A Theology of Prayer

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Have you ever wondered how your prayers can be powerful and effective? Prayer is indeed an integral part of the Christian life, and our Lord Jesus Christ provides a most helpful model in his farewell discourse in John 14–17. In this section, Jesus offers a prayer to God that demonstrates God’s purpose, pattern, and power in prayer.

There is power in our prayers when we pray as God exhorts us to pray. Jesus’ farewell discourse provides keen insight into the persons of the Trinity and the nature of prayer. Where else can one learn an extended lesson on the theology of prayer from the Son of God? Because Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and plays an essential role in Christian prayers, his instruction to his readers on prayer should be heard and implemented. Let’s briefly walk through these four chapters of John’s Gospel and highlight what can be utilized in our prayers to God.

It is apparent in Jesus’ theological discourse that he presents a pattern of prayer with respect to the persons of the Trinity and how those persons play a role in Christian prayers. Jesus prays to the Father exclusively. But, we learn that just as the Father is the rightful recipient of our prayers, Jesus plays a role as well. Jesus tells us that no one comes to the Father except through himself (John 14:6). Jesus is referring to a relationship with God that is his, that Jesus is the mediator, and that these truths can also be applied to prayer, since Jesus tells us that he is the mediator between humanity and God (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus is training his disciples to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus (John 14:13). To pray in Jesus’ name is to come to God the Father through Jesus and to make our requests known to God for the sake of the Son—for his purposes. Jesus has a unique relationship with the Father in that he asks the Father to send the Spirit of God to help us and to be with us (John 14:15–17). In doing so, Jesus illuminates his disciples by providing them with the encouraging news that they will be indwelled with the Spirit of God; thus, as believers we pray to God in the name of Jesus, all the while having the Spirit—and the Spirit’s power—in us and with us while we pray. This is the very Spirit whom the Father sends to us through Jesus Christ to help us and to be our advocate (John 14:26).

Our prayers should be in harmony and union with God’s plan. Our asking and God’s answering of our supplications are for the glory of the Father (John 15:8). Part of God’s plan is that we approach God according to the pattern that Jesus sets out for us. This means that we come to God through Jesus and by the power of the Spirit in us. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us from the Father; thus, not only do we pray to God through the Son, but the Spirit is sent to us from the Father through the Son (John 15:26). Accessing God in prayer comes through the authority of Jesus who brings us to the Father with the purposes, intentions, and desires of Jesus. Ensuring our hearts are in union with God’s heart is part of the exercise of prayer; finding our role in the plan of God and confidently standing alongside it is our obedient demonstration of praying according to the will of God.

Addressing God in prayer in the name of Jesus is a primary command for faithful Christians to follow. Praying in Jesus’ name means to believe that we come to God the Father through Jesus and that our hearts are in accord with God’s. Anything else would be contrary to God’s purpose. Thus, when we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, we will receive from God and our joy will be complete (John 16:23–24). Even after Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples prayed to God in the name of the Son, and they prayed directly to the Father (John 16:26) as before, though Jesus reminded them that prayer is not about Jesus asking the Father on their behalf. Rather, Jesus is the mediator who allows them to come to God.

When Jesus prays, he prays to the Father (John 17:1). What does that teach us? What does that mean? We learn that the Son of God prays, and when he does, he prays to his Father. It also teaches us that we ought to pray in this same way. This is also the way that Jesus models prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer in this discourse is unique because it may not be meant to teach his disciples—we don’t know if they could hear. Maybe they could, in which case there would be a didactic element to the prayer. If not, then we are directly witnessing the Son of God praying in private to God the Father on the brink of his arrest and imminent crucifixion. The rest of the chapter includes Jesus’ prayer and highlights Jesus’ disposition toward God. He addresses God as Father (17:1), holy Father (17:11), and righteous Father (17:25). One could argue that Jesus only prays to his Father because he cannot pray to himself; thus, we should direct our prayers to Jesus. This argument does not match the biblical imperatives or patterns set by the other apostles, especially the apostle Paul and his numerous prayers offered to God the Father (e.g., Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:17; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2; 2 Thess 1:3; 1 Tim 1:17; 2 Tim 1:3; Philem 4).

To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in agreement with the triune God of the Bible. Praying in Jesus’ name means praying to the Father through Christ. We also pray by the power of the Spirit and “by the Spirit of God.” The apostle Paul expands this for us, but it should be synthesized with this understanding about the Father and the Son. We pray by the power of the Spirit because, as Jesus instructs us in this discourse, the Spirit is now with us and in us. The conclusion of any corporate prayer with “in your name” may lack a degree of clarity because the “your” may not be immediately apparent to the hearer. Unless Jesus was immediately mentioned, it implies the Father, since prayers in the New Testament are overwhelmingly
addressed to the Father. But Jesus implores his hearers to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name and implies (and, elsewhere the New Testament, enlightens) that we pray to God by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:26; Eph 6:18; Jude 20). There is authority in our prayers when we so align our hearts with God’s heart that we follow the purpose of God, the pattern of Jesus, and the power of the Spirit.

Dr. Jared Bryant is an associate professor and the associate dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He can be reached at jbryant@cairn.edu.