Prayer is our major means of communicating with God. It’s through prayer that the nonbeliever finds forgiveness of sins and the believer communes with his Savior. Following is the first in a five-part series of articles about prayer, from one of the great Christian teachers of our day, Jerry Bridges. Bridges is an evangelical Christian author and speaker and has been a staff member with The Navigators For more than 50 years.
In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the very first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is, “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” We could give a very similar answer to the question, “What is the purpose of prayer?” The purpose of prayer is first of all, to glorify God; and secondly, to enjoy Him or to enjoy seeing His answers to our prayers. We find these two thoughts given to us in John 14 and 16. In John 14:13, Jesus said to His disciples, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” And in John 16:24: “Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full.” From these two passages of Scripture, we find the two basic purposes of prayer: one, that God might be glorified; and two, that our joy might be full.
In order for God to be glorified and in order that we might experience the joy of answered prayer, it’s necessary that we understand some of the biblical foundations for prayer. There is a book on the Christian book market that I confess I’ve never read, but I’ve long been intrigued by its title: “Prayer: Asking and Receiving.” As I’ve thought about that, it has occurred to me that most of us would have to title our prayer life, “Prayer: Asking and Hoping” because that’s basically the way we approach prayer. We wish something. And we would like for God to do something, so we send up a prayer. And we think, I’ll send up this prayer and see what God will do. Maybe He’ll answer it and maybe He won’t, but let’s hope for the best.
The Bible does not approach prayer this way. Scripture approaches prayer from the assumption that it is meant to be answered, that it is meant to get results. For example, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do.” That is a stupendous promise. But in order to experience this kind of a prayer life, it is important that we know some of the basic tenets of prayer. Over the next few months, I’d like to cover what I feel are the basic principles of prayer—the least common denominators of what you must have in order to enjoy an effective prayer life.
The first of these principles is found in the Scripture we’ve already discussed: John 14:13. Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” And in verse 14: “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” So the first principle is that prayer must be offered in the name of Jesus. Have you noticed that when we’re in a public prayer meeting and someone is asked to pray, they usually end the prayer with the words, “We ask this in Jesus’ name?” Sometimes it feels like we wouldn’t know how to end a prayer if we didn’t know those words because that is all we have ever heard. But those words are more than just a signal that the prayer is over and we can open our eyes. The expression has a much deeper meaning. Jesus said, “If you ask in My name.” So, what does it mean to ask in the name of Jesus Christ?
First of all, it means to ask in His merit. We come before God in Christ’s standing. We in ourselves have no standing before God. There is no reason within us that God should ever answer any of our prayers. Viewed on our own, apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we are children of God’s wrath. We can’t come to God in our righteousness, because the Bible tells us that our righteousness is as filthy rags. Yet, sometimes we come before God and because we’ve reviewed our memory verses, we’ve done our Bible study, maybe we’ve even witnessed this week, we feel rather spiritual. And although we may use the phrase in Jesus’ name, in actuality, we have a bit of self-confidence attached to our prayer. We think, I’ve been pretty good this week, so God is going to reward me. He’s going to bless me by answering my prayer.
On the other side of that coin is the opposite scenario. I’ve been defeated this week. I’ve fallen into sin. I overslept and didn’t get up for quiet time this morning. Maybe we even blew an opportunity to witness. And so we think, It’s no use praying. God sure wouldn’t answer my prayer today. Now we are coming to God with a lack of confidence. To come to God in the name of Jesus means that we disregard both our righteousness and our sin. We do not ignore our sin overall. We’ll touch on that a little later, but as far as our right to come before God—as far as God having any reason why He should answer our prayers—we ignore both our righteousness and our sin, and we come strictly in the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus at one time said these words: “He that sent me is with me. The Father has not left me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). “I always do what pleases God the Father,” Jesus said. And on several occasions, God, speaking from Heaven with a voice of thunder said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” This is the One in whose merit we come and stand before a holy God. The One in whom God the Father is well-pleased.
As I kneel before God and look at my own life, I see my sin. I see my failure. I see my weaknesses. But this simply drives me to Jesus Christ, and I say: “Father, I come today through your infinite grace and through the infinite righteousness of Jesus Christ, and I base all of my requests on His righteousness.” As someone has said, Jesus Christ has bought and paid for on the cross the answer to every prayer that we will ever petition.
And so, to come in His name means to come in His merit, in His righteousness.
But the second thing it means to come in the name of Jesus is that I come as His representative. When an ambassador goes to another country, he does not go in his own name. He goes in the name of his own government, of his president, or his prime minister, or his king. He is a representative. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 said, “We are ambassadors for Christ, for God. We beseech you on His behalf.” And so, when we come before God the Father, we’re not only coming in the merit of Christ, but we’re coming in His behalf. That is, we are to ask for things that will further His Kingdom.
To pray in Jesus’ name means that I come to the Father depending on the perfect merit of Jesus which gives me standing before the Father. In that sense, He is my representative before the Father.
To pray as His representative means that I come asking for His will to be accomplished, and His name, or glory, be hallowed. When I was treasurer for The Navigators, I would have to borrow significant sums of money to advance to some of our overseas staff who had to pay an entire four years of rent upfront. I could easily borrow the money because The Navigators had a good credit rating with the bank, so I could rely on their credit and not my own. I could never ever have borrowed that amount of money in my own name. So in this sense, I am coming to the bank in the name of The Navigators.
At the same time I am acting on behalf of The Navigators, not myself. If I were to try to use the Navs’ good standing with the bank to borrow money for my own use, that would be fraud.
So we are to pray in Christ’s name and as His representative, asking that His will be done and that His name be glorified. That doesn’t mean that we are not to ask for ourselves or our friends and loved ones, but it does mean that His will and His glory should have priority in our prayers. We see this in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. The first half of the prayer is for God. Only then do we pray for our own needs.
It is my nonscientific observation that most Christians neither pray in His name, consciously acknowledging their dependence on His righteousness for their access to God and their standing before Him; nor do they pray as His representative—asking first of all that His name be hallowed, and that His will be done.
These are the first principles we must apply in order for our prayer life to first and foremost glorify God and then secondly, for us to enjoy the experience of answered prayer. ©2012 Jerry Bridges
Scripture quotations taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Look for part 2 of this series in next month’s Decision, as we consider what it means to pray according to God’s will.