Taunts From An Atheist About Praying In Jesus’ Name
I have this friend who’s nearly an atheist. What I mean is, he’s the most atheistic leaning agnostic I know. And around the fire station he sometimes loved to taunt Christians. One time he said to me, (in the snarkiest tone possible), “So the bible says if you ask for anything in Jesus’ name that he’ll give it to you. Right? So ask for a Mercedes Benz tonight. And see if it’s in your driveway when you wake up tomorrow morning.”
In Jesus’ Name: What That Means
Now there’s an obvious answer to that taunt. Asking in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean to tag his name onto the end of a prayer. It means asking in the Spirit of Jesus. When I was a firefighter on a fire scene I could ask people, civilian people, to do things in the name of the fire chief or the fire department. I could ask someone to stand at a safe distance from the fire. Or I could ask someone to get the attention of another firefighter. Or I could ask someone to move their vehicle out of the way.
I could ask for anything in the name of the fire chief or fire department, and they’d do it.
But if I asked someone, a bystander watching the fire, if I asked them, in the name of the fire chief and the fire department, if I asked them to give me all their money–they’d never do it. Or if I asked them to come by the station the next morning and wash my truck–forget it.
So I believe God will give us anything we ask in Jesus’ name, as long as it’s truly in the Spirit of his name.
And a Mercedes Benz is most likely not in the Spirit of Jesus’ name.
That’s the obvious answer.
The Not So Obvious Answer
I confess that there are times when I feel as though God is not responding to my prayers. You’ve probably experienced something similar. Maybe you’ve even experienced that recently. And although it could be because of asking for something that’s not in the Spirit of Jesus’ name, although it could be because we’re asking amiss, I think for me, more often it’s because of another reason.
Just before he was executed, Jesus prayed to our Father,
“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.”
Notice something about that prayer Jesus spoke. “…glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You,” Jesus said. Notice there’s an interplay between Jesus and our Father. Jesus loves Him and gives Him glory. And then the Father gives to Jesus. Jesus gives God glory and God gives Jesus authority over all flesh. Jesus’ heart is for God so much that what he wants most is to give Him glory.
Let me ask you something. Did you realize there is a foremost commandment? Jesus once said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
Let me ask you something else.
Are you obeying God’s foremost commandment?
“The foremost commandment,” he said. God gave Jesus authority over all flesh because Jesus gave God glory. Jesus’ heart was for his heavenly Father. Jesus loved God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind. Jesus loved God so much that the thing he wanted most was to glorify Him, his Father, our Father, in heaven.
You know what I’ve noticed? I’ve notice that I’m going to love something like that, no matter what. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the nature of my heart and my soul and my mind. And it’s the same for you. You and I, we can’t just not love anything. There’s always something that’s foremost in each of our hearts and souls and minds. (Even if it’s simply the love of not being disturbed!) And when my foremost love is not for our Father, then I struggle to pray. When money is foremost, or gaming is foremost, or music is foremost, or movies are foremost, or career is foremost, or sex is foremost, my prayers can ascend up to heaven–like bricks.
But when I’m feeling that foremost love for my Father, that’s when the prayer flows.
At this point, you might be asking, “So are you saying God doesn’t respond to prayer unless He is the foremost love in my life?” No, I’m not saying that. Sometimes God gives us what we pray for when we deserve it the least. That’s grace, and God is gracious. But what I am saying is God always seemed to answer Jesus’ prayers. And one reason for that was the back and forth, the interaction, the loving and giving response each had toward the other. God desired to give to Jesus because Jesus desired to glorify his Father. And that was driven by love: God’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ love for God.
Jesus’ obedience of the foremost command.
Jesus’ love for God with all his heart, soul, and mind.
The One Thing You Can Do To Give Life To Your Prayers
So if you feel as though God is not responding to your prayers, one reason could be because of a misplaced foremost love in your life. And if that’s the case, as it is for so many of us, the one thing you can do to give life to your prayers is to love God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
Jesus did that. You can too.
You might be saying to yourself right now, “Kurt, you said God always responded to Jesus’ prayers, but what about the time Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane? When Jesus asked God to take the cup away, God said no.”
That’s a great question. You probably remember that at the end of his prayer Jesus finished with, “…not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) So some might say that God did say yes to Jesus’ prayer, because ultimately what Jesus wanted was for God’s will to take priority over his own.
But even if we set that aside, we see something important in the way God answered Jesus’ request to remove the cup. God required Jesus’ sacrifice because it was necessary. It was necessary so you can be reconciled to God.
God is perfect and His justice is perfect, and so is His love. And God’s perfect justice is violated by my sin. Even if I’m a very decent person, it’s unlikely that I follow the foremost commandment Jesus identified. And I don’t know about you but I’ve committed many sins besides not loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.
But by sacrificing His Son, the one who is without sin, both His justice and His love are fulfilled. His perfect justice is fulfilled because you sin, and your sins are paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross. His perfect love is fulfilled because He wants to spend eternity with you in heaven, and His way of accomplishing that is for you to accept the sacrifice of His Son as atonement for your sins. For every sin you’ve ever committed. For every sin you’re committing now. And for every sin you will ever commit in the future. The dilemma of God’s perfect justice and God’s perfect love for you is solved by what Jesus did for you on the cross.
Maybe you haven’t accepted God’s gift of reconciliation. You know what? There’s no reason not to. You can be reconciled to God right now. Just pray with me, “Father, I’m a sinner. I’ve sinned in the past and I know I’ll sin in the future, no matter how hard I try. I want to spend eternity with You in heaven. I want to accept the work Your Son did, the sacrifice he made on the cross to pay for my sins. I want to give myself to You and to Jesus.”
Those words aren’t magic. What matters is that you recognize your sin, your need for a savior, and that you give your heart to Jesus.
If you did that email me. Or if you have questions, email me. I would love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bible Gateway, 1 John 2:15
Ray Stedman, The True Lord’s Prayer
Image by WELS net – Creative Commons