Prayer is the greatest power on earth. And yet we seem to see so little evidence of that power at times. What is the reason? It is not because we do not pray. Prayer is part of our very lives. We pray at home and we pray in church. Each Sabbath worship service there are at least four congregational prayers, to say nothing of the Sabbath school and other meetings. Yes, we pray; but how do we pray?
The chief objective of prayer is to reach God. And yet we are told, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss" (James 4:3). While this statement refers primarily to those whose hearts are unholy, yet even those who seek to honor the Lord may be guilty of approaching Him amiss. God has emphasized again and again the appointed way of our approach. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each concerned in our prayers. The Father loves to hear our cry. The Son, by His atoning death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His priestly ministry, has provided access to the throne. And it is the Spirit who prompts all true prayer; He helps our infirmities. Only as we are led by the Spirit can we pray effectually.
In this dispensation the foundation of successful prayer is the all-prevailing name of Jesus Christ. To be acceptable, prayer must be offered in His name (John 14:13, 14; 15:16). Do we sense this as we ought? Again and again we hear prayers directed to the Father, and then the petitioner will close with an expression something like this: "All this we ask in Thy name." Now in whose name? All the way through the prayer no mention has been made of our Lord's atoning death or His victory over the grave, through which alone we have access to the throne of God.
To address the prayer to the Father is correct, but should it be offered in the Father's name? Of course we say No. But as we listen to and join in prayer with groups many times a day, there is a growing tendency, even among ministers, to by-pass the name of Jesus, despite the fact that our Lord has told us plainly, "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
To overlook making our requests in His all-prevailing name might seem to deny His mediation and the advocacy of the only One whose sacrifice makes possible our access to the throne. No one would wilfully by-pass the Saviour; it is doubtless done unwittingly. But prayer is so vital that we dare not grow careless in this respect. Letters wrongly addressed ultimately reach the dead letter office. We trust there is no such place as a dead prayer office.
Apart from Jesus Christ we have no standing with Deity; we are spiritually bankrupt. Both the sinner and the saint desperately need the bounty of our Father above. But if we would draw on that heavenly bounty, we must present our requests in the peerless name of Jesus.
Old Testament saints made their supplication in the strong name of Jehovah. "Save me, 0 God, by thy name," cried King David (Ps. 54:1). And again: "0 magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together" (Ps. 34:3). Yes, "the name of the Lord" has ever been "a strong tower" (Pray. 18:10).
Since the cross, however, a change has come, for redemption no longer rests in hope. It is a glorious certainty. Even the planet itself stands in a different relationship to God than it did before our Lord's sacrifice. He came to seek and to save that which was lost, not only those who are lost. Since the cross, the world itself has been different. It has been reconciled to God by the death of His Son. And since the cross, prayer too is different. Our Lord taught us to pray in a new way. Our requests are to be made in the name of our crucified and risen Lord. Just as there were seven words at the cross, so our Lord spoke seven words concerning prayer as He communed with His disciples in the upper room. These are found in John 14:13, 14; 15:7, 16; 16:22-26, and each is an extraordinary promise. Taken together they abound in universal and unconditional terms. And prayer, when offered in accordance with these principles, lifts the petitioner into unity and identity with the Lord Himself. To offer our petitions in that name is to be one with Christ.
In the Apocalypse our great High Priest is represented as taking our poor prayers and adding to them the fire of the altar, thus making them dynamic. And God answers them, not for our poor sake, but for His sake. We are heard, not because of our phrasing, our weeping, our "storming the gates of heaven," much less for our good works or our self-denials, but for His sake who makes our prayers His own.
Samuel Chadwick, the great Methodist preacher and educator of Leeds, illustrates this thought by relating a personal experience. A certain man came a long way to investigate a proposition. He wrote to the firm in advance, requesting an interview, but his request was politely declined. He went in person to the manager, but could not get beyond the secretary. No argument could prevail. He confided his defeat and disappointment to a friend, who in turn told the preacher. "I gave him my card and wrote to the head of the firm," said Dr. Chadwick. Next day this man called again and was immediately ushered into the presence of the manager. "The head of the firm saw me in him," is the way the preacher explains it. And then he draws the lesson: "In some such way we pray in Christ's name. He endorses our petitions and makes our prayers His own." But we must make our requests through Him.
"The Father hears Him pray,
His dear, anointed One;
He cannot turn away
The presence of His Son;
The Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I'm a child of God."
To pray in the name of Jesus is perhaps the deepest mystery of prayer. His name expresses His personality, His character, and His being, while it unifies and simplifies any divine condition. Then let us take heed lest we by-pass our Lord and dishonor that name which is above every name.
R. A. A.