Bonhoeffer: Why Do We Pray ‘In Jesus’ Name’?

25481-ThinkstockPhotos-145244798.1200w.tnThey say the show’s not over until the fat lady sings. Well, for most of us, the prayer’s not over until we say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Why do we pray this way? I would dare say it’s a habit for most of us. Or maybe you just do it because you’ve heard other people do it. Or maybe it’s some kind of incantation–without it, your prayers may go unanswered?

There is One Mediator.

Whether we realize it or not, every time we pray “in Jesus’ name”, we are acknowledging His status as our Mediator. Paul writes, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5). We cannot pray directly to God. We need a mediator–one who will “reconcile to [God] all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

All things–whether on earth or in heaven! All things now relate to God “in Jesus’ name”. In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains, “He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality” (95). We pray “in Jesus’ name” to God, because Jesus is our Mediator with the Father.

He is the Mediator between God and man.

What does it look like to relate to God, relate to others, and relate to the world “in Jesus’ name”? Bonhoeffer writes:

For the Christian the only God-given realities are those he receives from Christ. What is not given us through the incarnate Son is not given us by God. What has not been given me for Christ’s sake, does not come from God. When we offer thanks for the gifts of creation we must do it through Jesus Christ, and when we pray for the preservation of this life by the grace of God, we must make our prayer for Christ’s sake. Anything I cannot thank God for the sake of Christ, I may not thank God for at all; to do so would be sin. (98)

We receive all things through Jesus, and our praise, thanks, glory, and honor must also be offered up to God through Jesus. We pray in Jesus’ name because that’s the way God wants it. He has designed the universe and steered the course of history so “that in everything He [Jesus] might be preeminent” (Col. 1:18).

He is the Mediator between man and man.

What about praying for others? Why must we intercede “in Jesus’ name”? Bonhoeffer continues:

The path, too, to the “God-given reality” of my fellow-man or woman with whom I have to live leads through Christ, or it is a blind alley. We are separated from one another by an unbridgeable gulf of otherness and strangeness which resists all our attempts to overcome it by means of natural association or emotional or spiritual union. There is no way from one person to another. However loving and sympathetic we try to be, however sound our psychology, however frank and open our behaviour, we cannot penetrate the incognito of the other man, for there are no direct relationships, not even between soul and soul. Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbors through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbors, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship. (98)

Wow. Can you imagine how our relationships might shift if we realized our closest communion with friends was when we were praying with and for them “in Jesus’ name”?

He is the Mediator between man and reality.

Lastly, how do we relate to all of reality? Bonhoeffer says that in this world we can only live and move and have our being “in Jesus’ name”:

We cannot rightly acknowledge the gifts of God unless we acknowledge the Mediator for whose sake alone they are given to us. There can be no genuine thanksgiving for the blessings of nation, family, history and nature without that heart-felt penitence which gives the glory to Christ alone above all else. There can be no real attachment to the given creation, no genuine responsibility in the world, unless we recognize the breach which already separates us from it. There can be no genuine love of the world except the love wherewith God loved it in Jesus Christ. “Love not the world” (1 John 2:15). Yes, but we must also remember that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The next time you pray “in Jesus’ name”, think about why. Realize that our prayers only ascend before the throne of God because they have been carried as incense by our Mediator Jesus Christ. As you pray for friends, family, brothers and sisters, ponder how we are only able to love them because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). As you interact with this world, realize with Paul that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

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