What if we didn’t even see, much less pray, the prayer Jesus taught us to pray first? What if we rediscovered this key prayer, hidden in plain sight?
It happened every time, without exception. On each occasion, I led a group of women to recite the Lord’s Prayer:
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 KJV)
Each time, 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 chimed in: “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?”
Every time, everyone looked at me blankly.
“You forgot the very first petition,” I told them: “Hallowed be your name.”
Pious rhetoric or key petition?
When I learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer in childhood, we used the King James pronouns (as above), and we 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. What’s more, we might pray for a person’s health or 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 for this clause. We don’t say, for example, “Happy be your day.”
For all these reasons, the words, “Hallowed be thy name,” sound to us like so much pious rhetoric. Yet when Jesus uttered the Lord’s Prayer, he was teaching us how to pray (see Matt. 6:9). He was instructing us who to pray for and what to ask for.
Much to our amazement, he taught us to pray first for God: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10).
Much to our bewilderment, he taught us to ask first for what we understand least: “Hallowed be your name.” He was not telling us to pad our prayers with introductory fluff. Nor was he here teaching praise.
Rather, Jesus taught first the one request that is key to everything else.
Apart from the Spirit
You cannot pray this prayer soul first. Your mind can’t grasp it; your emotions can’t embrace it. Praying for God arises from an inexplicable Spirit-to-spirit connection. As you choose to confess Christ as Lord – truly, deeply, continually – your human spirit begins to resonate with the yearnings of God’s Spirit. Only then, and usually after first putting up a considerable fuss, do your soul and body begin to echo the same yearnings.
As we explore what it looks like for God’s name to be hallowed, remember: Such insights can help your mind catch up to your spirit. Yet apart from the Spirit, mental understanding will leave you stranded. Rational thinking can never teach you why this request carries such profound weight, nor spark in you a profound desire to see God’s name hallowed. These words will remain pious rhetoric until something in the deepest part of you grabs hold of this forgotten prayer and will not let it go.
The opposite of hallowing
To hallow can mean “to make holy.” Yet, surely, Jesus wasn’t teaching us to pray, “Father, may your name be made holy.” God’s Name is his essence. The names he is called in scripture reflect his character and his ways. Eternally he is, “holy, holy, holy.”
To hallow can also mean “to honor as holy.”[i] Ah, this definition sheds more light. Jesus was teaching us to ask: “Father in heaven, may you be treated as the holy God you are.”
Still, we’re perplexed. What does it look like to honor God’s name as holy?
Sometimes, the easiest way to understand something is to look at its opposite. In Scripture, the opposite of hallowing is profaning.
To profane is “to violate, as anything sacred; to treat with abuse, irreverence … or contempt; to desecrate; to pollute.”[ii]
Years ago while visiting my parents’ home in northeast Mississippi, I went for a walk down a rural road. The sun shone from a cloudless sky. Temperatures hovered at 75 degrees. A breeze tickled my face. Around a sharp curve, tall oaks arched over the roadway. To my left, a deep-cut stream gurgled. To my right, a sleepy horse grazed.
Yet a setting that should have been idyllic was trashed. All along the roadside, people had thrown beer bottles, 6-pack boxes, soft-drink cans and remains of fast-food take-out meals.
During my childhood, the property along that roadway was “hallowed” – its natural beauty appreciated and maintained. The day of my walk, the landscape was violated, polluted, “profaned.”
God’s name, his character, has a breath-taking purity and beauty far greater than the natural beauty of the countryside where I walked. To profane God’s name is to defile his beauty, to trash his reputation, to violate his glory.
Who would do such a thing? Who could do such a thing?
Sadly, we who identify ourselves with God’s name have the greatest capacity to profane God’s name. We who call God “our Father” have the greatest ability to abuse him.
If Harold’s child does terrible things, that may make me very sad and angry. It may wring from me a cry for justice and even a determination to stop the wrongs. But the deeds done by Harold’s child cannot hurt my good name. And yet those deeds can ruin Harold’s name. Those deeds can destroy Harold’s reputation and undo a world of good that Harold himself has accomplished.
Like Harold’s child, we can defile our Father’s glory. We can do so without even realizing it. Yet our Father will not excuse our ignorance. He knows how crucial it is that his glory be seen. Where his name is hallowed, there his kingdom comes and there his will is done.
Profanity in action
The Third Commandment says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex. 20:7 NAS). We may never use God’s name as a cuss word, yet profane it by what we do.
Here are three ways profanity in action may look.
We profane our Father’s name when our behavior shames him and trashes his reputation.
In Ezekiel 36, God says, “When the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds … So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations … In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land’” (vv. 16-20 ESV).
Today, we misrepresent our Lord when we do not live out our new identity in Christ. We bring contempt on his name when we treat other people badly, when we value anything or anyone more highly than we value him – and when we live in powerlessness and defeat as a result.
We profane our Father’s name when we offer him lame worship and second-rate service.
In Leviticus 22, the Lord listed the requirements for acceptable sacrifices. He said, “Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf … It must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable” (vv. 20-21). After explaining in detail what constituted a “defect,” he concluded, “I am the Lord. Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy …” (vv. 31-32).
In Isaiah 1, the Lord exclaimed: “I am sick of your sacrifices. Don’t bring me any more of them … Who wants your sacrifices when you have no sorrow for your sins? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils. Your holy celebrations … – even your most pious meetings – all are frauds! I want nothing more to do with them. I hate them all; I can’t stand the sight of them” (Isa. 1:11-14 TLB).
Today, God is still repulsed when we litter our worship and ministry with things he hates: when we just go through the motions, when we seek first to make ourselves feel good, when we praise with our lips but not our lives or offer our heavenly Father anything less than all.
We profane our Father’s name when we let anything take precedence over his honor.
Near the end of their 40-year wanderings, the ever-complaining Israelites complained again because they had no water.
Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (Num. 20:6-12).
For 40 years, Moses fulfilled a tough assignment well. Then, provoked to anger, he lost his temper, disobeyed God and gave himself and Aaron credit for provision God supplied. Immediately, God banned Moses and Aaron from entering the Promised Land. To our thinking, the consequences far outweigh the crime. That’s because we cannot grasp how grievous the offense.
Moses witnessed God’s glory. Then, in front of people who looked to him to lead in godliness, he profaned God’s name.
All who witness God’s glory have a profound responsibility to honor and not violate his breath-taking purity and radiance. Especially, we who serve God must beware of doing things our way, instead of God’s, and taking credit to ourselves that belongs to God.
As with Moses, God may act for the sake of his name even when we profane him. But every time our Lord has to override us to reveal himself, we lose. We rob ourselves.
When we have not hallowed God’s name – when we have behaved in ways that shame him, offered worship that sickens him and made choices that dishonor him – how then can we approach him, asking him to “give us,” “forgive us,” “lead us,” and “deliver us”?
Only when we honor God as holy can we know him intimately. Only from that place of intimacy can we receive all he stands ready to give.
Who can hallow his name?
Ah, but if the Lord has a no-tolerance policy with regard to Father abuse – if he allows no defects and excuses no sins – who can hallow his name?
We find the answer hidden, again in plain sight, in Ezekiel 36. After rebuking his people for their shameful behavior, God said:
I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. (Ezek. 36:21-23)
God promises to hallow his own name through the very children who have abused him and trashed his reputation. When he does, peoples who do not yet call him Father will know I AM.
What “things” will God do to show the holiness of his great name?
Sometimes – when all other options have been exhausted – God uses scathing judgments to demonstrate his holiness. But judgment gives him no pleasure, and that is not what he’s promising here.
God also honors his own name through works of power – miracles, signs, wonders. Yet remember the exodus from Egypt – God’s miraculous signs brought him great fame, but the Israelites’ subsequent unbelief trashed his name. Glorious outward demonstrations remain incomplete without the astounding inner transformation God promises here:
I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek. 36:25-27)
In effect, our Father says, “I will clean up my reputation by cleaning up my children. I will reveal my holiness to a watching world by pouring out amazing grace on my people, profoundly changing them so they can truly hallow me.”
What the Father promised, he has accomplished through his Son. What the Father promised, he is accomplishing by his Spirit.
Jesus Christ became the perfect sacrifice, offering himself in our place. He gave himself up for us to make us holy (see Eph. 5:25-27).
God the Spirit indwells us, fills us, impregnates us with desires we otherwise cannot have and births in us what we otherwise cannot produce. In the Son, by the Spirit, we hallow the Father’s name.
Hallowing in action
We hallow our Father’s name as we present ourselves wholly to him. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1).
We hallow our Father’s name as we live changed lives that honor him. Walking by the Spirit, we become like Levi, whom God described this way in Malachi 2:5-6: “he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.”
We hallow our Father’s name as we seek his renown above all else. Our lives testify: “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isa. 26:8).
At the sound of your cry
We who are associated with God’s name have the greatest capacity to profane his name. We also have the supernatural capacity to hallow his name and, in so doing, to reveal I AM to the nations. So what determines whether we live our lives abusing our Father or glorifying him? What shifts us into the amazing flow of grace promised in Ezekiel 36?
Isaiah the prophet declared, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you … He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you” (Isa. 30:18-19 NAS).
When Jesus said, “This, then, is how you should pray,” he taught us what cries the Lord longs to hear, what cries release his astounding promises of grace.
You who call God “Father,” remember what Jesus taught us to pray first. Invite his Spirit to ignite your spirit, releasing that prayer deep within you.
Press into this prayer even when you do not see its practical value. Know in your inmost being that praying for God’s name has astounding implications beyond anything you can begin to fathom. As this cry wells up in you, say it aloud. Each time you open your mouth, ask the Lord to give you words to offer fresh, living, powerful prayer for him:
“Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored” (Matt. 6:9 GNT).
“Uphold the holiness of your name” (CEB).
“This day in this situation, may I treat you as holy, Lord Jesus. Be glorified in me.”
“Spirit of God, so transform your people that we reflect your holiness and seek your glory.”
“Hallowed be your name!”
© 2009, 2017 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.
[i] Definitions of “hallow”: BibleSoft. NT:37. Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domain. Copyright © 1988 United Bible Societies, New York. Used by permission.
[ii] Definition of “profane” is from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, quoted at www.finedictionary.com/profane.html (accessed May 9, 2017).
Also in the Praying for God Series:
- Praying for God
- Lauren Daigle Praying for God
(linked posts are already published; posts without links are still to come)
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