Don't you just love it when you personally benefit just by knowing someone else? Maybe (just maybe) you're considering an order of some trophies for your eldest son's soccer team, and one of the other dads on your youngest son's soccer teams says, "Oh, you should check out Awards Express — I always get my stuff from them. They turn around high-quality orders quickly and professionally. Tell 'em Tray sent you!" And instantly, you feel like some kind of V.I.P., empowered to trade on someone else's good name and reap the benefits of their relationships with a mutual contact.
That's kinda the way prayer works for Christians. I was thinking tonight about how I was taught that prayers are supposed to end. You know, some variation of "In Jesus name, Amen." This isn't merely the result of some ancient meaningless ritual passed down through the generations. It's the way Jesus told us to pray. In John 14:12-14, He tells us that after He returns to His Father (which, if you haven't noticed, He already did), He will do whatever we ask in His name. We find similar statements in John 15:16 and later again in John 16:23-26. Basically, Jesus is hearing our complaints and concerns and needs and desires, and He tells us, "Hey, I know exactly who you should talk to about this stuff. My Father is the best in the business. He can hook you up. Tell him I sent you."
Now, if ever there was a name worth dropping, the Son of God's is the one. But sometimes I wonder if the following happens when I pray:
[Tinkling sounds of bells rapping against the closing door.]
God: Yes, can I help you?
Me: Uh, yeah. I'm looking for solutions to some of Life's problems.
God: Oh, well then you've come to exactly the right spot. I designed Life — nobody knows how it works better than I do. Now, I could take a small bit of offense that you would claim the product is flawed. I can assure you that it isn't. But as it turns out, I'm also really good at forgiving, so let's just move past that. What did you have in mind.
Me: Well, I was kinda thinking that maybe you could cause X to happen. That would really work out well for me.
God [clearly uncomfortable]: Hrm. Well, that's not really how I had things planned for you, but...
Me: Yeah, I know. See, something tells me that there's a purpose for my life that's bigger than just me, but I really, really want to just get X. I just think that makes the most sense for me.
God: You seem pretty confident about this request. Are you sure you've come to the right spot? I'm usually pretty picky about making sure that the work I do is for everyone's benefit.
Me: Oh, yeah, I'm sure. Your Son sent me; told me you were the best in the business.
God: Oh! You know my Son?! Well that changes everything. You two are close? Good friends? Maybe you guys work together?
Me: [clearly uncomfortable] Well ... I wouldn't exactly say we're close, really. I met Him some years ago, and we see each other from time to time. He's good friends with my wife's grandparents, so, you know, practically part of the family, sorta, I mean, not that we ask Him over for Thanksgiving or anything, but...
[Extended silence. Awkwaaaaard.]
Maybe I should strengthen my friendship with Christ before using His name for my gain, huh?
Go back and read John 15:16. Better yet, check out some more of the context by looking at John 15:14-17:
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. — John 15:14-17 NIV (emphasis added)
Think my fictitious scenario above exaggerates too much? I'm not so sure. See what Jesus says in Matthew about folks trading on his good name without the fruit to justify it:
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' — Matthew 7:18-23 NIV
Are you just name-dropping Jesus? Man, sometimes I do. I've witnessed the power of prayers made in His name and in a spirit of obedience, but I confess that many times my name-dropping is just bogus. I need to work on that — need to work on my friendship with Christ, need to work on my obedience to His commands, need to work on bearing fruit, and need to work on loving my neighbor — because I definitely don't want to experience any awkward encounters with God. How about you?