Jesus says that “if you ask anything in My name, I will do it,” and oh how we allow our impulses to run with this statement. We so oft twist this verse to mean something completely different than what He actually states here. To do something, to ask something in His name, doesn’t mean that we merely attach the phrase “in Jesus’ name” to the end of our own personal Christmas list. To do something in someone’s name is to do something in accordance with their will. A king’s spokesman, speaking in the name of a king, doesn’t enact his own plans and desires, but rather, must speak the words that the king would speak were he physically present at that moment. Similarly, in our Western culture, our governmental representatives, our ambassadors in other nations, don’t speak on their own desires, but rather speak on behalf of the people, they speak in accordance with the desires of those that they represent. We understand this on a temporal level, but never seem to grasp the concept on a spiritual level. St Paul tells us that we are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), thus our actions and desires represent Christ. What Jesus is teaching us here is that when we pray properly, our goal will not be to change God’s will, but rather to change ourselves in accordance with His will. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in accordance with His will, and He promises us that when we do that, we will receive what we pray for. Thus, to pray as Solomon did for the wisdom to discern God’s will, He will grant it to us. When we sincerely pray for true repentance, for forgiveness, for the power to overcome sinful desires; those things will be granted for us.
It is not happenstance that directly before this passage, He teaches us that whoever truly believes in Him will do the same works that He does. Nor that immediately following it, He declares teaches us that “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15), that “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me” (14:21) and again, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” See, each of these surrounding the teaching that anything that we ask in His name He will do serves to show for us that it is when we seek to do the works that He did, almsgiving, healing, showing mercy compassion and love; when we abide in His commands and strive to attain to the life that He calls us to; when we turn to Him in prayer for help in doing these things that He did, praying in His name; then we have this promise that He will provide. The whole lesson that He is teaching here is that we must allow ourselves to be changed by His grace, and that involves our entire life being changed in the process. And one of the easiest ways to see this manifest in our lives is through our prayers.
It is very tempting for our prayers to become very “me-centered.” It’s so easy to look only at our personal lives and problems, our close friends and family, members of our parish. And when that happens, our lives almost become this sort of little Christian bubble, which is reflected in our prayers. It’s so easy for us to only pray for those things which directly impact our personal lives. We pray for our Pastor when he brings a message, we pray for Bob to quit smoking, or for Ray’s family because his wife is sick. And while there’s nothing innately wrong with praying for any of those things, the more we focus our prayers around our personal lives, the easier it is to slowly become selfish in our prayers; we pray for a new car, a new job, a new laptop, etc. And soon, our prayers become this endless list of avarice. Me, me, me, I, I, I. And not only do we become very greedy in our prayers, it is a slope which leads right into pride. We begin to boast about the things that we have acquired. We post photos on social media, hashtag blessed, but in reality, we’re feeding our own ego and attaching Jesus’ name to our own materialism.
Ultimately, we begin to base our prayers, our very faith, on these earthly aspirations and ambitions. Praying no longer becomes about the countless hungry, homeless, persecuted thousands across the world, it becomes what effects me? We adopt this consumer mentality about the Church, and the moment we don’t like something, we exercise this ability to move to a different belief. In absentia of the teachings of tradition, we feel as though we can interpret things howsoever we choose. Our gospel begins to look less like the narrow and hard path, and much more like the American dream, pursuing life, liberty and happiness. But, Jesus isn’t, nor has He ever, promised us this American dream, this American gospel of “follow Me and everyone will love you and everything will be all puppies and guppies.” Rather, what He is promising us here is that whatsoever we pray in accordance with His will will come to pass. And what does His will look like?
Jesus, during His earthly ministry, had no place to lay His head. He borrowed a penny from someone to complete a sermon illustration. Consider that fact, the Son of God Himself had to borrow a penny to illustrate a point. Saul lost all of his wealth, earthly possessions, prestige; everything that he had acquired during the course of his entire life, when he aligned his life with God’s will. Five times receiving 39 lashes at the hands of Jews, thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, a night and a day adrift at sea, constantly journeying, in danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, Gentiles, danger in the city, the wilderness, at sea. Danger from false brothers, in toil and hardship, in hunger and thirst, often without food, exposed to the elements. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). Zaccheaus surrendered all of his wealth and pride, giving half of all that he had to the poor and then paying restitution times four to everyone that he had wronged. All of the apostles were martyred except for John, who died in an isolated prison.
No, Jesus will for us isn’t that we necessarily get the new car, the new house, the promotion; it’s that we give our lives fully to Him and that we find freedom from these carnal impulses to avarice, to lust, to pride. His will for us is that we abide in Him, that we find our comfort, our joy and contentment in Him. To pray in Jesus’ name means that we seek the salvation of others, the health of others, the care and comfort of others; that we humble ourselves and truly love our neighbor as ourselves. To assure that if I have two coats and my brother has none, I give him one that we might both be warm. To assure that if I have food and someone else doesn’t, then I care for them enough to feed them, to care for them. It means that we lay aside our own earthly cares and ask for the wisdom to discern His will and abide in it, regardless of the sacrifices that it requires in our own lives, trusting in Him that He will provide for us that which we need, as the apostles when He sent them out with neither moneybag, nor knapsack, nor sandals (Luke 10:4).
What do our prayers say about us? When we consider our prayers, we must truly ask ourselves, are we seeking the kingdom of heaven? Are we seeking God’s will? Do we pray outside of our own little bubble? Or are we merely seeking to create our own heaven, by our own carnal desires, here on earth? Do we pray for the orphans and widows, the sick and suffering servants, the welfare of the whole Church? Or have we gotten so caught up in this Western mindset that pride, avarice and other corruptions have subtly sunken into our hearts?
Christ is in our midst.