THE BIBLICAL MEANING OF “NAME”. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PRAY “IN JESUS’ NAME”?
“He has never failed me … I delight in speaking well of His name”.
This is the beautiful way in which George Müller concluded a letter of encouragement that he had written to Hudson Taylor, who lived by faith as a missionary in China for over 50 years.
Clearly, George Müller was not using the word “name” as a label of identification but rather as an expression of the character and nature of His Lord, whom he had come to know as an utterly faithful, tender and wise Father who is unfailingly true to all His promises.
It stirs my heart to read this expression of delight. It also leads me to reflect more deeply on the meaning of the word “name” in the Bible and – in particular – on the use of the phrase “in Jesus’ name” in our prayer lives.
Jesus Himself indicates, in several instances, that we are to pray and make requests to the Father “in My name” (for example, in John 14:13,14 & 16, among other verses).
The word “name” in both the Old and New Testaments generally means authority and character. It is never simply a form of identification; rather, in biblical culture, a name always conveys the bearer’s whole nature, character and qualities.
So how do these two biblical meanings of the word “name” apply to us when we pray and act?
Praying and acting in the authority of Jesus
As believers, we are given authority to pray and to act in Jesus’ name because of His sacrifice on our behalf. His death and resurrection set us free from the penalty of sin and enable us to approach the Father with boldness, because we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness is now our own righteousness: “For He [God the Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Praying and acting in the character of Jesus
In my own experience, it is much more challenging to pray and act in the character of Jesus because it requires us to have (or to work towards having) the qualities and characteristics of Jesus flowing in our own lives.
It is worth mentioning here that aiming to have His character – founded upon Love – is vital because without the foundational characteristic of love, the exercise of authority can sometimes be unhelpful and even damaging.
The character of Jesus is manifold. He is loving, forgiving, merciful, compassionate, gentle and kind. He is patient, obedient, self-controlled, humble and fully dependent upon His Father. He is prayerful, faithful, thankful, joyful and peaceful. He thinks no evil, keeps no record of wrongs, is not resentful or irritable but is always hopeful and rejoices with the truth.
These are just a few among the many Spirit-endowed qualities and characteristics of Jesus that are mentioned in the Bible. And – most wonderfully! – they have all already been bestowed upon us through the Holy Spirit who indwells those who are born-again believers.
The Passion Translation expresses it in this way: “Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm has already been lavished upon us as a love gift from our wonderful heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus—all because he sees us wrapped into Christ. This is why we celebrate him with all our hearts!” (Eph. 1:3, TPT). The spiritual blessings lavished upon us include all the characteristics and qualities of Jesus.
So they are not out of our reach! However, we cannot develop these characteristics in our own strength, and therefore it is a huge relief to know that it is God who will perform this miraculous transformation in us as we submit to Him: “… it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). God is passionately concerned that we grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ – to reflect His character and qualities – as we seek in faith to appropriate them and walk in them.
God does this for our benefit and our blessing, as well as for His glory. The more we die to self and live for Him alone, the freer and more joyful we become, and the more we will see His fruit sprouting and growing in our lives and through our prayers.
So, let us “celebrate him with all our hearts!” (Eph. 1:3)
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