JESUS often taught about prayer. In his day, Jewish religious leaders prayed “on the corners of the broad ways.” Why? “To be visible to men.” Obviously, they wanted to be admired for their piety. Many uttered long, repetitive invocations, as though the “use of many words” was necessary for a prayer to be heard. (Matthew 6:5-8) Jesus exposed such practices as futile, thus helping sincere individuals to know what to avoid when praying. However, he did more than teach how not to pray.
Jesus taught that our prayers should express our desire to see God’s name sanctified, His Kingdom come, and His will be done. Jesus also taught that it is appropriate to ask God to help us with personal matters. (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) Using illustrations, Jesus showed that we need persistence, faith, and humility if our prayers are to be heard. (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-14) And he reinforced his teaching through his own example.—Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35.
This instruction no doubt helped Jesus’ disciples to improve their prayers. Yet, Jesus waited until his last night on earth to provide his disciples with the most significant lesson on prayer.
“The Turning-Point in the History of Prayer”
Jesus spent most of his final night giving encouragement to his faithful apostles. It was the appropriate time to reveal something new. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Later he gave them the reassuring promise: “Whatever it is that you ask in my name, I will do this, in order that the Father may be glorified in connection with the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” Toward the end of his discussion, he said: “Until this present time you have not asked a single thing in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.”—John 14:6, 13, 14; 16:24.
These words were striking. One reference work describes this as “the turning-point in the history of prayer.” Jesus did not intend that prayer should be diverted from God to him. Instead, he was opening up a new way of access to Jehovah God.
Granted, God has always listened to the prayers of his faithful servants. (1 Samuel 1:9-19; Psalm 65:2) However, from the time Israel became God’s covenant people, those who wanted their prayers to be heard had to acknowledge that Israel was God’s chosen nation. And later, from the time of Solomon, they had to recognize the temple as God’s chosen place for sacrifice. (Deuteronomy 9:29; 2 Chronicles 6:32, 33) Yet, this system of worship was only temporary. As the apostle Paul wrote, the Law given to Israel and the sacrifices offered at the temple were “a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things.” (Hebrews 10:1, 2) The shadow had to give way to the reality. (Colossians 2:17) Since 33 C.E., an individual’s relationship with Jehovah no longer depends on adherence to the Mosaic Law. Instead, it is founded on obedience to the one to whom the Law pointed—Christ Jesus.—John 15:14-16; Galatians 3:24, 25.
A Name “Above Every Other Name”
Jesus introduced a superior basis for approach to Jehovah, identifying himself as a powerful friend, one who opens the way for our prayers to be heard and answered by God. What enables Jesus to act this way in our behalf?
Since we are all born in sin, no works we perform or sacrifices we offer can cleanse us of this stain or earn us the right to have a relationship with our holy God, Jehovah. (Romans 3:20, 24; Hebrews 1:3, 4) However, Jesus offered up his perfect human life and paid for the sins of redeemable mankind. (Romans 5:12, 18, 19) Now all who want to do so have the opportunity to achieve a clean standing before Jehovah and to enjoy “freeness of speech” toward God—but only if they exercise faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and pray in his name.—Ephesians 3:11, 12.
When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are expressing faith in at least three facets of his role in the outworking of God’s purpose: (1) He is “the Lamb of God,” whose sacrifice provides the basis for forgiveness of sin. (2) He was resurrected by Jehovah and now acts as “high priest” in administering the benefits of the ransom. (3) He alone is “the way” of approach to Jehovah in prayer.—John 1:29; 14:6; Hebrews 4:14, 15.
Praying in Jesus’ name honors Jesus. Such honor is appropriate, for Jehovah’s will is that “in the name of Jesus every knee should bend . . . , and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10, 11) More important, though, praying in Jesus’ name glorifies Jehovah, the one who gave his Son for our benefit.—John 3:16.
We should pray with our “whole heart,” not in a mechanical manner
So that we can grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ position, the Bible uses various titles and names to describe him. These help us comprehend the many benefits that flow to us based on what Jesus has done, is doing, and will yet do in our behalf. (See the box “Jesus’ Vital Role”.) Indeed, Jesus has been given “the name that is above every other name.”a All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.—Philippians 2:9; Matthew 28:18.
More Than Just a Habit
Yes, we must offer our prayers in Jesus’ name if we want them to be heard by Jehovah. (John 14:13, 14) But we never want to repeat the phrase “in Jesus’ name” purely out of habit. Why not?
Consider an illustration. When you receive a letter from a businessman, it may conclude with a perfunctory “sincerely yours.” Do you feel that this is a genuine expression of the businessman’s feelings, or is he just conforming to a standard of letter-writing etiquette? Really, the use of Jesus’ name in our prayers needs to be more meaningful than the complimentary closing of a business letter. Though we are to “pray incessantly,” we are to do so with our “whole heart,” not in a mechanical manner.—1 Thessalonians 5:17; Psalm 119:145.
How can you avoid using the phrase “in Jesus’ name” as a mere token expression? Why not meditate on the heartwarming qualities of Jesus? Think about what he has already done and is willing to do for you. In prayer, thank Jehovah and praise him for the wonderful way he has used his Son. As you do, you will become more confident of Jesus’ promise: “If you ask the Father for anything he will give it to you in my name.”—John 16:23.
a According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the Greek word translated “name” can refer to “all that a name implies, of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, [and] excellence.”