Praying in the Name of Jesus

Praying in the Name of Jesus:

What Is It? How Should We Do It?

Should We Do It When We Pray in Public, Civic Gatherings?

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2011 by Mark D. Roberts and

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Praying “In Jesus’ Name” in Civic Gatherings: Introduction

Recently I was talking with a friend about praying in civic gatherings such as city council meetings or community luncheons. “When you pray in meetings like these,” he asked, “do you pray in the name of Jesus?”

“Yes,” I answered, “always. But not in the way you might be thinking.” I went on to explain how I pray in the name of Jesus when I’m asked to pray in public, non-religious contexts. So I thought it might be interesting to share my practice here.

When I was Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I was called upon occasionally to pray in civic contexts. Sometimes I prayed before Irvine City Council meetings. Sometimes I prayed at community luncheons sponsored by secular organizations. When it was my turn to pray, I always made a point of actually praying, that is, of speaking to God and not using prayer as a way of addressing those gathered. I also made an effort to be relatively short. You may be surprised (then again, you may not be surprised) to learn that many pastors did just the opposite. They used their “prayer” as an occasion to preach. And they often went on way too long. One organizer of a community event thanked me profusely for being prayerful and brief. I expect this might account for why I got invited to be the prayer giver at many civic events. (Photo: Irvine City Hall, where the City Council meets)

When I prayed in civic gatherings, I did not end my prayers with the words, “in Jesus’ name” or something similar. This really bugged a pastor friend of mine, who insisted adamantly that all civic prayer should mention Jesus, and that I was failing to honor Christ by my practice.

I, on the contrary, believe that saying the words “in Jesus’ name” in civic prayer gatherings is something about which Christians may rightly disagree. I don’t think there’s one right answer to this question. Some of us believe that we should say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of public prayers. We should do this, they argue, both to in obedience to Jesus and to help draw people to him. Other Christians prefer not to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of their civic prayers, because they don’t want to offend people or because they want to be more inclusive of those gathered, many of whom may not be Christians.

I fall in the second camp, in that I don’t say “in Jesus’ name” when I pray in civic gatherings. Yet I still claim to pray in Jesus’ name. This requires some explanation. So, let me address two questions:

1. What does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus?

2. Why don’t I say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of a civic prayer?

I’ll take on the first question tomorrow.

What Does It Mean to Pray in the Name of Jesus?

In several passages from the Gospel of John, Jesus instructs us to pray in his name. For example:

“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14; see also 15:16; 16:23-24, 26)

This command has led many Christians to end their prayers with something like “in Jesus’ name” or “through Christ our Lord” before they say “Amen.”

I often end my prayers with “in Jesus’ name.” But when Jesus told us to pray in his name, he wasn’t talking about the words with which we end our prayers. Perhaps the clearest proof of this comes in the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer, found in different versions in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. In neither of these exemplary prayers does Jesus end with “in my name” or something like that. In Luke 11, Jesus continues to teach about prayer, urging us to be persistent (vv. 5-8) and confident (vv. 9-13) when we pray. But nowhere does he say we should speak his name in order to get our prayers heard.

If praying in Jesus’s name is not saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of the prayer, what is it? We get help in answering this question from other passages in which Jesus uses the phrase “in my name.” For example:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt 18:5)

“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt 18:19-20)

Neither of these passages has to do with saying the words “in Jesus’ name.” Rather, they’re about doing something under his authority, or as his representative. So, in Matthew 18:5, “in my name” means something like “Whoever welcomes one such child under my authority and representing me, welcomes me.” Matthew 18:19-20 is especially telling because verse 19 speaks of prayer, and verse 20 speaks of gathering in Jesus’ name, but not using his name as some sort of ending to a prayer.

All Christians pray in Jesus’s name, and only in Jesus’ name, in that we approach God under the authority of Jesus and, if you will, by his permission and because of his effort on our behalf. We come before God’s throne of grace, not in our own merit, but in the merit of Jesus. I’m reminded of a time when I visited the U.S. Capitol in Washington as a guest of Congressman John Campbell. With him as my guide, I walked freely around the Capitol, entering many areas that were reserved only for members of Congress and their guests. I was welcome in that place, not because of who I was or because of anything I had done, but because I was there “in the name” of Congressman Campbell. So it is when we come before God in the name of Jesus. (Photo: The U.S Capitol in the spring.)

If we are to pray in Jesus’ name, then this means our prayers should reflect Jesus’ own values and purposes. Our prayers should be imbued with the kingdom agenda of Jesus. In order to pray “in Jesus’ name” in this particular sense, our minds and hearts must be shaped by Scripture. We must set aside times of quiet to attend to the still, small voice of the Spirit of Jesus. Ideally, when we pray in Jesus’ name, not only are we approaching God in the authority of Jesus, but also we are coming with Jesus’ own desires.

So, when I say that I always pray “in Jesus’ name,” I am saying, first of all, that I approach the Father only through Jesus, only through what he has done for me on the cross. I hope that my prayers are also consistent with his will, though I recognize that my own agenda can intrude into my prayers fairly easily. Yet my desire is to bring my prayers more and more in line with what Jesus desires.

Should Christians end their prayers with “in Jesus’ name”? It depends. If saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers reminds us of whose invitation has allowed us to pray, then this is a fine practice. And if saying “in Jesus’ name” helps us seek Jesus’ own will when we pray, then we ought to say it often. But, if we think that saying “in Jesus’ name” is what it means to pray in his name, then we are missing the point. Moreover, if we believe, as I did when I was young, that “in Jesus’ name” is some sort of magic formula that ensures God will hear my prayers, then we might need to pray without these words, at least until our theology gets a tune up.

In conclusion, we can obey Jesus’ instruction about praying in his name without saying “in Jesus’ name” or some such phrase at the end of our prayers. This gives us the freedom, in our civic prayers, to say “in Jesus’ name” or not. Neither practice is more or less consistent with Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

Tomorrow I’ll explain why I don’t say “in Jesus’ name” when I’m praying in Jesus’s name in civic gatherings.

Why I Don’t Say “In Jesus’ Name” at the End of a Civic Prayer

When I have prayed in civic gatherings, such as city council meetings or community luncheons, I have ended my prayers by saying, simply, “Amen,” rather than saying what I’d say when leading prayer in church: “in Jesus’ name, Amen.” I realize that others have a different practice, and I respect their convictions even if I don’t share them. In this post I want to explain why I don’t say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of my civic prayers.

If you’ve read my last post, you have seen that Christians are not required to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers. When Jesus teaches us to pray in his name, this is not about the words we say. Rather, it’s a call to pray in his authority and under his sovereignty. This means we are free to say “in Jesus’s name” or not.

When I have prayed in public, secular gatherings, I have not said “in Jesus’s name” because I knew that many of the people whom I was leading in prayer were not Christians. My goal was to include through my words as many people in the prayer as possible. I wanted all who had gathered to be able to pray with me, to join me in the “Amen” without hesitation. I didn’t want to leave some people out if I could help it.

Some Christians are reticent to mention the name of Jesus because they’re embarrassed about their faith. I can honestly say I don’t fall into this group, though there have been times in my life when I did. God help us not to be afraid of identifying with Jesus! After all, it was Jesus himself who said:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew  10:32-33)

Of course this passage was not addressing the issue at hand. Jesus wasn’t concerned here with whether or not his followers should say “in Jesus’ name” when they pray in public. But the sense of this passage does suggest that if one is motivated by embarrassment to omit the name of Jesus, in prayer or in any other communication, that person is skating on thin spiritual ice.

Ironically, it is my commitment to following Jesus that leads me to pray without saying “in Jesus’ name.” Jesus, after all, welcomed to himself those who hadn’t the faintest idea who he really was. They were drawn to his truth, his kindness, and his love. People did not flock to Jesus because he hammered them with religious language, but because he welcomed them with God’s own love. In this context he was able to speak of the truth of God’s kingdom and its implications for people, which included calling them to repentance.

I’m more than happy to talk with non-Christian folk about Jesus. In my experience, this sort of conversation happens best when I have welcomed people and have shown consideration for their convictions, feelings, and concerns. So, strangely enough, I don’t pray “in Jesus’s name” in civic gatherings precisely because I want to welcome people in Jesus’s name. I want to show the kind of consideration for people that Jesus demonstrated in his ministry.

There are some public (or semi-public) settings in which I would mention the name of Jesus in prayer. I think of interfaith funerals, for example, where representatives of different faith traditions pray ways that are consistent with their own religious convictions. I have often performed weddings or funerals in settings where many of those in the congregation are not Christian. Yet those who asked me to officiate (the couple getting married or the family of the deceased) sought me out to do an explicitly Christian service. The people in the congregation expected me, as a Christian pastor, to speak and pray as a Christian. (Photo: The sanctuary of Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I performed dozens of weddings and funerals.)

Now you know why I don’t say “in Jesus’ name” when I pray in civic gatherings, and why I believe that, nevertheless, I am praying in Jesus’ name. I am not saying, however, that all Christians should do as I do. I believe that we have freedom in Christ to end our prayers in different ways, according to our sense of what it means for us to honor God.

  • af

    Thank you for addressing this subject. It’s something I’ve wondered about when occasionally called upon to offer an invocation or blessing at an event. Even when I know the attendees are primarily Christians, I want to make others welcome when the occasion is intended to be diverse in as many ways possible (e.g., a Lions Club meeting).

    It has always sounded presumptuous to say, “in Jesus’ name we pray,” so I have occasionally substituted “I” for “we.” However, I am still in search of some alternative, because the prayer is being offered on behalf of everyone present.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, af, for your comment. I appreciate your perspective.

  • Pastordbg

    Thank you for you thoughts on this subject!!!

  • Mooredartanyon

    It’s funny that I stumbled upon your post this morning. I was reading the Word this morning and came across a scripture in which Jesus was instructing the disciples to pray in His name. Immediately after I was given the same revelation that you expressed in this post. I think traditionally we end every prayer in the name of Jesus, not truly understanding why, other than we were taught to do so. With Jesus, it was never about the words you say, but mainly about the actions that are motivated and influenced by your heart. Your post confirmed that I heard from the Spirit of God this morning in regarads to praying in the name of Jesus. Another religious tradition has been destroyed in my life! Thanx Pastor.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment.

  • My4lilrugratz

    I believe you should pray outside the church the same way you pray in the church. I am sure you preach on not being a Sunday Christian. You may be omitting it just to not offend those who aren’t Christians, however; you are offending those who are! You are also saying to those that aren’t Christians, it’s ok to leave Jesus out of it. You are portraying a message that I believe is contradicting to your “beliefs”.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I guess we’ll just have to disagree on this one. I try to base my understanding of what it means to pray in the name of Jesus on what Scripture teaches. But I could be wrong. Could you?

  • My4lilrugratz

    “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6
    We are not worthy to go to God without Jesus. We are sinners! Jesus is our way to the Father. Therefore, when we pray, we should pray something like: God I come to you now in the name of your son, Jesus. Or end our prayers in Jesus’ name.

  • Anonymous

    I agree about Jesus being the way to God. But why didn’t he teach people to pray that way? Do you pray the Lord’s Prayer?

  • My4lilrugratz

    Sorry to take up so many posts, but this is laying heavily on me.
    John 14:13-14 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.
    John 26:23-24 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
    I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on all these verses! 

  • Anonymous

    This is absolutely true. I’ve explained in my series what this means. It does not mean saying the name of Jesus at the end of your prayer, though you’re welcome to do that, of course. I often do myself.

  • rusty leonard

    Thank you so much for your insightful article. I appreciate your view and commentary. It reminds me of a sermon1676 – 20 May, 1732)1676 – 20 May, 1732) by Thomas Boston (1676 – 1732) titled Praying in the Name of Christ. Here is a link to the sermon:

    I like to think of it as you said, praying with His permission, praying under His authority. I also like to think of it as praying according to His nature and character. I love the metaphor of the church being the bride of Christ it gives me great pleasure to think of all that Christ has and all that He has He shares with His bride. 😉

  • rusty leonard

    Thank you so much for your insightful article. I appreciate your view and commentary. It reminds me of a sermon1676 – 20 May, 1732)1676 – 20 May, 1732) by Thomas Boston (1676 – 1732) titled Praying in the Name of Christ. Here is a link to the sermon:

    I like to think of it as you said, praying with His permission, praying under His authority. I also like to think of it as praying according to His nature and character. I love the metaphor of the church being the bride of Christ it gives me great pleasure to think of all that Christ has and all that He has He shares with His bride. 😉

  • Dhanpatineupane

    God Jesus ,I want to spend my others short life with less difficulties but this you know  ;another ended life I just want to contribute for others,Therefore, if you are true god as I believe you please do understand the things what I have grief inside my heart,

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Onique2

    My question why are you switching. If you are not going to say his name at civic events why say his name at spiritual events? If it’s the same. Sounds like you are attempting to justify your switch. Your prayer should not be altered based soley on who’s in your presence.

  • Anonymous

    Of course my prayer will be changed if I’m leading others in prayer. If I’m leading children, for example, I will use simple words. If I’m praying in a formal service, I will use more formal language. If I’m leading people in prayer in a setting where mentioning Jesus might not be edifying, then I wouldn’t do it. After all, Jesus did not teach his disciples (including us) to say his name when we pray. Not there in the Lord’s Prayer, right?

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  • Leroy Middleton

    We should always pray in the name of Jesus. In seaon and out of season.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, indeed. That’s how Christians pray. Thanks for your comment.

  • Dhmiller3

    Before joining my current church a year and half ago, I asked in the New members/inquirers class – Does the congregation/Pastor pray in Jesus name.  I think that it took the facilitator back a step.  She didn’t have the necessary information or didn’t feel comfortable responding, therefore, she stated, I’ll be happy to look into that for you.  Nonetheless, she approached me the next time she saw me and stated, Yes, we do pray in Jesus Name and the Pastor can even further explain that concept if needed.  Well, happy to say the Pastor did a follow-up with me and I’m a proud member of St. James Presbyterian Church – Greensboro, NC under the guidance of senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, where I facilitate the Drama Ministry….all to the glory of God.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment.

  • Pastorj

    Great article, but I must say that excluding “in the name of Jesus” for the purpose of including those whom have a different faith seems a little counterproductive, especially knowing that God would never respond to those whom don’t come to him “the name of Jesus”. What good is it to be spiritually polite without productivity.

  • Pastorj

    I meant to say, who don’t come to Him, “in the name of Jesus”

  • Shannon Stewart

    With all due respect, there are over 6 scriptures that say to pray “in Jesus’ Name.” And the reason Jesus did not say “in my name” when He prayed is because He was the one praying to the Father. – John 16:26-27 In that day you
    will ask in My name, and I do not say to you
    that I shall pray the
    Father for you; for the
    Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I
    came forth from God.

    We have the same authority Jesus had because we pray in His name. Without His name there is no authority. – Mark 16:17-18 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak
    with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink
    anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the
    sick, and they will recover.”

    John 15:26 says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you
    should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that
    whatever you ask the Father in My name He may
    give you.” The opposite of that is, whatever you don’t ask in My name He may not give you.

    I am by no means trying to be rude nor disrespectful. I want your prayers heard, and we should not worry about offending others by lifting up the name of Jesus, as He died for us. Jesus was never worried about offending others, He just taught the truth. People follow those that are strong in the Lord. I hope you will consider what I have said and really seek God on this subject.

  • Valerie

    I believe God will do the work and we need to be open to it. Your heart is in the right place and that is all He wants. We can not put God in a box and that is the problem with many churches and people. It is wonderful to pray in public and I think you are right on and doing things exactly the way He wants.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your input.