Fathom Mag
Article

The Peril of Praying in Jesus’s Name

Confident assurance does not make wrongly offered prayers right.

Published on:
December 18, 2020
Read time:
3 min.
Share this article:

In our contentious political moment, Christians are praying—both for the presidential election results to stand and fall—all in the name of Jesus. I’ll admit my own deep consternation in watching some of the prayers offered at the recent Jericho March in Washington, D.C. I don’t write to take a political side—not really. I mean more to examine what it means to pray in Jesus’s name.

To what kinds of prayers does Jesus assign his name? To what political ends can we confidently pray, given that there is so much disagreement and division right now? How can we be assured that our requests are the right ones?

Whose reign do you will?

In prayer, we practice seeing the world as God wills it to be. We practice willing his reign.

In scripture, we have these recorded words of Jesus in John 14:13–14: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Christians have generally resisted understanding these words as a call to chant the name of Jesus at the end of our long list of pet wants. We don’t get new cars, bigger houses, larger social media followings, or even presidents simply because we’ve prayed in Jesus’s name

Instead, these verses challenge us to pray in ways that reflect a vision of God’s kingdom coming, his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. In prayer, we practice seeing the world as God wills it to be. We practice willing his reign.

On the one hand, prayer requires the most unimaginable impunity. How petulant the prayers of the psalmists seem to our ears. They demand God to hear our prayer, answer us when we call, attend to our cry, give ear to our pleas for mercy. They say to him—with what seems like self-importance—set aside the business of running the universe and pay me some attention! 

Prayer could read as the act of the madman, madwoman—except that we’re invited to confidently “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” in Hebrews 4:16. In prayer, our confidence is rooted, not in the merit of our requests, but in the belief that our God has done something cosmically important through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He has ended our estrangement and made us his children. And now he wants to hear from us!

To think of our current moment, we do well to remember that our version of political success may not be God’s.

When Confidence is Faithlessness

To be a child of God is to pray with confidence. And yet it is possible to pray confidently and also to pray wrongly. Such was the rebuke offered by the apostle James in his letter. Noting disunity in the church in chapter 4, he claimed that his brothers and sisters had failed to pray. And when they did pray, they’d done so improperly. 

They’d given into “adulterous” desires, wanting from God only what they wanted for themselves. There was no “hallowing” involved in this kind of praying, no chastening of their desires. This reminds us that to pray in Jesus’s name is to recognize that we are not the kind of people who reflexively want the kingdom coming—and we certainly don’t want it coming on the back of a cross. 

Let’s pray confidently and remain modest about the degree to which we grasp the rightness of our requests.

In prayer, we don’t simply offer God our supplication. We offer him our submission. As we pray, we acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways, that his thoughts are not our thoughts. Prayer insists we bow to the what and how of God: to the mission and the method of the God whose plan of salvation involved a baby for a king and a cross for a crown. To think of our current moment, we do well to remember that our version of political success may not be God’s.

Let’s pray confidently and remain modest about the degree to which we grasp the rightness of our requests. Better yet, let’s expand our praying communities to include people who vote differently than we do. In those circles of sincere disagreement, let’s pray the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray: 

“Our Father, who art in heaven.” Through such prayer, perhaps we’d see beyond political differences to our one-ness as a family. 

“Your kingdom come.” Perhaps we’d be formed into having a greater desire for a clear-eyed vision of God’s rule, even if it affronts our current political commitments. 

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive.” Perhaps we’d be nudged into acknowledged our complicity in the current social fracturing. 

Let’s not simply reach across aisles. Let’s pray across them.

Jen Pollock Michel
Jen Pollock Michel is the award-winning author of Teach Us to Want, Keeping Place, and Surprised by Paradox. Her fourth book, A Habit Called Faith, releases in February 2021. She is the lead editor for Imprint magazine, published by The Grace Centre for the Arts, and host of the Englewood Review of Books podcast. You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel and also subscribe to her monthly letter at jenpollockmichel.com.

Cover image by Ben White.

Already a subscriber? Log in here

Next story