Taking God Seriously
“Hallowed be your name.” Matthew 6:9
Before we begin: What does the word “hallowed” mean? What does God’s name represent and why does it matter so much?
It was late on Wednesday afternoon and my three sons and I had just arrived at a motel in Page, Arizona. Looking out from our picture window we watched the sun set across the dark blue waters of Lake Powell. It had been a long day of driving that started in Salt Lake City, wound down through Provo, the Big Rock Candy Mountain, Bryce Canyon, and on to a town named Kanab. The next day would find us in Phoenix. But we stopped in Page, checking into our hotel room at 6:47 p.m., just in time to throw our bags in the corner, plop down on the bed, turn on the TV and watch Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Championship Series between the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Mark and Nicholas went swimming, but Josh and I watched almost the whole game together. It was close, tight, tense game from beginning to end. Then in the final few minutes John Paxson hit five shots in a row, and the Bulls won the first of their six NBA championships. Pandemonium broke out in the motel room. The boys were celebrating because I promised them if the Bulls won, we would go out someplace special to eat. We went to a fine restaurant called Taco Bell.
Meanwhile at the Forum in Los Angeles, a vast mob filled the court as the players fought their way to the locker room where they were welcomed with cheers, laughter, and a champagne shower. Then there was a strange sight. Michael Jordan kisses the floor. All the players huddle around him. They’re all saying something. It’s hard to hear at first. Then the room quiets and you hear it clearly: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And on they went, saying the Lord’s Prayer together on national TV.
As I thought about that moment later, it occurred to me that some people might think it sacrilegious to recite the Lord’s Prayer after winning a basketball game. I understand the sentiment because we are used to hearing this prayer said in more solemn circumstances. However, there is a sense in which the Lord’s Prayer was appropriate for that moment, even more appropriate than if someone had prayed spontaneously. For in praying that prayer at that moment, Michael Jordan and his teammates acknowledged that there are some things in life more important than wearing a championship ring.
The Most Famous Prayer in the World
As this incident illustrates, the Lord’s Prayer is the best-known prayer in the world. No other prayer is known to so many people or said in so many places in so many different languages. Every Sunday, in churches around the world-from the mud huts of equatorial Africa to the great cathedrals of Europe, from the white clapboard country churches of rural Mississippi to the house churches of Hong Kong-in literally millions of churches, Christians of every denomination recite this prayer as part of their worship experience. I have already pointed out that the Lord’s Prayer is a central document of the Christian faith. For 2,000 years believers have pondered its meaning. It is like an inexhaustible well, the deeper you go, the more you find. And no matter how long you study this prayer, the more it reveals to the earnest seeker. Though brief and simple, it is also profound-indeed, it is the most profound prayer ever prayed.
Cloistered Halls and Dismal Chants
Now it’s time to look at the first phrase of the first half of the prayer-"Hallowed be your name.” I think it’s fair to say that this phrase is the one that makes the least sense to us and therefore it is the phrase we pray the least. Almost all of us will pray “Give us this day our daily bread” and many of us will pray “Deliver us from evil.” Still others will pray “You will be done” and some will even pray “Your Kingdom come.” But few of us, if left to ourselves, will ever pray, “Hallowed be your name.”
And no matter how long you study the Lord’s Prayer, the more it reveals to the earnest seeker.
In the first place, it simply sounds strange. “Hallowed” is not a word we use very often. “Hallowed” is an archaic word that smacks of cloistered halls and dismal chants. When you say “these hallowed halls,” you can almost picture a medieval monastery where the old men come strolling through the arches dressed in long brown robes, swinging censers filled with smoky incense and singing mournful music. That’s our basic problem. The phrase itself sounds like it belongs back in the 12th century. We really don’t know what to do with it in the 21st century. Our other problem is that we don’t know what it means. Since we don’t know what it means, we’re not really sure what we’re praying for. Since we don’t know what we’re praying for, we tend to skip right over it so we can get down to the part we do understand, like “Give us this day our daily bread.” Daily bread. Now that’s something that makes sense to us.
But it’s of paramount importance to note that Jesus didn’t begin with the part we understand-like bread and forgiveness. He starts with the part we don’t understand. There’s a crucial point here. Prayer doesn’t begin with our concerns; prayer begins with God’s concerns. Or to put it in its simplest form, prayer doesn’t begin with us; prayer begins with God.
This Hallowed Ground
So when we pray to the Father, we are to begin by praying, “Hallowed be your name.” Let’s take the word “Hallowed.” It’s not really that difficult. The word itself means “holy” or “sacred.” We sometimes talk about the “hallowed halls of ivy,” referring to a great university like Harvard or Yale. Sometimes you hear the phrase “the hallowed halls of congress,” which must be a figure of speech because much that goes on there is not sacred or holy. Then we remember what Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address just a few months after the pivotal battle of the Civil War in 1863. Standing on the battlefield where so many men in blue and gray shed their blood, he declared, “We cannot hallow, we cannot consecrate, we cannot dedicate this ground.” Why? Because the battlefield at Gettysburg was already hallowed or made sacred by the brave men who fought and died there. That gives us a good definition: To “hallow” something is to treat it as sacred and holy and worthy of the highest veneration and respect.
So the prayer is this. “Lord, may your name be treated with respect and honor because your name is sacred and holy.” You hallow God’s name when you treat it with the utmost respect.
What’s In A Name?
That immediately raises another question. Why did he say, “Hallowed be your name?” It’s not exactly the same as if we would say, “Hallowed be the name of Frank, or the name of Paul, or the name of Butch, or the name of Ruth, or the name of Sylvia.” Your name is important to you. It may not matter to anyone else in the world, but you care about your name because it identifies who you are. Your name may be Sally or Jill or Mary or John or Robert or Phil. You may be one of 20 John Smiths in the phone book, but to you, you are the only John Smith who really matters. Think of how much time parents spend naming their children. They spend hours thinking about the possibilities-discussing, debating, arguing, writing down a first name, then adding a middle name, then reversing the order or dropping one and adding another.
My full name is Clarence Raymond Pritchard. I was named Clarence for my uncle who died two years after I was born. Raymond was my father’s middle name. When my oldest son was born we named him Joshua Tyrus Pritchard-Joshua for the great Bible hero and Tyrus in honor of my father who was named after Ty Cobb, the great baseball player. Our second son was named Mark Alan after my wife’s older brother Mark and my younger brother Alan. Then when our third son came along we named him Nicholas Andrew because . . . well, because we were expecting a girl and we didn’t pick out a boy’s name until the very end and we were stuck so we looked at the roster of Joshua’s soccer team, saw a boy named Nicholas, and said, “That sounds good.” But the Andrew is in honor of my older brother Andy.
Names mean something. They communicate history and tradition and family heritage. They identify us with our past, drawing across the generations a shared set of values. In the Bible, a name normally stands for the character or the basic attributes of the person who bears the name. For example, “Adam” means “man” and “Eve” means “life-giver.” “Abraham” means “father of multitudes” and “Jacob” means “Cheater.” In the New Testament, “Peter” means “Rock,” a reference to Peter’s rock-like faith. In Bible times, when you called a person’s name, you weren’t just identifying him. You were also identifying his character.
What pops up on your mental screen when you hear the word “God?” The answer depends on who you are and how much you know.
We do the same thing today. We all tend to associate certain names with certain emotions. For instance, if I mention “Hitler,” you instantly think of Nazi Germany and the horrors of the concentration camps. If I mention “Mother Teresa,” you think of her selfless work for the homeless and dying of Calcutta. Two people. Two names. Two completely different emotions. Or what about, “as honest as Abe Lincoln” or “He’s got the strength of Paul Bunyan.” The names mean something. They say something about the character of the person.
What pops up on your mental screen when you hear the word “God?” The answer depends on who you are and how much you know. For most of us, the word “God” brings up images of the stories of the Bible-how God created the world out of nothing, how he parted the Red Sea for the children of Israel, how he caused the walls to come tumbling down at Jericho, how he enabled David’s tiny stone to slay Goliath, how he shut the mouths of lions so Daniel could get a good night’s sleep. We know God through the things he has done. We hear the stories and then we refer back to the God who stands behind the stories. God’s “name” is his character and his reputation. Let me give you a suggestion for your Bible study. Take your concordance and study how many times the name of God is mentioned in the Bible. You will discover that the Bible mentions the name of God hundreds of times. Consider these examples:
Psalm 8:1 “How majestic is your name, O Lord.”
Psalm 20:7 “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Psalm 23:3 “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
“O God, may we treat you as you ought to be treated.”
Psalm 25:11 “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”
How about this famous verse? “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." That’s found three times in the Bible-Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, and Romans 10:13.God’s name represents who he is. It embodies his character. That’s why the Third Commandment says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) To take God’s name in vain means to take it lightly or flippantly. It’s the exact opposite of “hallowing” God’s name. Therefore, we might say that to “hallow” God’s name means to take it seriously.
What Does God Look Like?
Now if you pull all that together, this is what “Hallowed be your name” really means. “Lord, may your righteous character be seen in the world so that men and women will respect you for who you really are. May your name be made great so that your creatures will give you the honor and respect that is your rightful due.”
Or you could say it this way:
“O God, show us who you are.”
“O God, may we see you as you are.”
“O God, may we treat you as you ought to be treated.”
We “hallow” the name of God because he is holy and good. We take it seriously because God’s name represents who he is and what he does. We don’t take it lightly or flippantly because we don’t take God lightly and flippantly. When we pray like this, we are asking God to “ cause your word to be believed, cause your displeasure to be feared, cause your commandments to be obeyed, and cause yourself to be glorified.
Back to Bethlehem
What does God look like? The Bible doesn’t leave us to wonder about the answer to that question. Nearly 2000 years ago a little baby was born in Bethlehem who forever answered that question. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 calls him the “shining forth of the glory of God.”
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
Does God have a name? Yes. His name is Jesus. In him, the abstract becomes concrete. When I look at Jesus all those theoretical ideas about God suddenly become reality.
-God now has hands.
-And eyes to see.
-Ears to hear.
-Lips to speak.
-God has a voice!
-He speaks a language I understand.
I see him touch a leper, and I know no one is too dirty for him.
I see him pause to speak to a beggar, and I know he’s never too busy for me.
I see him feed the multitudes with loaves and fishes, and I know he can supply my needs.
I see him with the towel and the basin, and I know no job is too menial for him.
Finally I see him hanging on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, beaten, bruised, bloodied, mocked, scourged, spat upon, jeered, booed, hated, attacked, scorned, despised, rejected, crucified. When I hear him cry out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” I suddenly understand that Jesus has no enemies. In Jesus I discover a God who takes people seriously. He never treats people casually. He never brushes them off. He never says, “You’re a loser.” He’s a God who cares enough to get involved in this ugly, twisted, unredeemed world.
That’s who God is. If he never took people lightly, then I must never take his name lightly.
The Unhallowed Name
Let me stop here and make one simple observation. No prayer could be more appropriate in a sinful world. For if one thing is certain about the world in the 21st century, God’s name is not being hallowed today.
In the early church, the Christians were thrown to the lions. In too many cases today, we’ve joined in a limited partnership with the people who own the lions.
God’s name is not hallowed when . . .
Over a million babies are killed through abortion every year in America.
Crack cocaine is sold like candy on the street corners.
Homosexuality is celebrated as a “natural” and “normal” way of life.
The divorce rate nearly equals the marriage rate.
We laugh and giggle at sex on TV when instead we ought to blush.
God’s people think nothing of attending filthy movies.
We take God’s name in vain and laugh at dirty jokes.
We cheat on our income tax and joke about it.
We expect our leaders to lie and are surprised when they don’t.
Spiritual leaders fall into sin and our hearts are not broken.
Christians keep quiet in order to avoid persecution on the job.
We secretly envy sinners who do things we are forbidden to do.
The Bible has become a closed book and prayer a heavy burden.
We tithe to the mortgage company instead of to the Lord.
Christian teenagers are encouraged not to consider missionary service.
We value the approval of others more than the approval of God.
Social drinking is winked at, and the standards of yesteryear derided as legalism.
We gossip about the sins of others instead of mourning over our own sins.
We criticize our brothers and sisters for failing to live up to our own expectations.
We hold grudges for days, weeks, months and-God knows!-even years.
A few years ago a major news organization reported on a survey that compared the ethical behavior of American Christians with the ethical behavior of the general population. The survey reportedly found that there is no substantial difference in the ethical behavior of those who call themselves Christians and the general population. As the world gets more churchy, the church gets more worldly. In such a climate of moral ambivalence, we should not be surprised that the church has become marginalized to the point of irrelevance. True, there is a rising tide of hostility in many quarters today toward anyone who dares to speak out in favor of God and eternal moral values. And in many parts of the world, believers are routinely harassed, arrested, beaten, and sometimes put to death. But in many Western countries, Christians are simply ignored because we look too much like the population at large. In the early church, the Christians were thrown to the lions. In too many cases today, we’ve joined in a limited partnership with the people who own the lions. To say this is not to suggest that we should pray for persecution or that we should adopt some sort of martyr complex. But it is true that if Christians took the name of God more seriously, the people who don’t care about God would take us more seriously.
Here’s a good test for you to take: If God answered the prayers you prayed today, whose name would be glorified?
The same is true in the realm of personal relationships. William Barclay points out that if a Christian under pressure loses his temper just like a non-Christian does, or if he becomes just as nervous or anxious or if he is just as greedy or just as gluttonous or just as cruel or just as materialistic as the man next door, that is, if his religion doesn’t actually change the way he lives, he shouldn’t be surprised that his neighborhood evangelism does not win many converts. After all, why be converted to something that is not much different from what you already have?
The very essence of this petition is that in it we pray that God may enable us to show that we are redeemed, so that in our lives he may be glorified, and so that through us others may come to desire the secret which we possess. This petition prays that we may be enabled so to show Christ to men that men may desire Christ (William Barclay, The Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer for Everyman, pp. 188-189).
What would we see if we followed you around this week? Would your life show any material difference because you are a Christian? Does the fact that you bear the name of Jesus Christ make a difference in the way you live? That’s really the bottom line on this petition. When you pray, “Hallowed be your name,” you are really praying, “O God, help me to live in such a way that your name is made great in my life. May your reputation be increased in the world by the way I live my life.” A few days ago I spoke with a man who nearly lost his oldest daughter in a terrible car accident. “All my life I’ve heard that God must be number one, then your family must be second, then everything else comes third. When something like this happens, you suddenly learn how true that is,” he said. That’s why this request is first. It’s fundamental. Before you pray about what you want, you are to pray about what God wants. What God wants is that his name be made great in the world.
Who is On the Throne?
Some years ago I remember seeing a little booklet about the Spirit-filled life. Inside the booklet there were three circles with a throne at the center of each circle. In one circle a cross was drawn outside the circle. That represented an unbeliever. Christ is still outside of his life. The next circle showed the cross inside the circle but not on the throne. That represented a Christian who was still running his own life. And the last circle showed the cross inside the circle and above the throne. That represented the believer who had surrendered the throne of his life to Jesus Christ. I find those three circles very helpful and challenging. Each one of us fits one of those three circles. Too many of us live in the middle circle with Christ in our lives but self still on the throne. I confess that too often I am king on my own throne and my prayers are filled with my own needs. I pray more about myself than I do about God. Here’s a good test for you to take: If God answered the prayers you prayed today, whose name would be glorified? Yours or His? But that all changes when you pray “Hallowed be your name.” When you pray it with understanding, you are really saying, “Lord Jesus, ascend to the throne of my life.”
A right appreciation of God’s name gives us courage in the moment of crisis. Do you remember what David said when he faced Goliath? “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied" (I Samuel 17:45). Goliath must have laughed when he heard this brash teenager spouting nonsense about the name of the Lord Almighty. Hadn’t the Israelites fled in fear for 39 straight days? Hadn’t they been afraid to come out and fight? Now here comes this “snot-nosed little runt of a pimple-faced kid” (a description I once heard a speaker give of David) talking trash to the mighty Goliath.
And if we’re not going to get into the battle for God, then we ought to get out of the army or change our name.
What a joke!
Before the day was over, Goliath discovered the joke was on him. David found a stone, put it in the slingshot, wound up, and let it go. Before Goliath knew what hit him, he fell to the ground. Talk about a lucky shot! Nothing lucky about it. It wasn’t the stone that made the difference. It was the courage of David to go into battle “in the name of the Lord.”
Somewhere I read the story of a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great who deserted his post in battle. When asked his name, the quaking soldier replied, “Alexander, my Lord.” Whereupon Alexander the Great said, “You have three choices. Fight, get out of the army, or change your name.” We bear the name of the Lord. His reputation in the world rests on us. We honor that name and increase his reputation when we speak up for him before others. And if we’re not going to get into the battle for God, then we ought to get out of the army or change our name.
“Could God Sign His Name to This?”
In his sermon on this petition, Helmut Thielicke said that you have not learned to pray the Lord’s Prayer unless you pray it against yourself. He meant that the Lord’s Prayer sets such a high standard that if we really understand what we are praying, we will be praying against our own natural tendencies. Whenever we pray, “Hallowed be your name,” we are asking that God’s name be made great instead of our own name. But if you really mean that, you are praying “against yourself.”
When you pray, “Hallowed be your name,” you are both the voice and the feet of that petition. As the very words leave your lips, your life is part of the answer.
All too often we pray so carelessly.
“Hallowed be your name . . ."
- “But not in my business”
- “But not in my finances”
- “But not in my leisure”
- “But not in my friendships”
- “But not in my sex life”
- “But not in my thought life”
- “But not in my speech”
- “But not in my daydreams”
We say, “Lord, anything but that.” And the Lord says, “It’s all or nothing.” We say, “Lord, I can’t hallow your name in this one area of my life. It’s too personal, it’s too difficult, and it’s just the way I am. I’m bitter, angry, upset, worried, greedy, and I can’t use your name in this area because that’s just the way I am.” We all have areas where we hide things from God because we know he could never sign his name to them. But that’s really the acid test for conduct, for questionable things, for bad habits, for angry words, for secret sins, for bad attitudes: “Could God sign his name to this?” When you come to one of those difficult areas of your life, you ought to ask that question: "Could God sign his name to this?” If the answer is “Yes,” then go on with your life. If the answer is “No,” either stop what you are doing or stop praying the Lord’s Prayer. It’s really that simple.
Let’s wrap up this message with a simple story. It was our third or fourth day in Russia when I noticed something unusual about the way the men addressed one another. They would say each other’s first name and then they would add a middle name that always ended with “ovich.” My friend John Sergey was addressed as “Ivan Mikhailovich Sergei.” When I asked John about it, he said that Russians always use the patronymic. “Patronymic” is a word that means “the name of my father.” The “ovich” ending in Russian literally means “son of.” Therefore, “Ivan Mikhailovich” literally means “John son of Michael.” It’s a way of recognizing your family lineage. Every son bears his father’s name.
When John asked me my father’s name I told him my dad was named Tyrus Pritchard. His full name was Tyrus Raymond Pritchard. My older brother Andy took his first name and I took his middle name. John thought for a moment and then said that in Russian my name with the patronymic would be “Ray Tyrusovich"-"Ray son of Tyrus.” That pleased me when I heard it because I’ve always been proud of my father. The thought of being called by my father’s name is one of the greatest honors I could imagine. I think he would be proud and pleased, too.
Even though my father died 35 years ago, a part of him lives on in me and in my three brothers. If I can be permitted to paraphrase the words of Jesus, if you have seen me, you have seen my father-however imperfectly, however incompletely, however mixed in with other influences on my life. But my dad is there, sure enough, in my face, my voice, my actions, my habits. I even see him in my three sons–fainter still, but the influence is there. My sons are like me in many ways, but I am like my father in some ways and so his influence passes on to the third generation. Sometimes when I visit my relatives, one of them will say, “You remind me so much of your father.” There is no finer compliment I could receive. That’s what it means to bear my father’s name. It is far more than having the same last name. His character and personality was in some small way passed on to me. And even though he has been gone for many years, I have a sacred responsibility to hallow his name-to live up to the things he taught me, to try to be as good a man as he was, to live in such a way so that people who never knew him will look at me and say, “His father must have been a good man” and the people who knew my dad will say “He’s a credit to his father’s name.”
A Greater Name
But that is not the only name I bear. I have another patronymic attached to my name. As a Christian, I bear the name of my heavenly Father. Hallowing his name means living in such a way that I increase his reputation in the world. When I’ve done it well, people who don’t know God will look at my life and say, “He must have a great God” and God will look down from heaven with a smile and say, “That’s my boy!”
As a Christian, I bear the name of my heavenly Father.
Here is the simple application. It is in the form of a question-"What can the world conclude about God by watching your life?” Spend some time thinking about the answer.
When you pray, “Hallowed be your name,” you are both the voice and the feet of that petition. As the very words leave your lips, your life is part of the answer. When you pray that God’s name be hallowed, your first obligation is to live in such a way that God has no trouble answering your prayer.
Almighty God, root out everything in us that is false and untrue. Set our feet to follow where you lead. May our words and deeds, and even our secret thoughts, bring honor to your Name. Help us to live so that others find it easy to believe in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A Truth to Remember: God’s name matters to God. It ought to matter to us.
Going Deeper1. What is it about the Lord’s Prayer that attracts the reverence and respect of even non-religious people?
2. What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “Hallowed be your name?” Why is this petition difficult for most people to understand?
3. How does the “name” of God reflect who he is? What does it mean to take God’s name lightly, or in vain? (see Exodus 20:7)
4. Take the “Three Circles” test. Draw three circles and put a throne in the center of each one. Where will you the cross? Is Christ outside your life, inside your life but not on the throne, or on the throne of your life?
5. State in your own words what it means to “hallow” God’s name. What items would you add to the list that begins, “God’s name is not hallowed when . . . “?
6. Read Isaiah 6 out loud. How did Isaiah respond to a vision of God’s holiness? How did this experience help him discover God’s will for his life?
An Action Step
Spend an hour studying the names of God in the Old Testament. What do the following Scriptures teach us about the nature and character of God? Genesis 16:13; Genesis 17:1-2, Genesis 22:14; Exodus 15:22-26; Leviticus 20:8; Deuteronomy 32:18; Judges 6:24; Psalm 23:1; Psalm 46:7; Psalm 90:1-3; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 48:35.
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