As we consider our relationship with God, and how to strengthen our ability to walk on the narrow way, we are often reminded that we need to pray more, that we need to pray more fervently and talk to the Lord. Communication is one of the fundamental elements of any relationship, and so the same in our relationship with God. We must communicate with him, lest our relationship dwindles, as would any relationship where we do not talk to the other person (if you had a relationship with a spouse who you never talked to, that relationship would dwindle). But then, we find ourselves sometimes frustrated with God, stricken with doubt, when we ask for things and our prayers are not answered. So why are prayers not answered?
I have found that the typical response of the well-intentioned evangelical is to attempt to side-step the question and say that all prayers are answered, in an attempt to save these words of Christ from being falsified: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” However I think we need to be brutally honest. Of course not all prayers of Christians are answered. Surely professional athletes on opposing sides often pray that they will win the big game. Both prayers cannot be answered. So the same even in our daily lives, we may pray that an interview goes well, and that prayer is unanswered. We may pray fervently for a healing, and the person dies. Some prayers are unanswered, and yet the words of Jesus are still true.
The problem that many people have is that they do not pay attention to, or understand, the words that Jesus used when he promised these things. We do not pay attention to who he was talking to. We tend to just isolate a single verse and base all of our faith on that. Then we feel as though our faith has been undermined when that prayer is not answered. When really, we have just misunderstood or overlooked the context of the passage.
What Does It Mean To Pray In The Name Of Jesus?
Jesus made several different claims about the nature of prayer. He proclaimed, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Now this seems to be a very universal statement about the nature of prayer. However it is better understand as both 1 – a decree to his disciples, and 2 – a blanket statement. But Jesus qualified that blanket statement, and relied on the apostles to qualify the blanket statement, making it necessary that we pray in the name of Jesus.
People tend to think that when we do something in the name of Jesus, that is to say that we are merely reciting the name, Jesus. However to pray or act in the name of Jesus is not to just verbally affirm Jesus, like some sort of magic formula. But rather to do something in the name of Jesus is to act under his authority and on his behalf. When we are praying in the name of Jesus, we are Christians who are conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29) and acting under the authority of and on behalf of Christ himself.
So how can we know that we are praying in the name of Jesus? In Hard Questions, Real Answers (chapter 2) Doctor William Lane Craig pointed out five things that might hinder us from truly praying in the name of Jesus. They are sin in our lives (Psalm 66:18), wrong motives (James 4:3), lack of faith (Mark 11:24, James 1:6-8), lack of earnestness (Colossians 4:2-6), and lack of perseverance (Luke 11:5-8, 18:1-8).
If we truly want to pray as Christ prayed, and in his name, we must strive against sin, be motivated to pray for the sake of God’s glory and bringing others to knowing the Lord, trust in the Lord, pray earnestly (putting real effort into prayer), and persevering in prayer.
The Will of God
But suppose somebody does not have any of these hinderances, is in accordance with what it means to pray in the name of Jesus, and yet still has prayers that are unanswered. The force of the frustration that they might endure could be overwhelming. However something that we need to remember is that we often do not know what to pray for; we do not know the will of God. Sometimes God does not answer prayers because he knows more than we do. It is something like if a child desperately begs you to take them home so they can open open their birthday presents. But we know that there is a surprise party that is being planned, so we do not let them go home just yet because we have knowledge that transcends theirs. So the same with God. He is eternal, and omniscient, and sees our problems and lives in such a way we cannot understand.
This is something that Paul acknowledged, for he prayed fervently and persistently to be relieved of the thorn in his flesh. But because of his greater knowledge, God refused to grant that prayer, and replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul did not reply angrily, but instead trusted in the Lord. He trusted in God’s love and righteousness. So the same with us. When we encounter an unanswered prayer, we need to remember to trust in the will of the Lord.
But that is not to say we should neglect to pray. This could leave us not knowing what to pray for. But the Scripture tells us the pray fervently and for everything (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). In fact, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and brings our prayers to the Father, translated into the will of God (Romans 8:26-27). So while we do not know what to pray for, we should take heart that we do not have to. God still grants our prayers. Therefore we should pray without ceasing, and just trust in the will of the Lord.
If you would like to discuss further, come join our Theology Discussion Group