In the last hurrah of instruction to his disciples, Jesus tells them he is going away but sending the Spirit so that they can bear witness to him. (John 14-16). He told them.
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
Taken by itself, the passage seems to suggest that just by using the name Jesus, he will do whatever. But measured against the breadth of Scripture, and specifically in this pericope, praying in Jesus name relates to what he is instructing the apostles to do in terms of being witnesses. Tim Keller has recently wrote a book on prayer that looks pretty good. In this TGC interview, here is what he says about praying in Jesus’ name;
To pray in Jesus’s name means to acknowledge that we only have access to the Father’s attention and grace through the mediation and work of our Savior. So just using the words “in Jesus’s name” is not sufficient. We use the words to reinforce the required attitudes and motives. To pray “in Jesus’s name” is to come before God in both humility (knowing we don’t deserve God’s help) and confidence (knowing that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and worthiness), as well as grateful joy.
To pray in Jesus’s name, then, is to be aware of the grace of the gospel as the basis of prayer, and to have our attitude in prayer deeply enriched—both humbled and exalted. When we consciously or unconsciously expect God to hear our prayer because of our relative freedom from overt sin or because of our service and moral effort, we are praying in our own name.
I often get the impression that the name of Jesus is used like some kind of magic wand. All one simply does is declare “in Jesus name”, wave it around the target and wait for results. But it doesn’t work like that. Praying the name of Jesus is not an incantation that creates a mystical force that makes things happen. In fact, that is actually anti-Christian (like thinking that our words have power to change circumstances).
To pray in Jesus name represents our ability to come to the Father because of the mediating work that Christ accomplished on our behalf. That means praying in a manner consistent with his character and will in recognition of our union in Christ and what he delights in. Praying in Jesus’ name is an appeal to the Father for him to work according to his will. There’s nothing magical by using the name but there is something quite moving when we allow what the name of Jesus means in terms of our heavenly citizenship.