How about a cup of tea, in the name of Jesus? Do take a seat, in Jesus' name. Now, tell me about your problem, in Jesus' name.
No, I haven't gone completely nuts. Please bear with me. Years ago I heard one of those comments that has stuck with me ever since. Some people were discussing the prayer meeting at a church and the topic moved on to the pastor and how he prayed in public. Then, someone said something along the lines of:
"Do you know, I don't think that the pastor believes in praying in Jesus' name."
"Oh? why not?"
"Well, he never says it after his prayers. Surely he should know the power of praying in Jesus' name? Doesn't the Bible tell us to do so?"
This bothered me somewhat. Does saying the words "in Jesus' name" at the end of a prayer suddenly transform that prayer into a better one? Does the Bible really insist that we do this? Well, according to Paul in Colosians 3:17, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." So, does that mean everything a Christian does should be followed by the words "in Jesus' name"? No. Yet, on occasion it might do us good to think it, even if all we are doing is offering some tea and biscuits.
Asking for things in Jesus' name (e.g. John 14:14; 16:23-24) or doing things in his name (Colossians 3:17) is not about a formula, a special set of words we have to use to make things happen. God will not ignore your prayer because you don't say "in Jesus' name", nor will he always do what we want just because we have said the "right" words. There is much more to it than this. As Tim Chester writes in "The Message of Prayer" (Bible Speaks Today, IVP, p.178), "when we pray in Jesus' name we pray as Jesus' representative in accordance with the revelation of Jesus' purposes." It is as if the prayer were one that Jesus himself would happily say or put his own name to. This includes, amongst other things, the motive behind the prayer. We would not expect Jesus to pray selfishly, with an ulterior motive. Yet, how often might we have done so and stuck those "easy" words "in Jesus' name" on the end? Similarly, we can clearly pray in his name without having to say those words. If our thoughts and intentions match up with what we might expect of Jesus then we can be praying "in his name" without saying so. Also, if we know that we can only pray this way because Jesus has made it possible, then we do not need to feel guilty for omitting the words to express this. Words can be useful reminders of truth, but the words themselves are not a guarantee that we are acting in line with that truth.
This can be extended to Paul's words, too. How can we do everything in the name of Jesus? We can do it in such a way that Jesus would be happy that we are representing him well, that we are acting in a way and out of a motive that he would willingly share. So many tasks we do without love or care. Maybe if we were to pause and think to ourselves that I am offering this meal, this listening ear, this money, this cup of tea in the name of Jesus, then perhaps we might do it differently.