Ask God for God
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:24).
How can you describe a saint’s smile? He was an elderly monk of no importance to the world. There was nothing particularly charming about his face. Yet, his smile transcended everything in the world. Old bones and old skin, but a peace hung about him that was outside of time, eternal, and overwhelming.
A lot of people have a skewed idea about monks. Words come to mind like austere, crochety, and anti-social. I had a very different experience at my monastery. I had never before known people to be so joyful. I have never heard so many jokes or so much laughing. Joy clung to the air, and the kind of joy without worldliness or phoniness. This joy embodies the message of our gospel today.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:23-24).
Why is it that these monks had so much joy? They lived in poverty. They had all given up their careers, families, and lifestyles. One meal a day and seven hours of prayer in a little, candle-lit chapel. Most of us in the world spend our lives running around in circles, chasing our tails, trying to get happiness. Yet, in the end, the monks far surpass us. Why? They pray in Jesus’ name.
Christ tells us to ask in his name, that our joy might be full. This might be a most ludicrous offer. It might be a vane promise and pie-in-the-sky delusion. If it is true, it is the most remarkable secret in the world. Yet, what does it mean? To pray in Jesus’ name is not about pronouncing the right syllables or reciting a magical formula. To pray in Christ’s name is to live his name, to wear Jesus, to think Jesus, to breath and exist in utter immersion in Jesus Christ.
To pray “in Jesus’ name” is to live a life of repentance. Fr. Anthony Hughes, a priest in Massachusetts, wrote this in a homily:
“Before we can ask anything ‘in the name of Jesus’ we must give up our own name, our ego must be dissolved. Without that dissolution we are only able to pray in our own names because we will always be asking for what we want, desire, and expect even, perhaps especially, when we cloak ourselves in conspicuous piety. To pray ‘in the name of Jesus’ implies that we have given up our own name for his. “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.”
God hears the desires of our heart. Yet, the desires of our heart do not always match the prayers of our lips. When we pray, and our prayers are not answered, it is usually because our heart and lips clash. We are like the man who prayed, “God give me chastity,” and under his breathe, “but not yet.” “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water” (Pr. 20:5). Underneath the surface of our heart is a labrynth of mixed intentions, good, bad, and ugly. To pray “in Jesus’ name” we must die to self and become pure in heart.
“Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:24).
The second part of this prophecy is the promise of joy. “Aἰτεῖτε καὶ λήμψεσθε, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ὑμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη.” Christ is giving us a clue about how to pray. The word, “that,” in Greek, “ἵνα” implies the manner, the focus, of our prayer. “Ask ‘in order that’ your joy be full.” “Pray in the way that leads to joy.” When we pray, we should pursue that which really satisfies. Christ told the woman at the well: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 13-14). Christ is the water of eternal life. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray for Jesus.
God is our goal. God is our joy. St. John Chrysostom said this of the wise Christian:
“When he eats, drinks, sits, officiates, travels or does an other thing dost continually cry: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me!” so that the name of the Lord Jesus, descending into the depths of the heart, should subdue the serpent ruling over the inner pastures and bring life and salvation to the soul. He should always live with the name of the Lord Jesus, so that the heart absorbs the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one…Do not estrange your heart from God, but abide in Him and always guard your heart by remembering our Lord Jesus Christ, until the name of the Lord becomes rooted in the heart and it ceases to think of anything else. May Christ be glorified in you.”
There is a time to ask God for things, for health, success, or the such. Most of the time, we should simply ask God for God. His presence alone satisfies.
This is why Orthodox services are so long. Our prayers are elaborate and involved, drawn out in chanting and ceremony, requiring us to stand for hours. If God were a vending machine we could come, put in a few coins, and go away with coke. But God is joy itself, and we come to saturate in God. This is why we are encouraged to begin and end each day in prayer. In order to build the habit, you have to start out small. But with time, this time of prayer should grow and become the climax of the day. Why? This is the essence of joy, to steep in Jesus Christ.
What is it about a saint’s smile? He has achieved peace, because he has filled up with Jesus. May God teach us to pray in “Jesus’ name” truly, in repentance and adoration, that we may all know that joy promised to His own.