Years ago, I worked at a conference center in the hometown of evangelist Billy Graham. It was a busy place where well-known speakers, authors and musicians came and went in a steady stream, so the staff was mostly unphased by the presence of someone famous.
One exception, however, was Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife. Occasionally she would drop by our cafe for lunch and the kitchen staff would scramble to prepare her table exactly how she liked it. Mrs. Graham was gracious and undemanding, deeply loved by everyone in the community, so all it took to send the staff into high gear was the mention of her name.
I’ve had acquaintances who work behind the scenes with high-profile people. Nobody knows their names. Their requests are respected only when they’re representing someone with a respectable name.
The Most Powerful Name
Most of us will probably never represent someone famous, but all Christians have access to a name that carries far greater power than any earthly fame: Jesus Christ.
We see evidence of this power repeatedly in Scripture, such as the time a beggar with a deformity asked Jesus’ disciples for a handout: “The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, ‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!’ Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened” (Acts 3:5-7, NLT).
Paul later demonstrated the power of Jesus’ name in an encounter with a demon possessed girl: “She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.’ This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And instantly it left her” (Acts 16:17-18, NLT).
Jesus himself talked about the power his name carries: “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14:13-14, NLT). What a remarkable promise!
We need to be careful, however, not misinterpret Jesus’ words and use his name inappropriately — a lesson a group of prideful men learned the hard way.
With His Authority
As Paul traveled around Ephesus and became well-known for miracles in Jesus’ name, seven brothers decided that they wanted some of the notoriety:
“A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!’ Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, ‘I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered” (Acts 19:13-16, NLT).
What went wrong? Why didn’t the evil spirit leave when the seven brothers invoked the name of Jesus? They were attempting to wield his name as a magic spell rather than speaking on his behalf. They had no right to use it. Truly asking for something in Jesus’ name isn’t just expecting sounds and syllables alone to call forth God’s power and yield our desired results; it means speaking with his authority and for his purposes, not our own.
When Jesus commissioned 72 of his followers to travel to towns he planned to visit, it wasn’t so they could do whatever they wanted. He sent them to perform miracles on his behalf, and they were amazed at the results: “When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, ‘Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!’” (Luke 10:17, NLT)
What they had witnessed was astonishing, but Jesus quickly reminded them that the greater miracle was their eternal relationship with him: “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (v. 20).
In one of Jesus’ last recorded prayers, he extended his commission to all of his followers through the ages: “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. ... I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message” (John 17:18, 20, NLT).
Everyone who has a relationship with Jesus is called to be his ambassador, representing him because they know him and are known by him. That means Christ’s character, desires and promises will not just influence your prayers or my prayers; they will be the prayers.
As Christ’s ambassadors, we can have confidence and to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT). Focusing on God’s will above our own in any situation allows us to hold confidently to unchanging truths like these:
God’s faithful love and mercy never stop (Lamentations 3:22).
He sees, knows, and values us at our deepest levels (Psalm 139).
He has given us ultimate victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:57).
He wants us to bring him all our needs and worries, and he will give us peace beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).
We can pray with confident trust in God, even if what he’s doing doesn’t seem to make sense right now.
“‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up. These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love” (Isaiah 55:8-13, NLT).
God will always accomplish his purposes. He’ll restore and transform the thorniest parts of our stories into places of abundance so we can celebrate who he is and how he loves us! And as we talk with God as his ambassadors, we’ll become more and more confident in our prayers — not to manipulate God by using his Son’s name, but because our time with him deepens our understanding of his heart and ways.
Your Turn to Talk With God
As you consider praying confidently as God’s ambassador, ask yourself these questions and then talk honestly with God about your answers:
How and why do I use Jesus’ name when I pray?
How would living as God’s ambassador, focused on his authority and heart, change the way I pray?
What Scripture passages remind me of God’s steady goodness and wisdom, even when I can’t understand what he’s doing?