Praying "in Jesus' Name"

What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?

R. A. Torrey, a famous American evangelist from the early 20th century, told of a letter he once received from an earnest but troubled man: “Dear Dr. Torrey: I am in great perplexity. I have been praying for a long time for something that I am confident is according to God’s will, but I do not get it. I have been a member of the Presbyterian Church for 30 years, and I have tried to be a consistent one all the time. I have been Superintendent in the Sunday School for 25 years, and an elder in the church for 20 years. Yet God does not answer my prayer and I cannot understand it. Can you explain it to me?”

Torrey diagnosed the man’s trouble: “This man thinks that because he has been a consistent church member for 30 years, a faithful Sunday School superintendent for 25 years, and an elder in the church for 20 years, that God is under obligation to answer his prayer. He is really praying in his own name. We must give up any thought that we have any claims upon God. But Jesus Christ has great claims on God, and we should go to God in our prayers not on the ground of any goodness in ourselves, but on the ground of Jesus Christ’s claims.” 

To come “in Jesus’ name” is to approach God with a conscious sense of dependence on Christ—essentially the same attitude of faith in Christ that’s involved in conversion. When individuals first express an attitude of dependence on Christ, God is happy to respond by forgiving their sins and adopting them as His children. That initial, saving transaction has an important, ongoing implication for how they pray—namely, God’s children who remember their adoption know better than to come in their own name. Instead, they come to God on the basis of undeserved mercy, freely given in Jesus Christ. They know their performance isn’t the basis of their access to God, and neither can it be the basis of their appeal.