Talk from the Christ Church Prayer Service, 1st December 2019
We are continuing to walk, line-by-line through the Lord’s Prayer. The first lesson, that we learnt last month, was that we must begin by remembering to whom we are talking. God is both “our Father”, and “in heaven”- almighty. The second lesson is that we have to get our priorities right, and pray for what God wants us to pray for. So that when we pray, it is our Father who sets the agenda and the priorities. Which is another reason that we need the Bible to pray properly, because it’s in the Bible that we find out what our Father’s agenda and priorities are. So this is what happens in the second line of the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed be your name”
- God’s priority, his deepest desire, the first item on his agenda, is to be loved and respected for who he is.
Jesus wants us to pray first of all “hallowed be your name”.
We often skim over these words without really thinking about what they mean. They are not just a statement- “your name is hallowed”- but a request- “may your name be hallowed”. To “hallow” something is to sanctify or consecrate it. That is, to make it holy, or to treat it as holy. If you hallow something, you set it apart for a special purpose. As when you set apart a sum of money in a budget and say that it can only be used for fixing the roof, it can be touched for anything else. Or if you put up a fence around a piece of land, and a sign saying “do not walk on the grass”- that ground is now in a sense “sacred” and set apart. That’s why in England we talk about the pitch in Wembley stadium as “hallowed turf”. If you hallow a person, you treat them as honoured and special and set apart. So if someone wins a gold medal in the Olympics, they are literally put on a pedestal, they stand higher than everyone else, and they are honoured and praised.
Someone’s name in the Bible is much more than a label that is put on them.
A person’s name is first of all their nature or their character, it expresses who they are. So in Exodus 3, when Moses asks for God’s name, he is simply asking what he should call God. He is asking who God is, he wants to know what God is like. And the name that he is given is the name “Yahweh”- short for “I am who I will be”, which speaks of God’s changelessness, and faithfulness and reliability. That name was considered so holy and sacred by the Jews that they wouldn’t speak or write it, and so in most English Bibles it is printed as LORD in capital letters. Again in Exodus 34:5-7, when God proclaims his “name” to Moses, he explains who he is “Yahweh, Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. Secondly, in the Bible someone’s “name” is also their reputation or their fame. Just like when we say that someone’s “good name” we mean that they have a good reputation, or we talk about someone “making a name” for themselves, we mean that they have become well-known and famous.
So God’s “name” in the Bible is a very important concept.
It means that God is God-centred, not human centred. There is a thread running through the whole Bible, which is that God does all that he does for the honour of his name. Or to put it another way, God acts for his own glory. To give you one example, in the book of Ezekiel, God repeatedly says that he will save his people not for their sake but for his sake. “Therefore, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: It is not for your sake that I will act, house of Israel, but for my holy name, which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will honour the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations– the name you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the LORD– this is the declaration of the Lord GOD– when I demonstrate my holiness through you in their sight”. (Ezekiel 36:22-23 CSB). So for God to act for his names sake is for him to act to protect his reputation, and display the glory and splendour and wonder of who he is. It is for God to show that he is a holy God. Jesus, in John 12:27-28 and John 17:1 says that he has come to the hour of his death so that God’s name would be “glorified”. So Jesus died to hallow God’s name, to show that God is a holy God.
So this is God’s priority- that his name be hallowed and sanctified
And this is God’s priority for his people: that they bring honour to his name, in every way. By their thoughts and feelings- the love and awe with which they speak about him. By their words- the way they speak about him, and by telling others how awesome and holy God is. By their actions- they way they use time and money and relationships. By their worship: the purpose of worship is to honour God, not to entertain ourselves or others. By our sorrows: how we deal with grief and pain shows how special God is. And by their joy- by publicly thanking him. Parents are often ambitious for their children: they want their children to bring credit to them. And God is ambitious for his children- he wants his children to be a credit to him, and bring honour to his holy name.
- So if this is God’s priority, then it should also be our priority that God is loved and respected for who is, and so we pray “hallowed be your name”.
“Hallowed be your name” means “May you be honoured and loved and famous for who you are”
Some of these requests in the Lord’s Prayer are I think short hand for longer biblical prayers. One of these is Isaiah 26:8, which helps us understand what Jesus means here: “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts”. So when we pray “hallowed be your name”, we are praying that God, as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, would be famous and renowned. We are among other things praying for evangelism, for the spread of the gospel. We are praying that the truth about who God is would be universally known. We are praying that our Father would be spoken of and treated as holy, unique, set part, and infinitely precious. We are praying that our Father would be loved, and respected, and praised for who he uniquely is. And we are praying that God would do something, that he would act, for the honour of his name. Among other things, we are praying for revival, that God would act, and pour out his Holy Spirit, so that his church would praise him, and multitudes be drawn to Christ.
So when we pray “hallowed be your name”, we are re-aligning our desires and priorities, so that they line up with God’s desires and priorities.
You know that inside your car you have a tracking system that keeps the wheels in a straight line ahead. I once had a car where the tracking system went wrong, and I suddenly found that I was swerving from side to side all the time. So I had to go into the garage and have the tracking re-aligned. Well, when we pray this prayer, we are re-aligning the tracking system of our lives. We don’t begin with what we want, but with what God wants. We are saying to God “your name and renown are the desire of our hearts”. What this prayer confronts us with is the question of what we really want? Do we simply want a nice house, a car, a happy family, not too much stress and trouble in life, and finally a quick and dignified death? Or do we want to know Christ and see his glory, see him honoured?
So this should be our priority prayer: “hallowed be your name”.
One of the things that we can do with the Lord’s Prayer is a practice that goes back to Martin Luther, and which they Puritans called “festooning”. This is where we use each line of the Lord’s Prayer as a series of hooks to hang our own prayers on. So we expand on each request with our own prayers. So when we come to this line, we then pray that God’s name would be hallowed in us, that he would change our desires and the way we live so that we bring honour to his name. We pray that God’s name would in our church, in the worship, preaching, council decisions, and so on. And we pray that God would be honoured in the world, as others come to know, love, and respect him for who he is.
Picture by Jack Sharp at Unsplash.com