We have learned to call God ‘Father’. This is astonishing and a huge kindness to us. So, when we begin to pray, our first request has to do with him—his name, or what he has revealed himself to be. We want him to be front and centre—for us and for everything around us.
‘Hallowed’ simply means ‘to make holy’. Clearly, we don’t make God holy but we do want him to be known as who he is. We could use the words sanctified, reverenced, or honoured.
The world doesn’t want God in its thinking at all. But if we know God as Father, his honour is what we want most. We will want everything to flow from him (Ephesians 3:14). Everything has been created to work in this way. We can see that persons, communities and the world suffer when they don’t know him.
So how is God’s name reverenced? Jesus says, ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). We sometimes speak about children bringing glory to their parents—or shame—by how they perform in education, sport or some other activity. We can bring glory to our Father by receiving his goodness and reflecting that in our life. So this is part of what we are asking for when we pray ‘Hallowed be your name’.
But sometimes, the church causes God’s name to be dishonoured. This can happen because we don’t live as God tells us to (Romans 2:23). The world becomes disgusted with our poor behaviour and wants nothing to do with our God and Father.
So knowing God and being reverent before him is not as simple as it sounds. Lots of things stand in the way. For a start, we would like to be front and centre in our own lives. This means we can’t pray for God to have that place because it is already occupied!
Then again, the world puts pressure on us to conform to their interests. A couple of examples make this clear. Peter tells us to ‘honour Christ the Lord as holy (1 Peter 3:15). And Isaiah says, ‘the Lord of Hosts, him shall you honour as holy (Isaiah 8:13). Both these commands are written to people who are being threatened. God is telling us to reverence him more than people who frighten us! Who we honour is contested territory!
Notice now, that this first request in the Lord’s prayer is not about something we are going to do. It is not a round-about way of suggesting to ourselves that we should be more spiritual. We are asking God to bring honour to his own name.
There’s a story in Ezekiel in which God says he will do just this (see chapter 36).
God’s name is dishonoured by Israel. The signs that God is among them and blessing them have been removed because of their unfaithfulness. They are captured by another nation and lose their land. But now, this conquering nation thinks their gods are stronger than the Lord. God’s name is being rubbed in the dust—or profaned rather than being reverenced.
God is being dishonoured because he can’t go about his usual business of protecting and prospering them and the nations are joking about what a helpless God he is.
In our own time, if we Christians have gloried in our own status and deeds rather than in the Lord, and if he, our Father, has let us fall in a heap so that we are scorned by the world, and if the world boasts that their plans and values are superior to anything a so called ‘God’ has revealed, our Father’s name is being profaned. Then, well may we pray, ‘May your name be reverenced!’
And God answers that prayer. He will not stand by while all that he has revealed of himself—his name—is being dragged in the dust.
So how does God go about sanctifying his own name when we have brought shame on it? What can we expect God to do when the world has come to the conclusion that their achievements and values, their potential and passions—their ‘gods’—are stronger than the Father and his Son?
God says to Ezekiel, ‘I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes’ (36:23).
If we are going to truly make this first request in the Lord’s prayer, we need to see how God fulfils his promise.
God will restore his reputation among the nations by returning Israel to their land, and by turning their hearts away from idols and to himself. He will deliver them from their corruptions—give them a new heart and spirit, a heart of flesh instead of stone, a heart to love him. And then, he will restore their fortunes, and they will see how awful they have been (vv. 24-32). Now God’s name is sanctified or hallowed. God has shown himself to be God.
God does not just change his mind about how bad Israel is. And he doesn’t just bless them to put a lid over the stench of what they are doing. He will purify them and give them a heart to love him.
Jesus understands all this and knows he is the way God will cause his name to be reverenced. In his own life, he wants the honour of his Father’s name, so he is teaching us to pray the same things that he prays. And of course, his whole life can be summed up as sanctifying his Father’s name. People can see that God is with him—and that God is real and good.
But then, in two of his prayers, Jesus asks for God to glorify his name—similar to asking for God’s name to be sanctified (John 12:27-28; 17:1-5, 17-19). He asks the Father to glorify him, so he can bring glory to the Father. He is referring to his dying for our sins, and, in this way, to create people who love the Father like he does. He is going to do what God promised Ezekiel.
The world needs to see that the Father hates our independence and corruptions. He has no time for our hypocrisy. We can’t honour God as our Father and think that our sins don’t matter. He is holy!
Jesus will take all these abominations to himself—as though they were his and not ours, and the Father will show what he thinks of them. His curse falls on his own Son. And Jesus dies. He is where we deserve to be. And Jesus is willing to be there—because he wants his Father’s name to be known as holy—to be reverenced.
We may hear God himself say, ‘This is who I am. I am giving my Son up to this suffering so that you may not perish. This is my holiness.’ And he raises his Son from the dead to announce that what Jesus has done has revealed him perfectly.
The Father’s holiness has been revealed as love. Through this offering, God bring forgiveness to us, and brokenness, and gratefulness, and purity, and a heart of flesh that beats with love for Christ and the Father.
So when we pray, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ we are asking the Father to reveal himself to us, and to the church and to the world. We are asking for our arrogance to be dissolved in the purity of what God has done in Christ, and for our hearts to beat with genuine love for the Father.
Years ago, Isaiah prayed a prayer like this. His nation is in trouble because they have not been true worshippers. Isaiah says, ‘Look down from heaven and see. ….Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us. But you are our Father…our Redeemer from of old is your name’ (Isaiah 63:15-16).
What then will God do if we are expecting him to ensure the reverencing of his name?
Can you picture a church service to which an unbeliever comes, and he sees that God is alive and doing something among the worshippers. Here is a community that has been purified by Christ’s offering. Amongst us, this visitor knows that God has looked right through him and he falls down in worship. He or she knows that God is alive and active (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). God’s name is being reverenced again.
If we want God to be God and not just something we imagine, if we want him to be the prime mover and not just a benevolent observer, if we want him to be reverenced, loved and worshipped, this is how God answers our prayer.
God does not merely push us back on ourselves to do better. He takes us to his Son and to this offering up of himself. He undoes all our puff and foolery so that we trust in what he has done. We cannot have an inflated view of ourselves and honour the Father at the same time. Fundamental to honouring the Father is knowing that he is the good one—not us.
Now, God’s name is being hallowed. And this is what we have been praying for.