In Jesus' Name

July 24, 2015 Preacher: Cameron Arensen Series: Teach Us to Pray


Selected Scriptures

Prayer. It is one of our greatest resources. It is also a great mystery. And if we are honest, for many of us, it remains one of the greatest struggles in the walk of faith. Many Christians, (and I hasten to include my name among them) admit to a sense of inferiority and failure in the arena of prayer; that we do not pray often enough, or hard enough, or simply that we do not know how to pray.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult is because it is so important – so vital to life. At the interface between faith (what we believe) and the stuff of life itself, we find prayer. Prayer is a vital connecting link between the visible world in which we conduct our everyday lives, and the spiritual realm; what Paul referred to in Ephesians as “the heavenlies” or “the heavenly realms”. Paul told us in Ephesians that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” – so how do we connect with those “spiritual blessings” in a way that makes a difference in our lives today? The answer is complex – but a vital part of the answer is “faith” and particularly, faith expressed in prayer.

There is an intriguing verse in Luke 18. You may recall a couple weeks ago that we started this series by looking at several parables that Jesus used to teach us the importance of prayer and to encourage us to persevere in prayer. At the conclusion of one of those parables, the one about the unrighteous judge, Jesus add these words in Luke 18:8: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Why this link between faith and prayer? Prayer is the practical expression of our faith. When Jesus asks, “Will I find faith on earth?” I believe in the context it is another way of asking, “Will I find people praying?”

Today’s message is going to be a little different. For one thing, we will be moving into the New Testament. And I am going to be jumping around in the Bible with a more topical approach, not focusing, as I usually do on a single passage of Scripture. My intention is to explore the conditions for a fruitful prayer life.

Let me start with an illustration. I want us to think like gardeners. A good gardener knows that certain flowers or vegetables or crops require certain conditions to grow and thrive. Some like hot weather, some like cool weather. Some do better in dry climates with lots of sunshine, some need lots of rain. Some require certain nutrients in the soil while others require a different set of chemical components. The successful gardener understands the conditions required and plans his garden accordingly.

So what are the conditions for a fruitful prayer life? As I ask that question, let me stress that I have worded it carefully; a fruitful prayer life. That’s why the image of a garden is helpful. Sometimes, I think our struggles in prayer may come from the fact that we focus almost exclusively on one or two big requests or prayer needs. We get stuck there, and if our answers to those prayers are delayed or even denied, we conclude that there is no point to our prayers. That is like a gardener who only plants one seed, or only has one tree in his orchard. I am not saying that the one seed is not important, or that we should not continue to tend that one tree. But let us not allow that one apparently struggling plant to prevent us planting many seeds in our garden and many trees in our orchard. What are the conditions that will lead to a fruitful orchard and a healthy garden? What are the conditions for a fruitful prayer life? What are the conditions that we must fulfill in order to have confidence that God is listening and will answer our prayers?

1. We must pray “in Jesus’ name.”

Ah, but what exactly does that mean? We often practice this by closing our prayers with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” But what is that? Is it just a verbal formula? Is it just the prayer equivalent of an official closing to a business letter, “Sincerely Yours,”? Well, actually it is much more than that. And it is a very important concept to get our minds around, because it is stated not just once, but repeatedly in Jesus’ own teaching on prayer.

The first passage I want to look at is John 14:13-14: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Let’s capture the setting. This teaching is found in what is referred to as the Upper Room Discourse. This Discourse is found in John 13-17, and refers to Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in the Upper Room on that last night before he died. This setting is very significant. All of Jesus’ teaching in these chapters is based on an impending reality which is described in John 13:1 where we read: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father,

Jesus has been physically with his disciples for 3 years. Now that is changing. He is going away. He is not only going to the Cross, but after that he is going to return to heaven, leaving his disciples on earth. This is a dramatic change. In these chapters, Jesus is trying to prepare them for the changes to come. His teaching on prayer is part of this preparation.

In light of this, let’s read the verses in John 14 again, but this time let’s start in verse 12:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

The first question that comes to mind is: What works is he talking about in verse 12? What does Jesus mean when he says that the apostles will do “greater works than these … because I am going to the Father?”

Is he referring to miracles? Certainly the apostles did do miracles. But I don’t think anyone could claim that the apostles’ miracles were even greater than Jesus’ miracles. So what “greater things” is Jesus talking about? I think to understand the “works” we need to go back a couple verses earlier to verse 10:

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Jesus said things like this repeatedly. “I have come to speak the “Father’s words” and to do the “Father’s works”, I don’t do anything by myself or on my own initiative. This is what Jesus says in John 17:4: I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

The works that Jesus did, and that he said that his followers would continue to do, are the Father’s works. Because, as Jesus points out in verse 10; “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” What one does, the other does.

Now, here’s the question. When Jesus returns to the Father, who will do the Father’s works on earth? Jesus is saying to his followers, “You will! You will carry on the work.” Isn’t that what verse 12 is saying? “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” In fact, he says, he will do even greater things! How is that possible? How will Jesus’ followers accomplish even more than Jesus himself? Well, think of it this way. When Jesus left, after 3 years of public ministry, he left behind only 11 disciples, and a core group of maybe 120 followers. On the Day of Pentecost, at the preaching of Peter, over 3000 people trusted in Christ. Within a generation, the Gospel had spread throughout the world, and within 3 centuries, the Roman Empire itself declared itself Christian.

Greater works! Why? Because we are better at it and more powerful? Of course not! Because Jesus returned to the Father and this resulted in two things. First was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s followers. And the second was the new authority that was given to them through prayer in Jesus’ name.

Let’s look at verse 12 and 13 again, because I think the translators have done us a disservice: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 (AND) Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do,

The word “And” is included in the original text, making it clear that verse 12 and 13 are vitally connected. Asking “in Jesus’ name” is connected with the fact that Jesus is going to the Father and that we are being commissioned to carry on his works.

The works that we are to do are still Christ’s works, which are the Father’s works. And how are they greater? Simply because they are done by more people in more places.

Alright, so that’s the context. So what does this have to do with asking “in Jesus’ name?” Jesus’ name represents his authority. Jesus says, “I am going away. In my absence, I want you to continue the work I’ve been doing. You will be my representatives, doing my work on earth. In order to enable you to do this work, I am going to give you my authority. As you do my work, you can ask for whatever you need “in my name” and I will do it.

Maybe an illustration will help. I have here a copy of my “signature authority” as given to me by the Evangelical Church. It says that I have the authority to sign documents on behalf of the Evangelical Church. It is a kind of “power of attorney.” It is the legal power to sign someone else’s name, or to sign a document on behalf of someone else. This can be done person to person as well. If you leave the country and haven’t had time to sell your car, for example, you will need to draw up a power of attorney document for someone else to sign the bill of sale or transfer document for your car. That is a limited power of attorney, limited to a single transaction. But it is the same idea. You are authorizing someone else to sign your name, or for their name to be considered as valid in place of your name.

I believe this is what is behind Jesus’ words. “I am going away. I am leaving you behind to do my work. If you need anything in my absence as you continue my work, you have the authority to ask for it in my name and you will receive it.”

Let’s consider a couple more passages in which Jesus uses similar language.

John 15:15-16: No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

This adds some important ingredients. As Jesus’ friends, we should understand what he is doing; what his works are. As his friends, we have been chosen and appointed to go and “bear fruit”. What kind of fruit? Fruit in the form of the kingdom works we have been appointed to do. And with the commission comes this resource and authority – to “ask the Father in my name…” Sign my name to your requests as you engage in the work of my kingdom.

Let’s look at one more passage in John 16:22-28:

22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

There is a lot going on in these verses that we don’t have time to explore in this message. Jesus is talking about his death, which will cause his disciples such sorrow and then his resurrection that will give them so much joy. But he brings it back to his ascension and the fact that he will be “leaving the world and going to the Father.” When that happens, Jesus says, you are to “ask in my name” and with my authority.

He then adds this word of reassurance. When we approach the Father in Jesus’ name, it is not as though we are approaching a grumpy Father who needs to be mollified in some way to do us special favors. In fact “the Father himself” loves us because we love Christ and believe in him. It is a win/win proposition. We come “in Jesus’ name” and with his authority to a Father who loves us and is therefore already predisposed to do what we ask when we ask in Jesus’ name.

So that is condition #1. What is the second?

2. We must abide in Christ and his words must abide in us.

This is a second condition for effective “asking” that Jesus gives us in John 15:7.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

We like the sound of the second half of that verse: ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. But the condition is clearly laid out in the first half of the verse: If you abide in me and my words abide in you.

This conditional prayer promise is in the context of Jesus’ teaching on the Vine and the branches and particularly the need for the branches to remain in the vine in order to bear fruit. We abide in Jesus, who is the Vine by allowing his words to abide in us. In other words, our thoughts, desires and our will is informed by and shaped by the words and teachings of Christ himself.

We find that this dovetails closely with what it means to ask “in Jesus’ name.” If we have been given the “power of attorney” to make requests in Jesus’ name, it is because it is assumed that we will be in tune with the desires and intentions of the one who has given us his authority. As we seek to fulfill his words in our lives, we can ask whatever we wish, because what we wish will be in line with his desires because we are abiding in him and his words are abiding in us. That’s why this Book is so important to our prayer lives, and why our daily fellowship with Christ through his word is such a vital condition for a fruitful prayer life.

We need to consciously walk in fellowship with Christ, submitting to him, drawing on his power, and let his words soak into us, giving us the knowledge of his nature and his will. Then we will know what we need, and what to ask for and how to ask.

3. We must obey God’s commands.

This condition is spelled out in John’s first epistle in I John 3:21-22.

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

It’s not enough just to know Jesus and his commands. We must be walking in obedience to God’s commands if we desire to have a fruitful prayer life.

Another way of saying this is that we must have a clear conscience when we pray. If our hearts condemn us, we will have no confidence in prayer. But if we are walking in obedience, then we have confidence in God’s presence, and we have confidence in asking what we need.

Now let’s not carry this teaching to an extreme. The Bible is not saying that we have to be perfect before we can pray – none of us would ever qualify. But it does mean that we have to have a heart that is ready to obey and please God before we can come to him with confidence that we will receive what we ask.

This brings us to a fourth condition for a fruitful prayer life.

4. We must ask according to God’s will.

This condition is found in 1 John 5:14-15:

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Once again, John refers to having confidence in prayer. And that confidence comes from knowing that we are asking according to God’s will.

You might ask, “But how can we know God’s will?” We are back to the earlier conditions aren’t we? Knowing God’s word, keeping his commandments, engaging in his work on earth. It is all part of his will. When we know it, we can ask in confidence. When we are not sure of his will, then we ask humbly and carefully.

The clearest example of this kind of praying is found in Jesus’ own example in the Garden of Gethsemane. That period of struggle as Jesus wrestled in prayer beneath the olive trees is filled with mystery and with spiritual depths and nuance that we may never fully understand. But the lesson we learn from Jesus could not be clearer or more powerful. “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

So, we’ve looked at four conditions for an effective prayer life: We must pray in Jesus’ name, we must abide in Christ and his words abide in us, we must obey God’s commands, and we must ask according to God’s will.

Now here’s a question: Are these four different conditions, or simply four ways of expressing the same fundamental truth? I think if we boil it all down, we will see that it is really four ways of expressing the same fundamental truth and it is a truth that will revolutionize our approach to prayer.

Prayer is not so much about getting what we want from God, as it is enlisting the power of God in accomplishing his will in our lives and in the world. It is not about changing his will and purpose but about discovering his will and purpose and utilizing his resources in accomplishing it. It is engaging with that section of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

When we approach prayer this way and with this understanding, and if we are consistently fulfilling the conditions for effective prayer, our “garden of prayer” will become a fruitful thing of beauty that will bring joy to our hearts and glory to the God we serve.

July 24, 2015

1. In this message we looked at conditions for a fruitful prayer life. Pastor Cam compared our prayer life to a garden which requires certain conditions to thrive. How does it help to think of our prayer life as a whole garden (with numerous plants) rather than focusing on only one plant or tree (our one “big ask”)? With that analogy in mind, how would you describe the current condition of your garden?

2. The first condition is that we must ask in Jesus’ name. Read John 14:12-14. What is the connection between Jesus’ works and asking in Jesus’ name? Why is the context (Jesus is returning to the Father) important in understanding what Jesus is teaching?

3. Read John 15:15-16. What is the connection between bearing fruit and asking in Jesus’ name?

4. Read John 16:22-28. What does this passage add to our understanding of what it means to ask in Jesus’ name?

5. The second condition is that we must abide in Christ and his words must abide in us. Read John15:7. What is the connection between abiding in Christ and his words abiding in us? Why do you think this is a condition for a fruitful prayer life?

6. The third condition is that we must obey God’s commands. Read 1 John 3:21-22. What is the connection between obeying God’s commands and having confidence before God in prayer?

7. The fourth condition is that we must ask according to God’s will. Read 1 John 5:14-15. How can we know God’s will when we pray? How should we pray when we are not sure of God’s will?

8. How has the study of these four conditions for a fruitful prayer life influenced, reinforced, (or maybe changed) your understanding and approach to prayer?

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