence of our heavenly Father along with our first parents when they rebelled in the Garden of Eden. In His gracious love, the Lord gave to His Old Testament people, the Israelites, the ability to access His presence through sacrifice and the mediation of priests. The temple curtain then still barred access to the presence of God in the Most Holy Place, and only the priests could even approach the curtain, offering daily the incense which symbolized the prayers of God’s people before the footstool of His throne. But now that Christ has come, He has made known to us the invisible God, and He has removed every obstacle which would prohibit our access to the Father. By His suffering and death our Lord Jesus has redeemed us and restored us to the Father. He has accomplished the Lord’s will by suffering in our place. The punishment that we deserve has fallen upon Him. The once-for-all sacrifice has been completed and we have been granted direct access to our heavenly Father—this is the foundation of prayer. By the person and work of our Lord Jesus, we have been invited to pray directly to “Our Father” because He loves us in and through His Son.
3. Our Lord Jesus is the foundation of our prayer. This is why the content of our prayer must be in His name. Now, let us be clear of what our Lord does not mean when He speaks of prayer “in His name.” Prayer in Jesus’ name is not a mere formula to which we must adhere. We are not required to end all of our prayers with the words: “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” To pray in Jesus’ name is not to be bound to this formula or one like it, although we might benefit if we were to do so. Prayer in Jesus’ name is not merely having His name upon our lips. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7). There is a manner in which one might pray and say all the right things without truly praying in Jesus’ name. He is not talking about a set formula. He does not mean that one must close a prayer with the proper words. And He certainly does not imply that everyone who prays according to a set formula will be heard.
4. Prayer in Jesus’ name is prayer in faith. Consider again the rationale that our Lord Jesus gives for why the Father loves and listens to those who pray to Him: “because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:27b). To have faith is to believe in Jesus Christ and to love Him for what He has done for you. And so, the one who prays in Jesus’ name must pray in this faith. The atoning work of Jesus Christ for lost sinners is the foundation of our prayer because this is the foundation of our faith. And because prayer is the voice of faith, the one who prays in Jesus name is the one who prays in faith. Without faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, prayer is meaningless. One who does not believe in and love our Lord Jesus ought not bother praying at all because the Father will not hear them. But our Lord Jesus promises that the one who prays in faith will be heard by our heavenly Father.
5. So, what sort of faith ought we have when we pray? Of course, in order to pray we must have faith in Jesus, as we have said. But what sort of faith ought we to have concerning the actual prayers we offer to the heavenly Father? The answer to this question is found in the first phrase of verse 27: “for the Father Himself loves you.” When we pray to our heavenly Father, we ought to have faith that He loves us. And because we have faith that He loves us, the faith we have concerning our prayers is that God will act according to His good and gracious will. The one who prays in Jesus’ name commits Himself to the will of God. We do not pray asking God to bend His will to our own. We ask that His good and gracious will would be done for and among us. And we know that our Lord’s will is good and gracious because the will of our heavenly Father is chiefly revealed upon the cross wherein He has given us His Son so that we might be redeemed. God the Father did not hand over His Son to sinful men for our sake in order that He might despise us and harbor a hateful disposition toward us. God the Father gave His Son into death because of the great love with which He loves us. His will toward us, therefore, is and ever remains good and gracious. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we must trust this.
6. Since we pray according to God’s will and not our own, does this limit that for which we may ask? The answer must be both yes and no. Prayer made in Jesus’ name and according to God’s will is grounded upon His Word because therein is revealed His will. Those who would pray in faith must immerse themselves in God’s Word so that they might be formed more deeply by the Holy Spirit in the faith. And as we are formed in the faith, the will of God is more and more made known to us and we learn from His Word those things for which we should ask. So, do not be ignorant of God’s will and ways by refusing to hear and read His Word. The one who desires to pray in Jesus’ name must allow His ignorance to be enlightened by the illuminating truth of God’s Word. This is how we learn to pray.
7. For example, we learn from God’s Word that He desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Therefore we ought not pray contrary to that Word and will, asking for someone we dislike to be condemned to hell. There are things which God’s Word prohibits us from praying. However, much of our lives involve situation which are not so clear-cut. When faced with a desire for a career change, when we think the Lord is calling us to pursue further education, or when we are in a situation where the details have not been fully worked out yet, it is not wrong to pray for what we desire, even when we’re not sure if it is according to God’s will. When our Lord prays in Gethsemane: “Not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), He opens this possibility for us. So, pray that God would make the career change happen. Pray that He would provide finances and opportunity to pursue further education. Pray that He would work out the details of your situation according to your desired outcome. When God’s Word has not spoken clearly on a circumstance, all we can do after using our best judgement and seeking godly advice is to pray and trust the Lord with the outcome. So, pray for what you want and think is best for your situation because we have a gracious heavenly Father who will not grant you what you ask if it is apart from His will. There is freedom in this. God is our loving Father. He tenderly invites us to believe this, so that we ask in all boldness and confidence, trusting that His good and gracious will for us will be accomplished.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.