Should Christians refuse to pray in public if they are not allowed to pray in the name of Jesus? It seems that it’s happening more and more where pastors, chaplains, and others are invited to pray at a public forum, but asked not to pray in the name of Jesus. How should we respond if we find ourselves in a situation like this? Should we respectively decline the invitation and walk away? Should we rant and rave about the right to free speech, the founding of our country on Judeo/Christian values, and the certain eternal damnation of all of those who refuse to acknowledge the name of Jesus as the only true God? Or, should we just pray?
Of course each person has to follow his or her own heart’s conviction on this matter, but here are a few thoughts to consider:
First, remember who you’re praying to. In other words, while public prayers are obviously heard by those in attendance, the prayer is not for them, or to them. The prayer is to God. He is the One we are communicating with. So the more important question is not whether the public wants or doesn’t want to hear “In Jesus’ name” at the end of the prayer, but rather, does God expect it?
Second, and in consideration of my first point, the practice of praying in Jesus’ name is born primarily out of Jesus’ words in several places in the book of John. For instance, “And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14) Similar language is found in John 15:16, 16:23-24, 26.
But the question should be asked, by making these statements in John was Jesus suggesting that we can ask for anything we want, and as long as we tack on “in Jesus’ name” at the end we will receive whatever we prayed for? If so, somebody should have taught the Apostle Paul that trick because he prayed three times that the Lord would remove the “thorn in my flesh,” and God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)
Clearly, it was never God’s intention that “In Jesus’ name” be used like some sort of incantation that we recite or a verbal magic wand that we wave over our prayers to get them answered. So what does Jesus mean when He says, “in My name?” Let’s look at another place in scripture where Jesus uses that phrase to see if we can better understand the meaning. “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me.” (Matthew 18:5) No one takes that verse to mean that we must verbally invoke the name of Jesus anytime a child enters our life or our house or our family or our church. It wouldn’t be wrong to do that, but it seems pretty obvious that the intended meaning is that when we receive a child in the name of Jesus we are representing Him. We are doing what He would do, and what He would want us to do, minister to children.
The same would also then be true for the passages in John. It’s not that invoking the name of Jesus on our requests gets God’s stamp of approval, but rather the fact that what we ask for is honoring to Him, and representative of what He wants done. In other words, when our prayers are in keeping with His will, then we can be assured that He hears our prayers and will accomplish what we are asking for. That’s why Paul’s prayer for relief was answered with a resounding “No,” because God’s will was that Paul trust Him through the adversity, and glorify God all the more. So it’s much more important that our prayers are based on the will of Jesus than the name of Jesus. Is using the name of Jesus wrong, of course not! But I don’t think we can say that it must be used every single time we pray.
Consider this as well, in Matthew 6:9-13, what we refer to as ‘The Model Prayer,’ Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray and ends the prayer without invoking His name. He simply ends with, “Amen.” Again, don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with ending our prayers, “In Jesus’ name.” That’s how I end most of my prayers, but if Jesus, while teaching on prayer, didn’t think it necessary to have His disciples to end their prayers with that phrase, then it must not render a prayer powerless if we don’t use the phrase, “In Jesus name.”
The bottom line is, as I said earlier, each person has to follow his or her conviction as they feel led of God, but remember, those convictions should be based on what God’s word teaches us, not what we’re used to or what tradition teaches. I believe, anytime we pray under the authority of Jesus, praying according to His will, we are praying “In the name of Jesus,” whether we actually end our prayer with that particular phrase or not.
There’s probably much more that could be said on either side of the argument, but to answer my original question, if I ever find myself in a situation where I’m asked to pray in a public forum, and I’m asked to not pray in Jesus’ name, I’m just going to pray. Not because of fear of what others might do to me, but because of faith of what God can do with prayers offered up according to His will.
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