Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Name of Jesus Christ, Part 1:
Praying in Vain

Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure. For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.

Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner. 
—Alma 31:19, 20, 23

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

If you’re LDS, you’re well familiar with our cultural tradition of saying “in the name of Jesus Christ” after nearly everything we pray, say, or do. Some even desecrate His name with a mechanical “innanamajeezchrisamen.” But either way, the tradition is set in concrete. In any LDS gathering, anyone who speaks or prays, and does not close with at least a gratuitous nod to the name of Jesus Christ, will almost certainly be corrected on the spot, or at least considered a fool.

Fortunately, the practice of speaking and praying in Christ’s name is scriptural. Among many examples, we might cite these:
Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake. (3 Nephi 27:7) 
And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name. (3 Nephi 20:31)
Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed. (3 Nephi 18:21)
So, clearly, the practice of ministering, praying, and speaking in Christ’s name is exactly what He intends us to do. But as we do so, it’s worth considering both the meaning and importance of this practice. What does “in the name of Jesus Christ” really mean? 

In this post, we’ll examine the practice of using Christ’s name in prayer. 

A Blank Check?

Praying to the Father in Christ’s name highlights the notion that we can only approach the Father through the grace and worthiness of Christ, and not through any of our own. It’s only through Christ’s grace that we can approach the Father’s throne. In fact, He even assures us that we must use His name for the Father to hear us:
Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you (3 Nephi 27:9)

And yet, though Christ invites, and even commands us to use His name in prayer, He doesn’t offer it as a blank check to be written as we desire. In fact, though we may ask in His name, there’s no obligation at all for the Father to provide what is requested, when it is requested, simply because we requested it. Christ includes a condition for what we ought to ask:
And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you. (3 Nephi 18:20)
If we’re going to use Christ’s name to make a request of the Father, we’re well advised to make sure we’re asking for what is right. And what is right? It’s interesting that the following verses, promoting the same idea, use slightly different wording:
Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you; And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation. (D&C 88:64-65)
So we’re to ask for that which is expedient for us. The word “expedient” isn’t used all that commonly, so let’s take a look at how it was used at the time of this revelation. According to Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “expedient” is defined as follows:
Expedient: Literally, hastening; urging forward. Hence, tending to promote the object proposed; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances.
This takes us back to the statement that we should ask for what is right—because what is right for us will tend to promote us in the suitable purpose of the Lord, which is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. (See Moses 1:39.) Anything contrary to that purpose is not right, no matter how badly we may think we want it.

Now, it should be obvious that God knows more than us, sees from a different perspective, and knows how to do His work. Therefore, what we think is right and what He knows to be right, may not necessarily agree. In fact, they most often won’t agree, being that our natures have become carnal, sensual and devilish. (Alma 42:10, Mosiah 16:3, and others.) 

And quite often, we may ask for something good, but which we’re not yet ready to receive. In such a case it’s our timing that’s not right.

Getting it Right

So how do you know what is expedient, or in other words, right to pray for? How do you avoid praying for that which will condemn you? 

I think there are a couple of answers. The first is to stick with praying for items we already know from scripture are included in the Lord's will for us. Such items might include expressions of gratitude, asking for our daily needs, protection from temptation, forgiveness, or wisdom, for example. But these are all rather general petitions that aren’t particularly personal and won’t bring all the growth and knowledge we lack. 

What about our more personal, intimate, needs that aren
t generally addressed in scripture? The Lord told us in a revelation directed to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer:
Ask the Father in my name in faith, believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men. (D&C 18:18)
Therefore, if you want to pray correctly, using Christ’s name to petition the Father for that which is most appropriate and needful for you personally, the first order of business is to ask for and receive the Holy Ghost, which will reveal to you the things expedient to you, and prevent you from asking amiss:
Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. (2 Nephi 4:35)
This process is well illustrated in 3 Nephi 19:
And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire. (3 Nephi 19: 9, 13, 24)
So there’s the process. First, obtain the Holy Ghost by following the Doctrine of Christ and asking the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. Then, rely on the Holy Ghost to teach you what is expedient, or give you what to pray. Then pray for exactly that, in faith, and in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Done properly, the words of the Spirit quite literally pour out of you in a glorious and harmonious duet between you and God, rising in crescendo to become symphonic and delightful. Communication becomes communion of indescribable beauty. Revelation, glory, light, truth, and power flow unimpeded through the veil.

Will you get it wrong? Most certainly. But it’s the effort and recognition that are most important. You will get better at it with practice. Just as Christ, at the moment of His greatest extremity and anguish, deferred His will to the Father’s, so we too must defer our will to His. This is the pattern He set as the perfect example. It is the pattern that allows us to use His atonement as a covering for our sin as we approach the Man of Holiness.

As we bring our will more continually into harmony with His, we will more consistently ask not amiss. Ultimately, with the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, we can continually know His will and use His name properly, and with power.

The Privilege of Prayer

I think it’s time we recognize it’s a privilege to use Christ’s name, and borrow His worthiness, to approach the Father in prayer. It’s not good, right, or appropriate to simply ask for whatever we think we want, oblivious to Gods purposes for us. (Lottery numbers, anyone?) 

It’s not appropriate to teach primary children and potential converts about generic “steps of prayer” when those steps fundamentally ignore our Lord’s most important injunctions and warnings designed to prevent our prayers from turning to our condemnation. Even children can be taught to pray by the power of the Holy Ghost. 

Praying In Vain

We ought to take much more seriously the gravity of the situation when we thoughtlessly invoke His name in vain. (I
m pretty sure Ive heard somewhere he frowns on that.)

“Vain” is a form of the word, “vanity” and shares the Latin root of the word “want.” When we ask for whatever we want, seeking to satisfy our own desires or lusts, disdaining the Lord’s will, we pray in vain. This is the definition of “asking amiss.”
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:3)
Prayer that consists of repeating the “script” modeled and demonstrated to the point of memorization, is also vain prayer. 
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. (3 Nephi 13:7)
We’ve got a whole list of nonsense phrases we vainly repeat in Christ’s name because we have nothing meaningful to say. I don’t believe this pleases Him. (Don’t forget to bless the refreshments to “nourish and strengthen our bodies, and do us the good we need.” Seriously? They’re jelly donuts!)

Even when we pray according to His will, we must model His will in our lives, or our prayer is in vain: 
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34:28)
Praying with Faith

In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith taught:
Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
First, The idea that he actually exists.
Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.
Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will. (LoF 3:2-5)
Therefore, without an actual knowledge of God’s will, it is impossible to exercise faith unto life and salvation. A prayer that ignores God’s will is a prayer without faith. 

Anytime we put our will before God’s, the effort is without faith and vain: 
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)
You may recognize the above language as part of what the Lord told Joseph Smith in the first vision, as an explanation of the need for restoration. Therefore, we would do well to remember the verses from James that initiated that vision:
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 him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6)
We cannot ask in faith until we ask according to the Lord’s will. Any other attempt is vain. 

About Intent

Even when we seek after, and learn the Lord’s will, it’s sometimes a challenge to bend our will to match His. It’s possible to say the right things, but not mean them. In scripture, this is called praying without real intent, and it is counted evil:

And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. (Moroni 7:9)
We all, with Huckleberry Finn, will sooner or later come to realize we can’t pray a lie:
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing…but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out. (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
Have the Courage to Try

I realize this breaks paradigms. I realize it’s likely unfamiliar and even difficult at first. But I also know by experience that prayer in Christ
s name, according to His will, and with real intent, is delightful, powerful, and often surprising. It brings miracles. If you start by admitting your weakness and asking God what you should ask for, you’ll get surprising answers. 

And you’ll find yourself forming a relationship with your Lord as you learn of His personality and desires for you through prayer. Such is, indeed, the souls sincere desire.

And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.

—Alma 33:11


  1. I mean just look at Doctrine and Covenants 8:11. Another thing we should pray for. "Ask that you may know the mysteries of God." God is commanding us to do this.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! And the Holy Ghost can tell us what questions to ask, and what mysteries to seek into. But we most certainly should be asking for these things. We are saved no faster than we get knowledge.

  2. Thanks for this post Adrian. The idea that proper prayer is an act of discovery, and that we should strive to have the Spirit reveal to us what to ask, in real-time – that is very powerful. Instead of it being a rote liturgy of gimmies, it’s an opportunity for revelation. I think that D&C 121 is an amazing example this -- of a prayer transitioning into the reception of revelation.

    When praying in public, we usually feel pressure to be fast, precise, and sure of ourselves. I think we are naturally embarrassed to reveal any vulnerability, and are often unwilling to pause and wait for the Spirit to reveal anything to us. So we end up treating public prayer as a performance art, rather than a chance to receive revelation. The Lord’s name gets taken in vain so much in this regard. And I think the same bad habits frequently bleed into private prayers as well.

    By opening ourselves up, being child-like, and treating prayer as a window for the real-time reception of revelation, there is the risk of embarrassment, dead air, silence, stuttering, lack of eloquence.

    It is a major shift in thinking to arrange ourselves as transmission receivers, rather than being message composers, when praying. It requires an act of faith.

    Starting today, I’m going to make an effort to be a receiver during prayer, rather than a composer. Thank you for this call to repentance, it was much needed.

  3. I have heard the Mark Twain quote about praying a lie several times at church but no one ever mentions the context. Huck knew that the 'right' thing to do was to turn the runaway slave Jim into the authorities but couldn't bring himself to do it. This was the big 'sin' that he knew he couldn't let go of. His culture told him that black people were property but his conscience and love for Jim told him otherwise. His prayer was to ask God to help him conform to the laws of men and to go against what he inwardly knew to be right but his heart wouldn't allow the betrayal. It is a much more nuanced situation than the quote out of context lets on.

    1. Thank you for placing this in context for us. It is a source of anxiety for the righteous that the laws and policies of man's governments and churches are frequently not in harmony with our God's commandments. I cry for the leaders and the people of the United States. This is a covenant land of promise, and we have gone after other Gods than the God of this land.

      I cry for our leaders. I cry for our people. I cry for our churches which have all gone astray. I cry for my family that believes I've gone off the deep end. I cry for all who will be destroyed in the punishments to be meted out upon America in our generation.

  4. Thank you for this, Adrian! It's really the scriptures that come alive the most here. They speak for themselves, but somehow I didn't see the pattern all that well before. Great job compilation and exposition. I will definitely be teaching this to my family.

  5. Thank you for this Adrian!

  6. David S

    Good reading. And the comments, here, always confirm faith and belief in truth. Thanks Adrian and commenters for providing voices of faith. It helps.

  7. Wherein have we run amuck? Surely Joseph taught these delightful things to those of his time. Could this be yet another example of plain and precious truths that were lost when "the man who communed with Jehovah" was taken from the earth?

    Never again will I yield to holy envy over the beautiful public prayers offered by the accomplished praying orators of our time. They are wonderful at what they do but God intends for us, in partnership with the spirit, to experience so much more. Blessings on you, Adrian.

  8. JPW,
    Thank you for your comment. Indeed, blessed are all they that mourn. How does anyone keep from mourning and weeping for all they see happening around them?
    James Russell Uhl

  9. Thanks for continuing to share your insights. I appreciate the information intended to help us all come closer to Christ. Certainly something to ponder about prayer!
    Vaughn J

  10. I think you may inadvertantly be setting up people for false expectations.
    You indeed can ask the Father for anything that which is good. But the Lord will not hear the prayers of the unrepentant.
    So, the first order of business is to repent of all your sins and receive a forgiveness of sins from the Lord Himself.
    Then you can approach His throne boldly and ask for whatever you stand in need.
    Ignoring this order would be asking amiss.

    Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost, that ye may have all things made manifest; (Moses 8:24)

    P.S. seems like sth is broken with the comments because it wouldnt let me comment from my wordpress account even though Im already logged into wordpress.

  11. I was substitute teaching a Primary class of 11-year-olds this morning the story of Enos. I had the kids’ attention. They easily saw the value of listening instead of “hanging up” after addressing heaven. The story of the Zoramites repeating the same little speech over and over and calling it prayer as a public display of piety nicely illustrated the the futility of vain repetitions.

    Having read this post previously I knew I had an opportunity to bring up being led by the Holy Ghost in what to pray for. Little in the lesson offered a connection to this most transcendant of ideas so at an appropriate spot I just came out and asserted it! The kids seemed intrigued. If they never hear this again in their church careers at least they heard it from me. Thanks for this series, Adrian.

  12. Prayer, the nature of God and to whom we ought to direct our prayers are topics I've been pondering over the last several months. Do you have any thoughts as to why the disciples in 3 Nephi 19 where praying to Jesus (18), while at the same moment, Jesus was praying to the Father (19-23)?

    18 And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.

    1. 22 Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.

      I believe they prayed to Christ because he was with them. They didn't have to penetrate a veil.

      In our situation, where we're separated from God by a veil, we use Christ's name to pierce the veil and open communication with the Father.

  13. Too Know our heavenly father...Is so very important as the Articles of Faith tell us. I am reminded of the JD vol one page 50... B.Y. tells us who he is. Know who we pray too.

    1. I think Brigham got it wrong, and was speaking about things he hardly understood.

  14. Great principle. This is beautifully illustrated in Romans 8:

    26. 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.


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