In John 14, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you . . . I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (verses 12–14). This promise seems to give us the right to ask for anything and everything we want, and Jesus is obligated to give it to us—but is that really what the Lord is saying here?
The entire fourteenth chapter of John serves as Jesus’ valedictory address to His disciples. The soon-coming crucifixion would leave His followers scared and confused, so Jesus provided them with comfort and assurance regarding a number of things, including how they would carry on His work. Part of this comfort was the promise that Jesus would hear and answer their prayers. Jesus tells them that anything they ask “in my name” would be granted to them.
Jesus is not promising to be a personal vending machine; rather, He is encouraging confidence and faithfulness in prayer. When Jesus says to pray “in my name,” He means that we can pray in His authority. He has provided the access we need to heaven. When our requests, made in the name of His Son, further God’s purposes and kingdom, God will act on our behalf, and in the end the Father will be “glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). A good example of such a prayer is Christ’s in the garden where He prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
In the old American West, before the days of credit cards, a shopkeeper would maintain a ledger book recording the activities of each customer’s account and the amount owed. The business owner knew his customers well and the work in which they were involved. A customer would at times send others to the shop for him to make purchases and bring back materials needed for his home or business. Those sent in the customer’s stead (e.g., his children) would be able to receive the goods “in the name of” the account owner. But, if they tried to purchase things not in line with what the shopkeeper knew the customer needed or wanted, the purchase would be denied.
Coming to God in Jesus’ name is similar to those old financial transactions. Jesus holds the account, and we are welcome to come to the Father in Jesus’ name to receive what we need. The Father willingly grants our requests because of Jesus’ standing. Of course, if we are asking for things that we don’t need or that are contrary to the character or will of Christ, then we cannot expect to receive those things (see James 4:3).
When He said He would give “whatever you ask in my name,” Jesus was not delivering a magical formula for getting whatever we want. He was giving us a guiding principle to align one’s desires with God’s. When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we pray according to the will of God; we pray for what will honor and glorify Jesus. God will provide the means necessary to accomplish His objectives, and He equips us as His servants. Ultimately, God receives all the glory and praise for what is done.