Or, as the New Living Translation puts it: ‘May your name be honoured.’
This, the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, established the Number One priority for prayer. Not me, and my shopping lists of aches and pains, interests and concerns. But God, and his honour. We have not even begun to understand who God is, if we have no interest in putting him first. In reality, God is first: as Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of the cosmos. In prayer, we seek to reorient our thinking and our lives to reflect that reality. And, or course, we benefit immensely when we recognise that we love, serve, and speak with, such a great God.
Putting God and his honour first is the antidote to the selfishness and self-centredness to which we are all prone. It undermines the consumerist approach which says that prayer is about getting about what I want (as if God were some celestial Santa Claus).
What is God’s ‘name’?
God’s ‘name’ stands for God himself.
But there is more to it than that.
In the lands from which the Bible came, a person’s name wasn’t just an identifying label. It often told us something about the person (the circumstances of that person’s birth, perhaps, or some wish or expectation concerning that person’s future). If a person had some life-changing experience, they might change their name because of it.
In the Old Testament, God revealed his name as ‘Yahweh’ (often translated ‘the Lord’ in English versions). This name seems to be a shortened version of God’s declaration in Exodus 3:14 – “I am who I am”.
As the Old Testament makes clear, the Lord is committed to vindicating his name against those (including his own people) who bring it into disrepute. This is particularly prominent in Ezekiel, where the expression “then they will know that I am the Lord’ occurs over sixty times. As Chester comments: ‘whether in judgement (Eze 6:10,13,14; 7:4,27; 33:27-29) or in salvation (Eze 34:30; 36:11,37f; 37:13f,28; 39:27f), God acts so “that they will know that I am the Lord.”‘
Other names for God involve compounds of ‘Yahweh’:-
- Yahweh yir’eh: ‘The Lord Will Provide’, Gen 22:14
- Yahweh nissi: ‘The Lord Is My Banner’, Ex 17:15
- Yahweh shalom: ‘The Lord Is peace’, Judges 6:24
- Yahweh tsebaoth: ‘The Lord Almighty’/’The Lord Of Hosts’, 1 Sam 4:4
Other divine titles include:-
- Shepherd, Gen 49:24; Psa 23:1; Isa 40:11
- King, Psa 95:3
- Judge, Gen 18:25
- Redeemer, Isa 44:24
- Warrior, Ex 15:3
- Rock, Psa 18:2
- Glory, Ex 16:7; Psa 104:31
- The Holy One, Isa 1:4
- The Mighty One, Gen 49:24
All these (and there are many others) indicate the riches of who God is, and suggests ways in which we may approach him in our various needs.
What does it mean to ‘hallow’ God’s name?
It means to honour it as holy.
In Isa 6:3 the Lord is described as thrice holy, indicating that our proper response to him is an awe that borders on fear. This ‘otherness’ of God is suggested throughout the pages of the Old Testament by its stress on ritual cleanliness, purity, and sacrifice. Now that these Old Testament rules have been virtually dismantled (see Mk 7:17-23; Acts 15) it has become a particular temptation for us to minimise the holiness of God. Too often, we saunter into his presence without considering the moral pollution that needs to be confessed and forgiven.
‘May your name be honoured’ is worldwide in its scope. It is a prayer that not just we, in this place, but everyone, in every place, might know, love and serve God for who he is.
These are both negative (‘let your name not be dishonoured’) as well as positive (‘let your name be honoured’).
Do we honour God’s name as we pray? Or are we guilty of careless and wandering thoughts? Let us confess our failings to God, and not give up praying. Let us take the attitude in which we have prayed (a trustful attitude, for example) into our everyday lives (and actually trust God in our daily affairs). More than that, ‘we are to pray that God will intervene in history to vindicate his name, by establishing his rule and his will.’ (Chester, who adds that in this way the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer overlap)
Do we honour God’s name as we live? It is not enough to pray this prayer. We must live it too. Prayer should be the basis on which we build the rest of our lives. That’s why it’s a good idea to start the day with prayer. ‘It’s a good idea to tune your instruments before the concert begins’ (Hudson Taylor). And shouldn’t we try to fulfil our own prayers? if we pray for peace, for conversions, and so on, shouldn’t we try to do something about these things ourselves. Are we putting our money, time, and energy where our mouth is? God is looking for players, not spectators; combatants not civilians; performers not critics.
So, as we pray, “Father, may your name be honoured?”
let us respond immediately with
“And what can I personally do about it?”
J. John, God’s Priorities: Living Life from the Lord’s Prayer, Kingsway, 2001, pp63-79
T. Chester, The Message of Prayer, IVP, 2003, pp 160f.