Whatever we ask in Jesus’ name, the Father will do for us (John 15:16). That’s what he says. But does he really mean it? Will God really do whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name? I’ve asked for plenty of things in my days and closed my prayers with “in the name of Jesus, Amen” and got diddly-squat. I know I’m not alone in this. So what gives?
We have to take care to understand what Jesus means by asking in ‘in my name.’ The whole statement tells us that as long as his ‘words abide in you’, then whatever you ask for in his name will be done for you. What does it mean for Jesus’ words to abide in us?
Well, here’s what Calvin says:
If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honors, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, which enables them to bear fruit.
–Commentary on John 15:16
To ask for something in Jesus’ name is to ask for it in a way consistent with the Gospel. As soon as we try to seek Jesus or the life that Jesus has for us apart from the revelation of the Gospel, we are ‘seeking Christ separately from himself.’ In other words, we are looking for a Jesus that isn’t the real Jesus, or a blessing that isn’t consistent with his will.
What does that mean for our prayers? Far too often our prayers are not shaped by the Jesus we find in the Gospel, so we ask for silly and frivolous things. Or, we ask for things in a fleshly, anti-god way. Much as a child of 5 will ask for things they couldn’t possibly handle in a right or responsible way (say, a jet-plane), we ask our heavenly Father for things that he knows would wreck us (that job, that girl, that paycheck, that school). And it’s not that these things are always inherently wrong, but they are wrong for us in that they will lead us away from Christ and so God does not give them. He’s a good father like that.
Instead, when we are seeking things in the name of Jesus, what we’ll namely be searching for is true life of Jesus, which is the Spirit of Life. It is those requests—those that lead to holiness, beauty, righteousness, and glory–that the Father will unfailingly give us.
Soli Deo Gloria