Why are Christians urged to pray “in the name of Jesus?”

I’ve been walking with God for thirty-five years, and I’ve never thought through what “in the name of Jesus” is all about. Maybe you’re in the same boat. My study (which is still underway) completely blew my mind. I think it’s going to change my life, too.

Early in my Christian journey, I heard people using the phrase in prayer. They’d make a specific request, then tag on “In the name of Jesus” right before the amen. I think I assumed invoking his name was a kind of spiritual multiplier. Like, if I added Christ’s name, it increased the power of my request somehow—or maybe increased the likelihood that God would answer my prayer the way I hoped he would.

That’s not what it’s about at all. Ready? Here we go…


What ‘in the name of Jesus’ is all about

A Davidic story in I Samuel 25:5-13 gives us the proper biblical framework for understanding what using Jesus’ name actually means:

“While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!

“‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”

When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.”

Notice that David sent ten young men to go greet Nabal in his name. Next, notice how Nabal responded: “Who is this David?” And finally, how David responded to Nabal’s treatment of his messengers: “Strap on your sword!”

David commissioned these ten men to greet Nabal as his proxy. A proxy is “a person authorized to act on another’s behalf.” Speaking or acting in someone’s name is to walk in the authority they delegate to you. The young men represented David. They functioned as his mouthpiece, his ambassadors. As such, Nabal’s response to them was his response to David.

God works the very same way; he commissions his children as his proxies in the world. We are commissioned—authorized—given authority—to act on his behalf, to do his will, to be his ambassadors. This is why the third commandment is “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Deuteronomy 5:11). The word “take” here means to pick up, to carry. The message is clear: As his people, you bear his name. Don’t carry that lightly, and don’t misrepresent him, because people look at you to get a look at him. 

But there’s more

The New Testament frames our spiritual authority in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. As believers and disciples of Christ, we bear his name (and step out in faith as such) in a number of specific ways. I’ll list a few here, so you get the idea:

  • In the healing of the sick (Acts 3:6)
  • In confronting and casting out demons (Acts 16:18)
  • In our preaching of the gospel (Acts 9:27)
  • In our unity with fellow believers (I Cor. 1:10)
  • In our thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20)
  • In our prayers (John 16:23)
  • In everything we do and say (Col. 3:17). 

The prayer application blows my mind. Like, I’m struggling to get my head and heart around it: “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 6:23). Remember what this means: Jesus wants us to approach his Father and pray as boldly as Jesus himself would. The promise is that the Father is expecting us to show up around his throne “in Jesus’ name,” and that he will accept us as though his one and only Son is standing before him making his requests!

Remember, “in his name” is about representing Jesus well and accurately. So we can’t ask for things in Jesus’ name that Jesus wouldn’t ask for. But still. This is stunning. Holy Spirit, guide me into all truth! 

Second, when Paul says, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” he means my entire life is to be about representing Jesus—to act as a proxy for him in the flesh here and now. This is why I need to lose my life in order to save it. This is why I must live surrendered to him in all things. It’s not just in special moments that I’m called to speak and live for him. It’s a full-time calling, and quite honestly, I am undone at the thought. 

Now what?

You know, I’m not even sure. I’m asking the Spirit of God to form this in me, to capture me and my heart and mind on this, to make me more fully his. And then to show me how to live it out. 

I’d love to know what this stirred in you. Comment below.