I remember thinking as a young teen-ager that prayer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I’d read the words of today’s Gospel, and given them whirl. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” said Jesus “whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you.” So I tried it.
You know, I don’t even remember anymore the things that I asked for. I do remember praying, though, for a number of things and always dutifully adding the words “in Jesus’ name I ask it” and closing with a firm “Amen!” Do you know what? I didn’t get what I asked for. And even though I can’t remember all I asked for, I do remember the disappointment. And I didn’t understand why.
Jesus made this task of praying sound so incredibly simple. Where did I mess up? Well, one Scripture that haunted me was this: “But let him ask in faith.” James 1. That really led me to wonder whether or not there was something wrong with my faith. I asked and didn’t receive. Maybe it was because I didn’t believe hard enough? And I read books written by people who taught just that. If you name it and claim it and don’t get it, the fault is with your faith.
As the years went on, I sort of set that problem on the back burner. I knew that I believed in God and that Jesus was His Son and that He had saved me from my sins. I delighted in being in church and singing his praises and receiving Holy Communion. But my prayer life was lacking. Prayer just didn’t seem to work for me and so I didn’t spend a lot of time on it. And all the while I puzzled over this passage: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you.” That “truly, truly” bothered me. Jesus seemed to be quite certain of what He was promising.
It was while I was at seminary that my beloved Dr. Nagel, to whom I and so many other pastors are indebted, opened up that passage to me in a way that I never saw it before. I had always heard it as Jesus promising to give me any and everything under the sun that I wanted whenever I added the six syllables: “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Dr. Nagel said: “His name is not a magical tag. Jesus promises you whatever is in His name. All that’s in His name, He says the Father will give you.”
Picture it like this: God has a big treasure chest and written around the outside of that chest are the letters J-E-S-U-S. Everything inside of that chest is in the name of Jesus. The Father promises you any and everything that He’s put into that chest. It’s yours. After all, Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you.”
So, the big question is: what’s in the name of Jesus? Because whatever is in that name is what the Father promises to give you! How about this for starters: In Jesus’ name you will find a Father’s love, overflowing joy, peace of heart and soul, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a family of faith that shares your joys and sorrows, the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith - oh, and not to mention, all you need to support your pilgrimage through this world. It’s all there for you in Jesus’ name. You have only to ask the Father, and He’ll open the treasure chest and give it to you.
Jesus says to His disciples: “Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full...In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
“In that day” refers to the time after the Lord Jesus had been nailed to the cross, buried, and then raised from the dead to forgive the sins of the world and to destroy death. It refers to now, to the day of grace. Jesus tells us that when we ask for whatever He has won for us by His suffering and dying and going to the Father, that He won’t have to ask the Father to give us those things. No. The treasure chest of Jesus’ name is stuffed full of goodies for everyone who loves Jesus and who believes that He is the one sent from God to be the Savior the world. And it is the Father himself who invites us, urges us, commands us to come and ask for any and every blessing that His Son won for us. For all the blessings and benefits that are “in His name.” The Father Himself loves us and wants us to have them all. He sent His Son for no other reason than that we might be given those priceless gifts.
So, you see, when I was a teen-ager I was looking at prayer the wrong way round. Instead of looking into the treasure-chest of Jesus’ name and asking the Father to give me the riches that are found there, I kept looking at the things of the world around me and asking for those. Luther says when we do that it is as though a King were to command a poor beggar to ask for anything in His kingdom with the promise that he’d get it, and the beggar were content to ask for a measly cup of soup. We’re just that way when we content ourselves with the truly little things of this passing world instead of the lasting joys of heaven.
One last thought: do you know the greatest way to regularly go the Father and ask for the treasures that Jesus died on the cross to give you? It’s to take the Lord’s Prayer not just onto lips, but into your heart. As you come before the Father praying that prayer, you ask for the big stuff: - and not just for you, but for you and for all Christians! You ask for God’s holy name to shape your life, for His kingdom to invade you, for his holy will to be done to you and by you and in all the world, for daily bread and the grace to receive all the goods of this world in thanksgiving, for forgiveness of sins and the grace to forgive others, for help in times of trouble, and for a final rescue from the Evil One. Those are some powerful big gifts to ask of God. Who would ever have the nerve to ask Him for them if Jesus himself hadn’t taught us to pray like that, and to trust in the Father’s love?
Today happens to be mothers’ day, a day when we thank God for all those who have that incredible call to serve as mothers. When you’re a kid, moms are great to ask things of. Oh, they may get impatient with you and tell you to be quiet, but they love you. And kids know that. That’s why they are so persistent in asking mom for this, that, and the other thing. The love of a mother for her child is not unlike that of God the Father for his children. His love is unending and He delights in His children coming to Him and asking Him for good things, especially the good things He’s promised them - in the Name of Jesus. Amen.