It happened with stunning consistency. Time and again, I led a group of conferees to recite the Lord’s Prayer, King James version (since that’s how most had learned it):
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13).
On each occasion, I explained, “The last line – the ‘kingdom and power and glory’ line – doesn’t appear in the oldest manuscripts. The prayer Jesus taught is composed entirely of petitions.” Then I asked, “Tell me the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.”
Each time, different voices named different requests: “Give us our daily bread.” “Thy kingdom come.” “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” “Thy will be done.” “Lead us not into temptation.” “Deliver us from evil.”
Finally, as everyone fell silent, I asked, “Anything else?”
Time and again, everyone looked at me blankly.
“You forgot the very first petition,” I told them: “Hallowed be your name.”
Pious rhetoric or key petition?
In childhood, I learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer. We used the King James pronouns and pronounced the word hallowed with three syllables. Together, we intoned, “Hal-lo-wed be thy name.”
I had no clue what that meant. I suspect, neither did anyone else.
Most of us do not use the term “hallowed” in our everyday vocabulary. We might pray for a person’s health, job or family, but we don’t generally pray for someone’s name. Nor do we use the awkward grammatical construction most English translations employ in rendering this clause. We don’t say, for example, “Happy be your day.”
For all these reasons, the phrase, “Hallowed be thy name,” sounds to us like so much pious rhetoric. Unable to decipher it, we treat it as a religious greeting or perhaps a statement of praise.
But Jesus did not pad his prayer with introductory fluff. Nor did he here teach praise. Jesus told us who to pray for and what to ask.
In his inscrutable wisdom, he taught us to pray for God before we pray for “us.” He taught us to ask first for what we understand least: “Hallowed be your name.”
When we disregard this enigmatic petition, we omit the one request that is key to everything else we ask.
The importance of hallowing
To hallow can mean “to make holy.” But Jesus wasn’t instructing us to ask, “Father, may your name be made holy.” God’s names express his essence. He who, by nature, is holy, holy, holy cannot be made more so.
To hallow can also mean “to honor as holy.” Ah, this definition sheds more light. We honor God as holy by acknowledging who he is, yielding our lives to him, reflecting his character and walking in his ways.
The more we “hallow” our King, the more we usher in his kingdom. The more we honor our Father, the more wise and effective all our requests.
Conversely, when our hearts do not yearn for God’s honor, we subvert his kingdom. We sabotage our own lives, as well as our prayers. Our Father wants to “give us,” “forgive us,” “lead us” and “deliver us.” That’s why he told us to ask. Yet he knows that whatever does not bring him honor will not truly help anyone else. So while we persist in asking for everything we think we need, Jesus calls us back to square one.
“When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name’” (Luke 11:2). “Heavenly Father, be honored as the holy God you are!”
The petition we have forgotten – but Jesus said to pray first – unlocks everything our Father has prepared for his own.
(c) 2009, 2013 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.