Jesus said “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Prayer, especially the kind of prayer the Savior was talking about, is best understood as part of a viable friendship-relationship. A true prayer is quite different from a nearly-memorized and oft-repeated shopping list. It is a conversation that reflects and expands the relationship of the participants.
The Savior had just entrusted his apostles with the power of his NAME. A name is an identity. To be given permission to use another’s name as though it were one’s own presupposes a remarkable trust. That trust presupposes covenants that are already in place that give reason for the trust. In the New Testament, “faith” is the Greek word pistis which is best translated as “contract” or “covenant.” A prayer in faith is an affirmation on the part of both parties of the validity of the covenant. Therefore, a prayer in faith must be a conversation where one listens as well as speaks. That brings us full circle: Prayer is part of a viable friendship-relationship, hesed.
The Savior had promised that he would return to his apostles after his resurrection. He went beyond that and gave them the authority to use his name even when he was no longer with them. The Savior said:
15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
16 A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.
22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing [but it shall be done unto thee— JST]. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:15-24).
In that statement, “ye” is plural. It is a promise he gave them collectively as well as individually. By giving them his name, the Savior had established a bond among them and with himself—that their “joy may be full.”
A name is a legal identity. That is especially so in matters of priesthood authority. To be given another’s name is like being given their reputation and resources, or in a legal sense, their power of attorney. To use another’s name without authorization is a kind of forgery. “Identity theft” is a phrase we use now. “Taking the name in vain” is the scriptural way of saying it. The Hebrew word translated “vain” also means falsely, lying, and vanity (Strong # 7723), so “taking the Lord’s name in vain” is to use it falsely without authorization or vainly without intelligent thought.
The kind prayer that the Savior was explaining to his apostles was not unique to them. He made the same promise and taught the same thing to his Nephite disciples.
19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
20 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.
21 Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed (3 Nephi 18:19-21).
The sanctity with which God holds his own name is illustrated by the covenant he made with Nephi, the son of Helaman. While pondering, Nephi had an intimate conversation with God.
3 And it came to pass …. as he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:
4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done …
5 … I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
Then the Lord sealed the covenant by stating the NAMES of each of them.
6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people (Helaman 10:2-7).
Pondering, as Mormon used the word here, is like a thought-filled conversation with a dear friend, where neither say much, but their thinking is in sync. When the other party in the conversation is the Holy Ghost, the pondering is a thoughtful prayer. President Joseph F. Smith described his pondering very much like that.
1 On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures;
2 And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world (D&C 138:1-2).
Before Moroni hid the gold plates, he added several bits of historical information which were not in 3 Nephi. Among them is this conversation between the Savior and his Nephite disciples.
1 The words of Christ, which he spake unto his disciples, the twelve whom he had chosen, as he laid his hands upon them—
2 And he called them by name, saying: Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer; and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost; and in my name shall ye give it, for thus do mine apostles (Moroni 2:1-3).
That occurred soon after the resurrected Christ came among the Nephites. Later on, after he had left them, we are told how his disciples maintained their relationship and how the Savior taught them about the significance of using his name.
1 And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.
2 And Jesus again showed himself unto them, for they were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?
3 And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.
4 And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
5 Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
6 And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
7 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.
8 And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church
(3 Nephi 27:1-8)
In each of those instances, we are not only told about the importance of using his name correctly, but we are also told about how they prayed. The Savior instructed, “Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer.” That is what they did, “the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.”
We may judge from the way that the phrase “mighty prayer” is used elsewhere in the scriptures that “mighty” is not about emotional or urgent intensity. Rather, it suggests a conversation and implies priesthood authority as well.
The phrase “mighty prayer” is used several times in the scriptures. Each time it is a description of a prophet’s prayer. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi was the first to use the phrase when he quoted his own psalm as a prayer on the small plates.
24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them. (2 Nephi 4:24-25)
Enos’s prayer culminated in his hearing the voice of God.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away (Enos 1:3-6).
Mormon shows that the mighty prayer was sometimes a group prayer. In describing Alma’s successful mission among the people of Zarahemla he reports:
6 Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God (Alma 6:6).
“Mighty prayer” appears to be a conversation that ends with a covenant. That promise is expressed differently in other scriptures. For example, the Savior said:
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).
That promise is repeated in Luke 11:9-10 and 3 Nephi 14:7-8. In our own dispensation, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph and some of his closest friends:
62 And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near—
63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
64 Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you (D&C 88:62-64).
John the Beloved tied the promise to its ultimate condition: that we love one another. Then he expanded that relationship to our mutual love of the Savior
22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his [God’s] commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us (1 John 3 22-24).
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him (1 John 5:13-15).
That brings us full circle where the Savior said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Prayer, especially the kind of prayer the Savior was talking about, is a conversation between friends