Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son: if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.
It seems this declaration from Jesus to the apostles leaves them a wide open field to furrow and plant their prayers of petition. …if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. Really? Does this mean that if they ask anything, then the Lord will do anything for them or give anything to them? It reminds me of the petitions in the Janis Joplin song, O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? We cannot help but be in sympathy with the sentiment in the song. Why not ask? After all, Jesus does promise, Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it. The sky’s the limit, it seems to me. Try it sometime and see what happens. Ask for anything and see if it is done for you in the Name of Jesus.
No, there must be much more to Jesus’ instruction than granting a positive response to any petition offered by Thomas, Philip, or any of the other disciples. That cannot be what Jesus is teaching on prayer. If you don’t believe me, just think about whether or not God has answered all your prayers in the way you would like. I would like to offer possible alternative conclusions. One: this instruction from Jesus on prayer is not about imposing our wills and desires on God in the Name of Jesus but is about Jesus’ unity with God the Father and the Holy Ghost. Secondly, it is because of that unity in the Trinity that we have a distinct privilege when we pray, and the privilege is knowing and being closer to God the Father. Finally, we will be able to see the whole purpose of prayer and how our prayer lives actually have a good and ultimate goal.
It helps to first realize that the Gospel passage for this Fifth Sunday of Easter captures two instructions from Jesus to two disciples just before the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Both of the teachings drive home how Jesus is indeed the Christ of God. The first teaching is the well-known declaration of Jesus to Thomas, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me. Thomas asks to know the way Jesus is going so he and the other disciples can follow. Jesus gives him not only the Way, but also declares that He is the Truth and the Life and the way to God the Father. Similar instruction is given to Philip when he asks to see the Father. Again, Jesus lets the disciples know that if they have seen Jesus, then they have seen the Father. It is immediately after this that Jesus promises to send them the Holy Spirit, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. After this revelation, that Jesus and the Father are one, he promises their petitions will be answered. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. The Father will grant anything if asked by the Son because He will send the Holy Spirit to have it done. The three are one so if the Holy Spirit is given, then the Father and the Son are doing the work too.
What does it take to ask something in the Name of Jesus so He will do it? It takes love. The love is that of a servant for his lord, the child for the father and mother, the love of the student for the teacher. We know what it is like when we are doing a task and it is something that we want to do because we truly want to please and love the person for whom we’re doing it. When the work is an act of love, it is not work at all. Ask the grandmother who prepares and serves the large Sunday dinners at her house. Her family all arrive and she is actually filled with joy at what she considers a privilege of having her family gather, enjoy the meal, and the unity of the gathered company. She may look exhausted and has probably spent hours in preparation, but the joy and excitement of having the union of her loved ones makes joy appear on her face from the joy she feels inwardly. It’s that kind of love and devotion that is part of the prayer offered out of love and is real prayer in Jesus’ name.
Prayer in Christ’s name has also to be prayer that is offered in obedience to the Father. All that the Father has given to us, we accept and obey when offering prayers in Jesus name. We are obedient to His Commandments of loving God and our neighbor. We love all the means He has taken to secure our salvation. If it is not offered out of love for the Father, then the prayer is simply the exercise of our will. We cannot be united to Jesus if we are only exercising our wills and therefore God’s love will not be given in return. The love of God is indeed given in return by prayer offered in Jesus’ name because the Holy Spirit, at the request of the Son, is sent to live in our hearts. That is prayer that is offered in Christ’s name. This is why Jesus can declare, if you ask anything in my name, I will do it. The prayer is actually part of the unity in the life of the Trinity.
The late Peter Toon, an Anglican priest and former seminary professor, in his book Genuine Godliness and True Piety, explains how worship and prayer operate in the life of the Trinity.
In the Bible we hear of God the Father creating the world, preserving the world, judging the world, and revealing Himself to the world, and always doing so through His only-begotten Son and by His Holy Spirit. From the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit is the descent of God into His creation. There is also an ascent to God from the creation presented in the Bible. Worship, prayer and sacrificial service rise to the Father, though the Son (the Mediator) and with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is revealed and known in the mission of God into and from His world in His great work of reconciling the world to Himself.
All of our petitions and praises in prayer go to God the Father through the name of His Son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is practiced in praises we offer when we pray Morning and Evening Prayer. You will notice that the praises we offer from the Psalter are always offered in the name of the Trinity. We always conclude each Psalm with the Gloria Patri. Again, true prayer and praises are offered in Jesus’ name and is joined in the life of the Trinity.
How privileged we are to pray as Christians in the name of Jesus. As a result of this unity in the Trinity our prayers allow us some glimpse, some hope, some satisfaction, some sense of His presence, and maybe some instance of seeing the face of God. John Henry Cardinal Newman, one of our Oxford fathers and progenitors of the catholic revival in Anglicanism, knew what a privilege praying is for the Christian. He encouraged people who were not able to attend Church, not to see their lives in worship and prayer as a duty, but to see their lives of prayer as a privilege. He told them that he would see them in Church once they realized what a privilege they have when they are in Church or at prayer. He encouraged them, to realize to (themselves) that continual prayer and praise is a privilege; only feel in good earnest, what somehow the mass of Christians, after all, do not recognize, that ‘it is good to be here’ (like Peter, James, and John at the top of the Mount of the Transfiguration) –feel as the early Christians felt when persecution hindered them from meeting, –feel this and you will come if you can. Prayers offered because it is such a privilege to be in the presence of God will evoke in the Christian a need and desire to pray and the Christian will not be praying simply out of a sense of duty.
The end and purpose of our prayers is to see God. We should not try completing our prayers solely out of a sense of doing our duty. That act of determination may be good to get us started. It may be useful as a sense of discipline. If that’s all prayer is then it becomes simply a pushing forward with our will. If our prayer lives are to be, in the end, fruitful prayer lives, then they will have to show us the face of God. Our Anglican spiritual lives have a purpose and it is described most clearly and helpfully by the classical Anglican priest and theologian Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, “Then we are happy therefore when fully we enjoy God, as an object wherein the powers of our souls are satisfied even with everlasting delight: so that although we be men, yet by being unto God united we live as it were the life of God. There it is. The purpose and end of all prayer and devotion is the beatific vision. The same vision that the saints enjoy even now. It is only when we are perfectly united spiritually to God that we will love the way He wants us to love. We will have perfect knowledge of Him. We will see and know true joy just as all the saints of God see Him and know Him. It is prayer in the world that will help prepare our souls to see the beatific vision. That is why we pray. Satisfaction, comfort, holiness, union with the Father all await us and the journey begins now.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.