“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
I’ve prayed this and thought, “I’m honestly not quite sure what I’m saying.” What does this mean?
The first step is answering this question: is this a statement of praise to God or is it a request? For years I thought it was a statement of praise or adoration to God. I thought that it was the same thing as saying, “God, you are great and holy and worthy of everything I have.” But notice it doesn’t say, “hallowed is your name.” It says “hallowed be your name.” It’s a request. It’s asking God to do something. Jesus is telling us to pray, “may your name be hallowed.”
But what are we really asking God to do? The second step is figuring out what “hallowed” means. It means to honor something as holy (lit., sanctify). It is to set something apart, recognizing its uniqueness. When you hallow something, you see it as special, superior, and not to be regarded as common.
Third step: What are we asking God to honor? His own name. Throughout the Bible, God’s ‘name’ is another way of simply referring to himself. So Jesus is saying to pray, “Our Father in heaven, would you cause yourself to be honored? Would you let people see you for who you are and no longer disregard you? Would you see how little you are honored in people’s hearts and lives and act to change this? Would you show yourself to be as great as you are so that people everywhere might truly know you and overflow with a thankful heart to you for all that you are and do?”
This was, of course, the problem with God’s people in the Old Testament. They disobeyed him, so he sent them into exile. But their own disobedience among the peoples drug God’s name through the dirt. “They profaned my holy name,” God says (Ezek. 36:20). But, he adds, “I had concern for my holy name” (v.21). How? By establishing a new covenant with his people, “not for your sake… but for the sake of my holy name” (v.22). God will cause his name to be honored by forgiving sins, replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and giving people his own Spirit so they can walk in obedience to him (v.25-28). Jesus pleas for the fulfillment of this hope and invites us to join him. At the heart of our prayers should be a longing for God to spread his new covenant blessings to others so that they might honor his name.
And this is the first request Jesus gives us. He could have started anywhere with anything. But he begins with this.
We always pray for what we love. This is what Jesus wants to be central. “Here is what you should want most and therefore what should pray first.” The hope that many people would come to glorify God with all their hearts should be at the forefront of our minds and hearts. And if it’s first in our hearts, it will be first in our prayers.