Like a great house, the Lord’s Prayer is built around three magnificent central rooms. They are a passionate concern for the honour of our heavenly Father’s name, the extending of his kingdom and the doing of his will. These three great concerns lie at the heart of the prayer and must surely be the concerns of all those who are true disciples
As the text comes to us in the Greek, each of these first three petitions is short, God-centred, urgent and complete, ‘Hallow your name, Bring in your kingdom, Cause your will to be done . . .’ The words reflect and inspire an eagerness to see God’s sovereign rule completely and finally established. They look forward to the fulfilment of human history but they also fire our personal thinking and touch our individual lives here and now.
Beginning with just the first of these petitions, when we pray, ‘Hallowed be your name,’ or, ‘May your name be honoured,’ what do we mean? We know the line so well and recite it so easily, and yet do we really appreciate the weight and significance of these simple words?
Three questions may help to show the richness of their meaning: Firstly . . . Why should we want to see our heavenly Father’s name honoured?
Whose name is it we should long to see held in awe? It is not the bare word ‘God’ itself, used too easily when people find that they have forgotten something, or hit their thumb with a hammer! Nor are we taught to honour a god of our own picturing, such as ‘the God of love’ or ‘the great designer.’ Rather, we are taught to honour the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose magnificence is seen in the universe and whose character is revealed in scripture. He is the great ‘I am’ who was and is and always will be Lord and King, Redeemer and Judge.
i) . . . He brought us into existence.
In biblical shorthand, our heavenly Father is maker or creator of the whole universe. Such an understanding does not bind us to any narrow or rigid human theory but does affirm that our heavenly Father is author of all and Lord of all. Our seemingly godless world – with all its exploitation and suffering – is still his world. He is in control of nations, governments and societies. On a personal level, our circumstances, our life, our future, this next week, are all in his hands. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, he is the one who has our very breath in his hand. Should not then his name be honoured, held in awe?
ii) . . . We are answerable to him.
As author and maker our heavenly Father has every right to determine how we, his creatures, should live, behave. Through his chosen spokesmen he has given us very full guidelines for living. He has also warned us that he will call us to account for the life he has entrusted to us. The Bible describes him as judge. Our words and our deeds, both open and secret, good and evil, are known to him. We shall be called to account for those evil things which we deliberately do and also for that steady rebellion which just ignores him, chooses not to do his will and so fails to honour him. The charge laid before Belshazzar, the ancient king of Babylon, on the night of his death was simply this, ‘The God in whose hand is your breath, and all your ways, you have failed to honour.’
iii) . . . At great cost he made possible our rescue.
The Lord is the creator, the judge and also, wonderfully, our redeemer . . . our heavenly Father cares about this world, cares about each one of us, enough to pay the price for our rescue. He gave his one and only Son so that those who believe will not be swept away in judgment and banished from his heaven, but might each be made acceptable before him, given a fresh new start and made a child of God. Here and now his redeemed people have this vital relationship with their heavenly Father; a relationship that not even death can snatch away.
God is the creator, the judge and the saviour. Should not his wonderful name be held high? In Stuart Hine’s words:
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Of course, if it can be proved that God is in no sense author or creator, then it follows that he has no right to tell us how to live or to call us to account for the style of life we choose. It also follows that there is no need of a rescuer or redeemer to put us right with him. Hence the great assault by godless men on the concept of God as creator. However, despite our unthinking or wilful turning our back on God, our heavenly Father remains on the throne. He is creator, judge and redeemer and it is fundamental to our well-being that his name be held high, honoured.
And so to the second question . . . What does it mean to ‘hallow’ or ‘honour’ the name of our heavenly Father?
If we do not have a high regard for people who live or work in the same place as ourselves, we simply take no notice of them. If we are considering a career move or a marriage, or even just planning a holiday we would not dream of consulting them. We are just not interested in their opinion, let alone their advice or moral judgment. If we do not honour someone, in this sense of holding them in esteem, we do not have to say or do anything, we simply pass them by. We ignore them: neighbour, teacher, husband, wife, work colleague, or parent. We ignore them because we regard their opinion and their advice as irrelevant. In practice, many of us behave just like this towards Almighty God. We ignore him, we fail to honour the God in whose hand is our very breath.
On the other hand, if we have a high regard for someone, when we are considering something, if we are able to, we consult them. We will say, ‘Now I wonder what so-and-so would think about this?’ or, ‘I wonder what so-and-so would advise me to do in this situation?’ This is how we honour them and this is how we should honour our heavenly Father. As we come to make great decisions, we should ask, ‘I wonder what the Lord God has caused to be written about this?’ ‘Is there some plain teaching, some instruction, a principle or a warning in the scriptures that would apply to this situation?’ This is how to honour him and hold high his name; it involves love, respect and, above all, a longing to please him in all that we do and say.
Naturally enough, if we hold his name in such esteem we will not tread it underfoot in our everyday conversation and habits of speech. We will not use it cheaply as a swear-word nor enjoy hearing others doing so. Rather, it will be natural to tell out the greatness of God and to bring honour to his name by our whole way of speaking and living. How well the proverb puts it, ‘Give me neither great wealth nor poverty, lest in wealth I forget you, or in poverty I am driven to steal and so bring dishonour on your name.’ We honour or dishonour our heavenly Father not only with our lips, by what we say, but with our entire way of life.
Which leads us to ask thirdly . . . How and where should his name be honoured?
i) . . . Honoured in our world
‘Let all the world in every corner sing, “My God and King,”‘ wrote George Herbert. This world’s peace ultimately depends on the extent to which our heavenly Father’s name is honoured. Here is a call to pray that his name may be honoured throughout the whole world and in particular by its statesmen and leaders. Disciples of the Lord Jesus are called to pray and work that his name might be honoured in the corridors of power. If world leaders and peoples share a common submission to our heavenly Father there is a strong foundation for peace and understanding. Pray that God’s name might indeed be hallowed by the great leaders and nations of this world.
ii) . . . Honoured in our own land.
The scriptures teach that it is godly living or ‘righteousness’ that lifts up a nation. It is when our Father’s name is honoured that a nation becomes truly great. Historically, there is a very striking link between Britain’s standing among the nations and our national concern for the things of God. Look for yourself and see the link, historical evidence of the fulfilment of the promise of God. Why? Because, if you have God-fearing men and women in positions of authority and leadership, there will be just laws and fair dealing both nationally and internationally. Study the history of the founding of what is now the United States of America and see this same principle at work. When our Father’s name is honoured individuals are valued, the weak are protected, evil, violence and vice are restrained and all that is good is encouraged and supported. These are God’s purposes for those in authority or government at every level from parliament to our own homes. Such world-changing thinking lies at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer and it is brought most sharply into focus as we pray, ‘Your will be done.’
iii) . . . Honoured in the church at large.
What is the church? It is intended to be God’s own people, a people called out to live for him. A people who will honour him by the way they speak and in the way they live. But the church in Britain, although holding the form of religion, seems chiefly concerned with self-preservation and ceremony and has largely forgotten this radical call to live totally for God, to seek first the honour of his name. We need to pray that our Father’s name might be honoured in his Church, nationally.
iv) . . . Honoured in our own local churches.
Locally, we have a great museum very close to the church. Our prayer and determination is that the church building, although it is far more ancient than the museum, may not become a ‘museum of Christianity’. We long that it might be the meeting place of a vital community of people who love God, and who live, speak and care in such a way as to be a strength, an encouragement and a challenge to those around us; a community of people who truly bring honour to the name of our heavenly Father.
And, finally, v) . . . Honoured in our own lives.
If we really pray the Lord’s Prayer, our prayers will affect the world, our nation and our church, they will also profoundly affect our own homes and lives. We shall begin to pray, ‘Lord God may your name be honoured in my own home, in my own working life, in the way I speak, in the way I behave, in my relationships with those around me.’
These are the areas in our own lives on which we need to reflect as we pray, ‘Hallowed be your name.’
As you consider this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, reflect on the day that lies ahead, the people you will meet, those you naturally like and those who provoke you and whose every word seems calculated to trip you, annoy you or crush you with criticism. ‘Lord, you know how my blood pressure rises – may your name be honoured . . .’
Helmut Thielicke, the great German pastor and preacher, tells of a businessman who, moving from file to file, interview to interview, would pause just for a moment between each task, take a deep breath and say, ‘Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen,’ and then press on. What was he doing? He was really praying, ‘May your name be honoured as I tackle this, or as I see this person.’ We do well to learn to follow his example. Even as we sit down to write a letter – ‘May your name be honoured,’ ‘Glory be to the Father . . .’
We are only at the first line! Yet if you would in any way begin to plumb the incredible depth of this prayer, pause, consider and apply the words to the world in which we live and then cry from the heart, ‘Hallowed be your name.’
‘Lord, teach us to pray, may indeed our Father’s great name be held high and honoured in our world, in our country, in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.’
- ‘The judge of all the earth’ – Genesis 18:23-25
- ‘God in whose hand is our breath’ – Daniel 5:22&23
- The Lord our Redeemer – Galatians 4:4&5, John 3:16 etc.
- ‘Give me not great wealth or poverty’ – Proverbs 30:8&9
- ‘O magnify the Lord with me’ – Psalm 34:3
- Righteousness and greatness – Proverbs 14:34
- What three great concerns are said to be the three great ‘state rooms’ of this prayer? Should they be the chief concerns of each true disciple?
- Why should our heavenly Father’s name be held in awe and in the highest honour?
- How can we hold his name high?
- Can you think of a situation where someone has been ignored, treated as if they were not there or did not count?
- Do we do this to Almighty God?
- How natural and easy is it to remember the Lord as we make our daily decisions?
- How does stealing bring dishonour to the name of our heavenly Father? Would cheating, tax evasion, drunkenness or reckless driving do the same?