These posts are summaries of the messages on Sunday and are put here mainly for the benefit of our regulars who either missed the service, or would appreciate the chance to review the big ideas.
'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be your name..." '
Most of us agree that prayer is both the most important and the hardest thing we can do in the Christian life, and those two realities are connected; it’s hard precisely because it’s important. The opening of the prayer changes everything as Jesus teaches us to call God ‘Father’; we don’t approach him as the Judge (who we can’t please) but as our Father (who we can). The pressure we feel to perform in life, and in prayer, dissolves. And then we learn to ask him for all the things we need.
This is the first of the petitions: Hallowed be your name. It simply means, let your name be kept holy, precious, revered. Here are the main ways we can understand what we’re praying.
First, it’s a petition that fulfils itself. What do I mean? Well, if you think about it you’ll realise that you can’t pray this prayer without, in that moment, worshipping. You can’t pray that God’s name would be hallowed without desiring, in that moment, to hallow his name in your own heart.
And so the first way in which we can understand this prayer is as a statement of worship in itself. This is something we find in the Scriptures in many places: God’s people typically approach him with worship and praise as the first impulse of the heart. We are called to ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise’ (Psalm 100.4), and while that is an instruction that related to a person approaching the earthly temple in Jerusalem, the reality for NT believers is heightened, not lessened, on account of the fact that we enter God’s very presence by faith (see Hebrews 12.22-24). Worship and prayer are meant to be mingled together, and so often in Paul’s instructions on prayer we see his direction to offer thanksgiving (Phil. 4.6, Col. 4.2, 1 Thess. 5.16-18).
Along with the many Biblical examples of prayer beginning with worship, there are good other reasons for us to make this a principle. First, it helps us to realign our hearts and minds from self (our constant obsession) to God, which has a profound effect on the content and force of your prayers. Second, we find that faith, which is an absolute essential in prayer, is strengthened as we worship by declaring God’s greatness and remembering his past faithfulness. Third, we will experience deeper joy as we fulfil our created purpose. Paul promised joy that comes through praying with thanksgiving (Phil. 4.4-7).
Second, it’s a prayer for yourself. This request, ‘May your name be hallowed’, must begin with a desire that God change your heart first of all. We need to become those who revere and hallow his name as precious.
I remember hearing (or reading?!) that John Piper has the habit of praying outward in concentric circles. He prays for himself first, then his family, church, city, etc. You might thing that is selfish, but it is the opposite. It’s a humble recognition that we are useless, in prayer and in life, if we are not changed by God.
So, by praying ‘hallowed be your name’ as a request for God to change you first, we are looking at this as a kind of reconsecration before God each time we pray. We are inviting God to conquer our hearts and infiltrate our lives.
What does it look like to become a person who hallows God’s name? You can think about it like this; the things people hallow are the things they love, and the things they love are the things they talk about with bubbling enthusiasm and excitement, the things they spend time on, want to share, want to acquire more of, dream about, and so on. Therefore, in wanting to hallow God’s name it must begin with a more wholehearted love for God that pervades every aspect of your life: mind, heart, soul, will. That is what we're praying for!
Third, it’s a prayer for the world. One of the ways of understanding the human problem is as a worship problem. This is certainly how Paul explains it in Romans 1.21-25:
'Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things...'
And the result:
'Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.'
When people don’t worship God they worship idols, and the thing about worship is that it is transformative: you become like the thing you worship. This works for our good when we worship Jesus (2 Cor. 3.18). But it works to our destruction when we worship idols. When the Israelites worshipped their golden calf, God’s indictment was that they were ‘stiff-necked’; in other words, they had become like stubborn cows themselves. This diagnostic tool enables us to get to the root of every evil in society. So, for example, if we look around and see sordid news of licentious celebrities taking advantage of young girls, or divorce rates that are damaging generations of children, and teenage pregnancies and abortion statistics that are through the roof, then we know we’re in a country that worships sex. Each idol moulds us as a society. Worship money and you get greed and exploitation; worship power and you get corruption and even totalitarianism. And so on, and so on.
Therefore, when we pray ‘hallowed be your name’, we are praying that God would put the world to rights by extending his glory and winning more worshippers to himself. This is the ultimate and inevitable future of all creation (Phil. 2.9-11), and it’s the reason why the church is here now seeking to display God’s glory and see more people become worshippers.
This prayer for the world, when taken on the lips of God’s people, is motivated by zeal and love. First, there is a zeal for God’s glory that desires to see him get his rightful adoration. When Jesus turned over the tables in the temple courts his disciples remembered this Scripture: ‘Zeal for your house consumes me’. Jesus was jealous for his Father's glory. But this is also a love-motivated prayer in which we long to see people find their hearts fulfilment and contentment as worshippers who know their Father