In Jesus' Name
I. "When I prayed in my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvelous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the air, the light…they witnessed to the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise…The invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way…If anyone harms me I have only to think, 'How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!'”
In a little book, called The Way of the Pilgrim, a man tells the story of how he learned to pray. He had lived an ordinary life. He wasn’t a monk or a priest, but just a typical Christian in the pews. But as time went by, his desire to pray intensified. Eventually, it became his one main pursuit. Like the man who found a treasure in the field and sold everything to buy it, this pilgrim walked away from the world and gave his time solely to prayer. He picked up his staff and started walking, and with each step prayed the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
If you want to learn more about his adventures you should buy the book, but for today, let’s just talk about prayer.
II. St. Paul uses two words repeatedly when he writes about prayer: Pantote and Adialeptos - ‘always’ and ‘without interruption.’
He urges the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing’ (I Th. 5:17). He tells the Romans to be “constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). He reveals his own on-going prayer in his words, “we thank God constantly for you” (I Thess. 2:13) and “always I remember you in my prayers” (2 Tim. 1:3).
Prayer is not just one more activity that we add to our routine. Prayer needs to be our life and breath.
But this raises a lot of questions. How are we supposed to pray all the time? How can we add more prayer to a schedule so packed? We are busy after all. Our jobs, spouses, children, appointments, responsibilities…I’ve been told more than once that the busyness doesn’t end when you retire. In some cases it increases. So where’s the time for prayer?
For one, we do have more time to pray.
Every Christian has the minimum of 10 or 15 minutes to set aside in the morning and evening, and if we can’t find that time, then it’s time to reevaluate our priorities.
But that’s just half an hour or so. What about the rest of the day? We have our jobs to do. We have to show up to our appointments. Most of us can’t just pick up a staff and start walking.
Prayer is a state of the soul.
Unceasing prayer is an attitude towards God and awareness of His Presence. St. Paul remarked, “whatever you do, do it for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). More recently, the Orthodox priest, Fr. Paul Evdokimov, said it this way: “Our whole life, every act and gesture, even a smile must become a hymn or adoration, an offering, a prayer. We must become prayer-incarnate.”
III. Very well, but what is the substance of our prayer?
This is what Jesus Christ tells us in today’s gospel reading: “Hitherto you have asked nothing in My Name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).
In the Scriptures, a name is linked with a person’s essence. Knowing someone’s name is a kind of intimacy. In the Old Testament, God never revealed His name. In the New Testament, God revealed Himself in His Son, and so, in the very name of Jesus Christ, we find power. This is the name “above all other names” (Phil. 2:9); the name under which we are saved (Acts 4:12). It is the name by which the leper called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18:38) and by calling in Jesus’ name, he was healed. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 12:3). Somehow, the very act of praying in Jesus’ name connects our soul with God.
For this reason, the Orthodox Church has given us a tradition called “The Jesus Prayer.”
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.”
That’s the prayer that the pilgrim breathed with every step on his pilgrimage. In monasteries, it isn’t uncommon for monks to spend hours sitting with their prayer ropes and breathing, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” We can’t spend all day at the icon corner or with a prayer book in hand, but, while showering in the morning, driving in a car, or waiting in line at the grocery store, we can pray silently, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” Instead of cursing at the man who’s texting even though the light has turned green, try praying it. Or next time your eyes wander or your thoughts go where you know they shouldn’t, just say the Jesus Prayer. It makes a difference.
The Name of Jesus has a way of lightening a room. It can lighten your life.
IV. “Hitherto you have asked nothing in My Name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).
It should be noted, however, that it is not enough to call on Jesus’ name merely. We have to remember our Lord’s warning: many will say, “Lord, Lord,” but God will deny that He ever knew them. Sometimes, we treat prayer like magic. We think we can pray for anything, say, a new motorcycle or for our football team, and just end with the incantation, “in Jesus’ Name.” But this misses the point.
In the phrase, “ask…that your joy may be full,” the word ‘that’ signifies the kind of prayer he’s talking about – prayer unto the fullness of joy. The role of prayer is not to give us passing happiness. We pray to unite with God, and in uniting find what our heart desires and what lasts.
V. In Matthew 7:9, Jesus Christ tells us, “Everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds…which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?"
You might think this means all you have to do is ask for something and you’ll get it.
But there’s a flip side to it.
If you ask God for a snake, you should better hope He does not give you a snake.
Most of the time we aren’t asking for the right things. We’re asking for the snake. He wants to give us the bread. We ask for something that’ll pleasure us for a moment, but lead to disappointment and despair. God wants to give us what leads to eternal bliss.
VI. So, we are told to pray “in Jesus’ Name,” not just with mere words but with our heart and life.
There is nothing better than this: With awe and worship, to stand in God’s presence and want nothing more. This is the prayer “in Jesus’ name” and the prayer that our joy may be full.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.