I want to start today by mentioning two barriers to prayer that I think that today’s portion of the Lord’s prayer addresses.
First, Do you find that prayer is easier when you have a dire need, or going through trial, but that it is hard to pray when things are going well, went you don’t have any sever need? How do you foster a prayer life in the monotony of the work week, in the day in and day out, when we live in a country of relative safety, prosperity. It’s true that trial drives us to prayer, but how do we maintain prayer when we’re not driven to God through trial.
The second barrier to prayer, is often that we don’t know what to pray for when we come to God with petitionary prayer. Jesus told us that if we should ask anything in his name, according to his will, God would provide, but its that, “according to his will” part that gets us. How do we know that the things we pray for are according to his will? Some of us get so frustrated by that question that we give up in prayer.
I believe the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name” sets an agenda for our prayer that provides an explosive means of overcoming those barriers to prayer.
Hallowed be thy name: What does it mean?
The word “hallowed” is not a word many of us ever use apart from two places, obviously hear in the Lord’s prayer, and the second, yes, “Halloween” The word means “to be honoured as holy”. It’s like when God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, and told him to remove his sandals for the place he was standing was holy ground. When we speak of God’s name, we are speaking of God’s character and reputation. So we may paraphrase the petition, “May all that you are, and all that you are known for, be regarded and honoured as holy, as pure, as perfect”.
So this first petition in the Lord’s prayer is not about us or our circumstances or desires for ourselves, but about God and his reputation and about what we desire for him. Last week i made the point that the “Our” in the first line of the prayer takes the focus off of self, reminding us that we pray with and for others, and here now this first petition again takes the focus off of self and shines a focus on God and His glory. St. John Crystostom says about this petition:
Worthy of him who calls God Father, is the prayer to ask nothing before the glory of His Father, but to account all things secondary to the work of praising Him.
That’s the way to start out a prayer! This doesn’t mean that we are kept out of this first petition entirely, as we shall see, but that the first thing that we pray for when we approach God sets his concerns as the focus of our concerns.
Now that we understand what hallowed be thy name means, let’s dig a little deeper to see what this first petition is about. Very simply, this first petition is about two things, enlightenment and demonstration. Enlightenment that God’s name is Holy in itself, and praying that God’s name might be demonstrated to be holy in us and in the world.
Enlightenment: We are not praying that God would change his character. God cannot be any more holy, or righteous, or pure, or loving, or just. But that we would see, accept and embrace God for who He is. The Westminster Confession helpfully articulates this aspect of the petition in this way:
we pray, that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him, his titles, attributes, ordinances, word, works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by;
When we pray “hallowed be your name” we pray not that anything about God would change, but that we would see him and embrace him for who he is. This is a prayer such as Paul prays in Ephesians 1:
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe
We pray that God would “by his grace enable and incline us and others” for we cannot in our natural state receive the things of God, much less God himself. Paul writes in 1Cor. 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” We need the light of God’s revelation of himself to come to us, and we need the enabling grace of his Spirit to open our heart to receive him. Thus if your heart is growing cold, or you have a loved one who seems to be drifting away, this first petition of the Lord’s prayer encourages us to pray to the Lord, “Lord enable me, enable my family, to see you and receive you in all your holiness and splendour.”
To pray “Hallowed be thy name” is to participate in the mission and life of the church. Take a closer look at these three words from the Westminster confession: we pray, that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him
- To know: Missions and evangelism, that the church may transmit to the world the character of God. That we would be the pillar and support of the truth of who God is as He has revealed himself, and take this truth to our neighbours and friends. To pray “hallowed be thy name” is a missionary prayer. To quote John Piper: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t”
- To acknowledge: That the revelation of God in Christ might be received through repentance and faith, conversion and regeneration, culminating in our baptism as believers. We pray that our witness would be effectual leading to the conversion of the heart and the obedience of the nations.
- To highly esteem: To pray “hallowed be thy name” is both an act of worship itself, and a prayer that worship would increase.
Therefore, to pray hallowed be thy name is first about enlightenment, that we and others might see and adore the perfections of God as he has revealed himself.
Demonstration: To pray “Hallowed Be Your Name” Is to Pray that We and Others May Honour Him in All We Think, Say, and Do. Luther’s catechism teaches:
God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!
So God’s name is honoured as holy when it is demonstrated through the lives of his children. To this the Westminster confession agrees, that to pray this first petition is to pray that “that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others … to glorify him in thought, word, and deed”. Jesus has already taught in this, his famous Sermon on the Mount, that God is glorified and seen to be holy through the works of His people:
Matt. 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
This is where I said at the beginning that while “Hallowed be your name” set’s God’s agenda first in prayer, God’s agenda is that we may be like him, and that he would be honoured in us.
Pastor John Piper has found four other places in the Scriptures where this word "hallow" or "sanctify" or "treat as holy" is used in relation to God, that all speak to God being honoured as holy in and through us.
May God be Honoured Through Our Faith Numbers 20:12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Here, to uphold as holy, is synonymous with “to believe in me” the context is that Moses had been leading the Israelites through the wilderness and his people were on the verge of dying of thirst. Instead of waiting on the word and the work of the Lord, to trust that God would make provision, Moses took the salvation of his people into his own hands. The New Testament tells us specifically that this incident was given to point us to Christ. That God has given Christ as the saviour and that we are to receive him by faith, bot trusting in our works to save. So we set apart God as holy as we trust in the good news that he has sent his salvation into the world.
Through Our Fear Isaiah 8:12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” To honour God as holy here is to trust him in the midst of fearful circumstances. Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Judah 600 years before Christ, and the nation was on the brink of destruction and tempted to make an alliance with Egypt for their protection. In their fear, they were running to man, rather than God. To pray, “hallowed be thy name” is to trust God and run to him in fearful times.
Through our Obedience Lev 22:31 “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. 32 And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you” Here we see that God’s name is honoured by his people when we help his commandments and do them.
Let me suggest to you that the Lord’s prayer is the positive, prayer, let-it-be form responding to the command form of the Ten Commandments. And so there are some points of clear correspondence between the Lord’s prayer and the ten commandments. For example, the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” is related to the “in heaven”; that is, when we pray “Our Father in heaven” we are praying to our God, whom we recognize as being prominent, pre-eminent, above all things. Our Father in heaven is the confession, no one comes before you God, no one is above you God, exactly what is required in the first commandment. The second commandment, is “You shall not make for yourself an idol”. That is, we are to worship God according to who He was revealed Himself to be; specifically, a father to us. And so we do not pray, “Our Tyrant in heaven, or our vending machine in heaven, or our pushover, feeble wimp in heaven, but “Our Father in heaven.
We see then that the first petition, “Hallowed be your name”, corresponds to the third commandment, “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Christian, may we pray daily that we not be numbered among the hypocrites who take God’s name upon themselves, but do not honour Him with our thoughts, words and deeds.
Now can any of us truly do this? No! That is why this must be the prayer of each of our hearts daily, and multiple times per day - hallowed by your name! Hallowed be your name. When facing temptation, hallowed by your name. When facing a life decision, “hallowed be thy name”. When going through a difficult trial, “hallowed be thy name.” When responding to false teaching, “hallowed be thy name”. When you’re grieving the loss of your friend or your baby, “hallowed be thy name”. We pray the Lord’s prayer not because we are strong and super spiritual, but because we are weak and frail and incapable of praising God’s name at all times with all of our thoughts words and deeds.
Through Our Worship Lev 10:3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace.” This verse brings us back to worship. The context of this verse is that the priests of Israel had failed in leading the people in worship of God in a way that honoured Him as holy. They has brought “strange fire” to the Lord and while they drew near in a way that looked religious, they dishonoured him both in their hearts and their actions. To pray, “hallowed be thy name” is to come to God for all that he is, asking that we may worship him for all that he is, in a way that brings honour to him in thought word and deed.
Do you see how this petition will help us over come the two barriers to prayer that I spoke about earlier.
Surely when trial and difficulty drive us to God, we may come first with our petition, and then move to “hallowed be your name”, but when no trial or difficult is driving us, and we settle in to prayer, and we are met with this first petition, we begin to pray that God’s person, character and reputation be regarded and honoured as holy over all. You don’t need a crisis in your family to pray, “God may you be honoured as holy over our family”. You don’t need to be facing a major life decision to pray, “God be honoured as holy over my life.” this first petition of the Lord’s prayer inspires praise and obedience, which I hope you’ll find will keep you motivated to pray in the good times as well as in the hard times.
Secondly, “hallowed be thy name” knocks down the second barrier to prayer, because we know that this petition is something that is always in God’s will. Because we’re not starting with our hopes and wants and desires, but God’s, it as I said before, sets an agenda and a perspective to the rest of our prayer. May you be honoured God!