When we pray, we usually end our prayers with “in the name of Jesus” (John 16:23). It is our custom. A habit. I heard a song recently that repeats—and repeats—a line about love for the name of Jesus. But if we repeat anything often enough, does it devolve into nonsense syllables? Psalm 23 uses the phrase, “for his name’s sake.” Does it slow you down or do you skip over it? A phrase like “in the name of Jesus” is too crammed with meaning to be spoken with little awareness of what is being said.

There are exceptions. Some people certainly know that is being said. In cultures with ancient roots, such as the many cultures in India, “in the name of Jesus” is the defining moment of prayer. It is the climax. All the listeners are waiting for it. Gloss over it and you have just identified yourself as in league with other gods. But, for most of us, “in the name of” does not appear in our daily language. So, we must work to recapture its impact.

Israel first knew the Lord as God, which comes close to our understanding of a surname, as in Mr. God, or, more accurately, THE Mr. God. Things get more personal at the burning bush when God reveals himself as Yahweh to Moses (Ex 3:14–15). After that introduction, the name gets filled with every Old Testament story and, eventually, a concise description.

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. (Ex 34:6–7)

Someone’s name evokes a unique person who stands out from everyone else. My wife’s name, “Sheri,” is like a treasure chest that gets filled with more content every day. Having known her for over forty years, the chest is overflowing, and with each new insight the bounty increases. Her name, in fact, is beautiful because its contents are beautiful. And, when I read her name aloud, I slow down, perhaps imperceptibly to those who hear it, because that name has so much meaning to me.

A name is filled through increments, larger in the beginning of a relationship, smaller over time. Yahweh God, however, chose a different trajectory. His name is, indeed, quite full by the end of the first five books of Moses, followed by smaller variations that build on the foundation of faithful self-giving love, patience, and forgiveness. But then there is the eruption of self-revelation when he introduces himself as Jesus. God-the-servant, God-the-lamb, God-the-temple and everything in it, God-of-the-shamed-and-outcast, the eternal king and high priest who has fulfilled every promise in him.

Now the name is quite full:

  • We “bless his holy name” (Ps 103:1), or “sing praise to the name of the [Jesus]” (Ps 7:17). This means that we pause and remember how Scripture fills up the name. Perhaps we hold on to one story about him, such as his compassion for the woman who had lost both husband and son, and his power that raised the son from the dead (Luke 7:12–15). Then we respond—how could you be silent in the face of such a person?—and we publicly speak good words about him and to him.
  • When you are among “those who love his name” (Ps 5:11), you love him. The name has no magic in itself, and the name Jesus is shared with many. But this Jesus stands out from all humanity. The name is filled up with how he first loved us, even when we rejected him.
  • We have “faith in his name”; that is, we trust in him alone. There is no true life apart from him. Many people have loved others sacrificially, but only his sacrificial love, which went into death itself on our behalf, could conquer death and forever draw us near God.
  • “He leads me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Ps 23:3), or for the sake of his reputation. In that phrase, the psalm turns from being an ode to a life of rest for the sheep and turns toward the shepherd himself. He is Jesus, who also goes by the name Faithful and True (Ps 19:11). Watch him. He will not leave his wayward sheep. He will lead them on the right path and he will always be near. He has promised. He stakes his entire reputation on his faithfulness to that promise.
  • When you ask anything of the Father, you pray in the name of Jesus (John 16:23). This means that you better know Jesus fairly well, because you want to pray what he desires. It also means you come to the Father through no human mediator, but through the Son. You please the Father by coming to him through the Son (Heb 7:25). The Son has secured your place with the Father, and, through Jesus, you speak freely to him.
  • The name is then placed on your forehead (Rev 22:4). When you have faith in the name, you receive the name. It is among your neglected identities. It means that you live under his protection. You belong to him. As if that is not enough, “Behold,” says Jesus. Look carefully. “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isa 49:16). His name is on you, and your name is on his hands.

Watch for the name in Scripture. Think about how you use it when you pray. Let it give you reason to pause.