“Hallowed Be Your Name”
We have a tendency to read these words and to conclude that they are part of the address, that they are simply an acknowledgment of an existing truth. That is, we believe we are saying: “Our Father in heaven, Your name is holy.” But that’s not the format of the prayer. This line of the Lord’s Prayer is not simply an assertion that God’s name is holy. Rather, it’s a petition.
Everyone knows what a petition is—it’s a piece of paper that people pass around for others to sign in hopes that this written evidence of agreement on an issue will induce the government or the ruling body of some association to change the rules of the game. A petition, then, is a request. For this reason, those specific requests Jesus gave His disciples in the Lord’s Prayer are known as the petitions. These are the priorities that Jesus indicated His disciples should ask for in their prayers. And the very first thing that Jesus told them to pray for was that the name of God would be regarded as holy.
What does it mean to say that God is holy? It means that He is different from anything that we experience or find in the material universe, that God the Creator differs from all creatures. The primary way in which God differs from all creatures is that He is uncreated and eternal, whereas each of us is created and finite. We are not eternal but temporal. If nothing else separates the Creator from the creature, it is that high, transcendent element of God’s own being, so marvelous, so majestic that He is worthy of the adoration of every creature.
I can’t emphasize too much how important it is that we grasp that this line of the Lord’s Prayer is not just a part of the address but a petition. We must see this if we are to understand what Jesus is teaching us about prayer. Jesus is not saying, “Father, Your name is holy,” but, “Father, may Your name be hallowed.” That is, He is teaching us to ask that God’s name would be regarded as sacred, that it would be treated with reverence, and that it would be seen as holy. We must see this if we are to pray according to the pattern Jesus set for us.
I find it striking that when Jesus taught the church how to pray, the first thing He chose to tell us to pray about is that the name of God might be regarded as sacred. Very few people today would list the hallowing of the name of God as a top priority for the supplications of the people of God. It almost seems foreign to our environment to place so much emphasis on proper treatment of a name.
Yet, I am aware that it annoys me when people simply mispronounce my name. I am embarrassed to think I am so vain and proud that it bothers me when people call me “Sprowl” or “Sproll” instead of “Sproul.” When a person calls me “Sprowl,” I’ll say, “You call me Sprowl and I growl, my name is Sproul, it rhymes with soul. It’s soul with ‘pr.’” Do you feel similarly bothered when people mispronounce your name? I suspect you do. Why is that? It’s because they don’t seem to be taking you seriously. It suggests that they don’t even have enough concern for you as a person to get your name right. We somehow feel slighted if our names are forgotten or mispronounced. Well, God is not sensitive in the sense that He is upset or loses His dignity if someone doesn’t regard Him properly with the pronunciation of His name. But Jesus gives this petition within the context of a set of petitions. The Lord’s Prayer continues like this: “Hallowed be Your Name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9b–10). I’m going to take the liberty to speculate here. I often have wondered whether Jesus, when He set forth the priorities of prayer, had a reason for listing the petitions in the order that He did. First He listed “Hallowed be Your name,” second was “Your kingdom come,” and third was “Your will be done.” Those petitions may be distinguished one from another, but they’re so interconnected that we dare not divorce them from one another. I’m convinced that although we pray for the manifestation and the victory of the kingdom of God, it is futile to hope for the victory of God’s kingdom on this planet until or unless the name of God is regarded as sacred, because God’s kingdom does not come to people who have no respect for Him. Likewise, we pray that the will of God will be done in this world, but God’s will is not done by people who do not regard Him with reverence and with adoration. So the very beginning of godliness, the very beginning of transformation in our lives and in our society, begins with our posture before the character of God.
This excerpt is adapted from The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul.