How to Pray, by R.A. Torrey
Chapter 4: Praying in the Name of Christ and According to the Will of God
It was a wonderful word about prayer that Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion: “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 14:13-14)
Prayer in the name of Christ has power with God. God is well pleased with His Son Jesus Christ. He always hears Him, and He also always hears the prayer that is really in His name. There is a fragrance in the name of Christ that makes every prayer that bears it acceptable to God.
But, what is it to pray in the name of Christ?
Many explanations have been attempted that make little sense to the average person. But there is nothing mystical or mysterious about this expression. If you go through the Bible and examine all the passages in which the expression “in My name” or “in His name” are used, you will find that it means just about what it does in every day language. If I go to a bank and hand in a check with my name signed to it, I ask of that bank in my own name. If I have money deposited in the bank, the check will be cashed; if not, it will not be. If, however, I go to a bank with somebody else’s name signed to the check, I am asking in his name, and it does not matter whether I have money in that bank or any other. If the person whose name is signed to the check has money there, the check will be cashed.
If, for example, I were to go to the First National Bank of Chicago and present a check which I had signed for $50.00, the teller would say to me, "Why, Mr. Torrey, we cannot cash that. You have no money in this bank.”
But if I were to go to the First National Bank with a check for $50.00 made payable to me and signed by one of the large depositors in that bank, they would not ask whether I had money in the bank or in any bank. Instead, they would honor the check at once.
When I go to God in prayer, it is like going to the bank of heaven. I have nothing deposited there. I have absolutely no credit there. If I go in my own name, I will get absolutely nothing. But Jesus Christ has unlimited credit in heaven, and He has granted me the privilege of going to the bank with His name on my checks. When I thus go, my prayers will be honored to any extent.
To pray in the name of Christ is to pray on the ground of His credit, not mine. It is to renounce the thought that I have any claims on God whatever and approach Him on the ground of Christ’s claims. Praying in the name of Christ is not done by merely adding the phrase, “I ask these things in Jesus’ name,” to my prayer. I may put that phrase in my prayer and really be resting in my own merit all the time. On the other hand, I may omit that phrase but really be resting in the merit of Christ all the time. When I really do approach God on the ground of Christ’s merit and His atoning blood (Hebrews 10:19), God will hear me. Very much of our prayer is in vain because men approach God imagining that they have some claim on God which obligates Him to answer their prayers.
Forgiveness in His Name
Years ago when D.L. Moody was young in Christian work, he visited a town in Illinois. A judge in the town was not a Christian. This judge’s wife asked Mr. Moody to call on her husband, but Mr. Moody replied: “I cannot talk with your husband. I am only an uneducated, young, Christian, and your husband is a scholarly non-believer.
But the wife would not take no for an answer, so Mr. Moody made the call. The clerks in the outer office giggled as the young salesman from Chicago went in to talk with the scholarly judge.
The conversation was short. Mr. Moody said:
“Judge, I can’t talk with you. You are an educated non-Christian, and I have no learning. I simply want to say that if you are ever converted, I want you to let me know.”
The judge replied: “Yes, young man, if I am ever converted I will let you know. Yes, I will let you know."
The conversation ended. The clerks snickered even louder when the zealous young Christian left the office but the judge was converted within a year. Mr. Moody, visiting the town again, asked the judge to explain how it came about. The judge said:
“One night, when my wife was at a prayer meeting, I began to grow very uneasy and miserable. I did not know what was the matter with me, but finally retired before my wife came home. I could not sleep all that night. I got up early, told my wife that I would eat no breakfast, and went down to the office. I told the clerks that they could take a holiday and shut myself up in the inner office. I kept growing more and more miserable and finally I got down and asked God to forgive my sins. But I would not say, “for Jesus sake,” because I was a Unitarian and did not believe in the atonement. I kept praying, ‘God forgive my sins,’ but no answer came. At last in desperation I cried out, “'O God, for Christ’s sake, forgive my sins,’ and found peace at once!”
The judge had no access to God until he came in the name of Christ. When he finally came in the name of Jesus, he was heard and answered at once.
Knowing God’s Will Through His Word
Great light is thrown upon the subject in 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.
This passage clearly teaches that if we are to pray correctly, we must pray according to God’s will. Then, we will beyond a shadow of a doubt, receive the thing we ask of Him.
But can we know the will of God? Can we know that any specific prayer is according to His will?
We most surely can.
First by the Word. God has revealed His will in His Word. When anything is definitely promised in the Word of God, we know that it is His will to give that thing. If, when I pray, I can find some definite promise of God’s Word and lay that promise before God, I know that He hears me. And if I know that He hears me, I know that I have the petition that I have asked of Him. For example, when I pray for wisdom, I know that it is the will of God to give me wisdom, for He says in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given to him.” So, when I ask for wisdom, I know that the prayer is heard and that wisdom will be given to me. In like manner, when I pray for the Holy Spirit that I know from Luke 11:13 is God’s will, that my prayer is heard, and that I have the petition that I have asked of Him. “If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?”
Some years ago, a minster came to me at the close of an address on prayer at a Y.M.C.A. Bible School and said, “You have given those young men the impression that they can ask for definite things and get the very things that they ask.”
I replied that I did not know whether that was the impression I had given or not, but that was certainly the impression I desired to give.
“But,” he replied, “that is not right. We cannot be sure, for we don’t know God’s will.”
I turned at once to James 1:5, read it to him and said, “Is it not God’s will to give us wisdom, and if you ask for wisdom do you not know that you are going to get it?”
“Ah!” he said, “we don’t know what wisdom is.”
I said, “No, if we did, we would not need to ask. But, whatever wisdom may be, don’t you know that you will get it?”
Certainly it is our privilege to know. When we have a specific promise in the Word of God, if we doubt that it is God’s will or if we doubt that God will do that which we ask, we make God a liar.
Here is one of the greatest secrets of prevailing prayer: Study the Word to find what God’s will is as revealed there in the promises. Then, simply take these promises and claim them before God in prayer with the absolutely unwavering expectation that He will do what He has promised in His Word.
Knowing God’s Will By His Spirit
There is still another way in which we may know the will of God - by the teaching of His Holy Spirit. There are many things that we need from God which are not covered by any specific promise. But, we are not in ignorance of the will of God even then. In Romans 8:26-27, we are told, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought. but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is in the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Here we are distinctly told that the Spirit of God prays in us, draws out our prayer, according to God’s will. When we are thus led out by the Holy Spirit in any direction, to pray for any given object, we may do it in all confidence that it is God’s will. We are to be assured that we will receive the very thing we ask of Him, even though there is no specific promise to cover the case. Often, God by His Spirit lays a heavy burden of prayer for some given individual upon our heart. We cannot rest. We pray for him with groanings which cannot be uttered. Perhaps the man is entirely beyond our reach, but God hears the prayer. And in many cases, it is not long before we hear of his definite conversion.
The passage in 1 John 5:14-15 is one of the most abused passages in the Bible: “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us; and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” The Holy Spirit, without a doubt, put this passage into the Bible to encourage our faith. It begins with “This is the confidence that we have in Him,” and closes with “We know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” But, one of the most frequent usages of this passage, which was so manifestly given to bring confidence, is to introduce an element of uncertainty into our prayers. Often, when a person is confident in prayer, some cautious brother will come and say:
“Now, don’t be too confident. If it is God’s will, He will do it. You should add, ‘If it be Thy will.’”
Doubtless, there are many times when we do not know the will of God. And submission to the excellent will of God should be the basis for all prayer. But when we know God’s will, there need be no if’s. This passage was not put into the Bible so that we could introduce if’s into all our prayers, but so that we could throw our if’s to the wind and have “confidence” and “know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him."