so at new life i’m taking a sunday school class on the Lord’s prayer, taken from the gospel of matthew. the first few weeks were spent on prayer in general; what it is, the implications of prayer, types of prayer, ways of praying that are sinful… lots of different aspects of it.
by the grace of God, it has never felt awkward or weird to talk to Him. for me, praying has never felt like a chore (unlike, for example, the way i often struggle with being in the word). it’s simply how i communicate with God. and it’s been such a blessing to think more deeply on the significance of that, on what it means when i’m actually praying to the Creator of the universe. each week i come away loving God more and with a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the gift of prayer.
recently, we began to go through the Lord’s prayer itself, taking a week or two on each petition (which is a request/piece/line of the prayer, basically). the last two weeks were spent on the first: hallowed be Your name. and i learned a lot. a whole lot. as usual, it gave me lots to think about.
what’s in a name? is it just a label, a word we use in order to distinguish to whom we speak? some may say so. but most of us recognize that there is something inherently significant found in a name. names are part of our identity. they are part of who we are. names are linked with memories and feelings and thoughts and ideas. i was talking with one of my housemates, tom (read some of his stuff here), about how hearing the sound of our names is a beautiful thing; it catches our attention, and when spoken by someone we love, it is a way to feel that love.
we can see in the Bible the significance of names, especially when they are changed. abraham and israel come to mind, both given a new name in order to signify something profound (God’s promise and God’s people, specifically). God has many names. i’ll touch on that in just a second. but perhaps the best way He himself sums up His name is when he speaks to moses through the burning bush in exodus 3:14. moses asks Him what he shall tell the israelites when they ask him who sent him, and this is God’s response:
“I am who I am. this is what you are to say to the israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
that doesn’t sound like a name. that’s a verb. that’s a state of being. God recognizes that human language isn’t enough to encompass everything He is. that’s one of the reasons He has so many names; each reveals a facet of His identity (on a side note that could be its own post, each of God’s names also reveals a facet of our relationship to Him; when we call Him King, we are calling ourselves His subjects; when we call Him Lord, we are acknowledging His lordship over us; when we call Him Father, we are calling ourselves His children). so when we talk about the name of God, we’re not just talking about a label. we’re talking about everything that God is.
so what does it actually mean when we are praying that the Lord’s name be hallowed? that’s not a word we use in everyday language. in fact, i think i’ve only ever heard it in the context of the Lord’s prayer. since it’s the first petition of the prayer, it’s easy (for me) to brush over it as part of “the intro”, instead of considering the weight of those words.
to “hallow” means to make or acknowledge as holy. in essence, we are praying that the name of God would be glorified and magnified. in our case, though, we have nothing to do with making God’s name holy; He is fully and completely holy already. when we say to God “hallowed be Your name”, we are doing two things: acknowledging His holiness (including the holiness in His very name) and expressing a desire for all people to do the same. that’s what it means to magnify the name of God. when you hold a magnifying glass up to something, you aren’t making it more real… you’re simply making it easier to see. so it is when we magnify the name of God. His holiness is able to be seen through us when we glorify Him… when we hallow His name.
but why do this? why does it matter?
well, first of all, it’s what we were created for. we were created to bring God glory (isaiah 43:7) and we are called to do everything in the name of His Son, Jesus (colossians 3:17). secondly, we can’t do it on our own. we need God’s help to live in a way that hallows His name. when we pray this way, we aren’t just asking that His name be hallowed in our words, but in our whole lives. that’s our purpose. there’s so much to unpack there, but this post is long enough as it is, and people far more eloquent have already shed some beautiful light on the subject.
i’ll close out with two implications.
first, a deeper understanding of the Lord’s name naturally draws us back to the fourth commandment. we as christians are commanded never to take God’s name in vain. but the fact is, we do not live in a reverent world. existing in the midst of a culture who doesn’t truly understand or care about reverence, much less revering the name of the Lord, doesn’t make things easy. i don’t think i’m over-exaggerating when i say that it would be unusual to watch one episode of television without hearing the Lord’s name being taken in vain at least once or twice.
perhaps, though, those are the obvious ways. i personally haven’t made a habit of texting “OMG” (or saying it out loud… good grief) to my friends, but i am 100% guilty of using the name of the Creator in a throw-away fashion… when i pray. yep. that doesn’t make sense. but looking back, i see countless times that “Jesus” or “Lord God” was used as nothing but filler. in essence, i replaced “yeah” or “uh” with the name of God, as something i mindlessly say while i wait for the important words to come to mind.
yikes. that is the opposite of magnifying His name. i am much more aware of what i say now when i pray. additionally, while i didn’t have much of a stance on it before, i’ve decided to stop using the word “holy” as an adjective of anything except God (there are many times in past posts that i’ve used the phrase “holy crap” for the purpose of emphasis). i don’t feel comfortable pairing a word that can only apply to God with anything else.
finally, understanding the Lord’s name and it’s role in our prayer points us back to the gospel. we see in the old testament examples of people who were struck down because they did not approach God in a worthy manner (this connects, i promise). invoking the name of God is no light matter. when we pray, we are speaking with the One who breathes out stars. the One who knows each of us intimately because He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He is holy, set apart, weighty.
but we have no reason to worry or fear coming into the presence of God in an unworthy manner. why? because we are in Christ, which means we have been reconciled (romans 5:9-11)! we have complete access to God, because of the work Jesus did on the cross. that means we can come to Him at anytime with anything, for any reason, no matter where we are! that is such beautiful news!
we will never fully understand or appreciate that profound beauty, though, unless we have an accurate picture of the holiness of God; the holiness found in His very name.