Hallowed Be Thy Name
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. – Matthew 6:9-13
The sixth chapter of Matthew is an instructive chapter in which Jesus shared with His disciples a number of aspects of righteous living. In verses 9-13, He taught them what we now know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” which remains the model prayer for believers today. Entire books have been written about it, but we will not attempt to dissect every detail. Instead, I would like to closely consider the opening portion of His prayer, especially the first petition. In order for the rest of the prayer to be offered correctly, the opening must be offered correctly first, so this is a key part of the prayer.
An overview of the Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is something we encourage children to learn and memorize, and as adults, we also pray these words. Yet prayer must go beyond a simple reciting of words. In fact, before Jesus gave His prayer, He addressed this issue directly. In verses 7-8 He said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” It is not that the more times we say these words, the more we will be heard. Nor is this prayer some type of mystical spell where this particular combination of words has special power. Rather, when we talk to God it must be with an honest and sincere heart, and then if we follow the example given by our Lord, our efforts will be that much more effective.
Jesus’ model prayer consists of three parts. First there is the preface in verse 9, followed by six petitions in verses 9-13, and then the conclusion in the latter portion of verse 13. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer is the opening address, “Our Father which art in heaven.” This reminds us that we approach God as our Father. We are His children; He cares for us and loves us. Yet, He is not just an ordinary father—He is our Father which is in Heaven. He is an eternal, unlimited God, and He sees things differently than we do because we are limited. It is always important to begin our prayers to God remembering that we are addressing our loving Father, and also recognizing that He is not from here but Heaven.
Of the six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, the first three relate to God and His honor: “Hallowed be thy name,” “Thy kingdom come,” and “Thy will be done.” The last three petitions have to do with our needs and concerns: “Give us this day our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” and “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The conclusion, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,” reminds us that God is sovereign, and therefore deserves all praise.
The meaning of “Hallowed be thy name”
As we consider the significance of the first petition, “Hallowed be thy name,” we need to understand what these words literally mean. To begin, the word be indicates a wish or desire. In modern vernacular we might instead say “may your name be hallowed.” The word name is often used in Scripture to symbolize a person. For instance, in Proverbs 18:10 we read, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” We understand in that verse that “the name of the Lord” represents God himself, and when we run to Him we are safe. Likewise in the Lord’s Prayer, we are not asking that only God’s name be hallowed, but God himself.
The word hallowed means “to be made holy, sanctified, or held sacred or in high esteem.” This word is used frequently in Scripture; the Levites, for example, were hallowed to God, as was the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple and its instruments. All of these were hallowed or sanctified—set apart from profane or even common use, to be used only for sacred purposes. So this is a petition for God to be set apart from any common usage and to be holy.
Of course, God is infinitely holy; He cannot be more holy than He already is. That means the intent of this petition cannot be to somehow make God holier. Rather, the words are for our benefit, and this is a hint to us that prayer has more to do with changing us than changing God. We are asking God to make Himself holy in our hearts and in our minds. We want to recognize the reality of His holiness, and for Him to be glorified and magnified in our lives. Thus, when we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are praying, “May You be made holy in our lives.” That is what “Hallowed be thy name” means.
A matter of priorities
Once, I heard a story of a man who liked to talk about himself often. One day he was speaking with a coworker and talked about himself for about an hour. Then he said, “I’ve talked about myself long enough,” and he turned to his coworker and asked, “What do you think of me?”
We don’t want to be that type of coworker, and we also don’t want that scenario to happen in our prayer lives. Jesus provided a model for prayer that we ought to follow, and in His model there is a hierarchy of priorities—the petitions about God come first, and then the petitions for us follow. The point is that when we begin our prayers, our attention should first be on God, not ourselves. Our prayer is not about us, or who we are, or who we are not. It is not about others, or what they are or are not. It is not about what we have or have not done, and it is not about what others have or have not done. From the start, our focus and our attention is on God and His name.
People are usually really good at praying, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That petition is about our physical, earthly needs, and most people are very comfortable bringing these to God. It is not bad to bring our needs and concerns to God; James 4:2 says, “. . . ye have not because ye ask not,” so we know that asking is something we ought to do. But before we go into our personal concerns, of which we have many, we should say, “First of all, God, my attention is on You. May Your name be holy in my life. May You establish Your kingdom. May we do Your will here on earth as it is done in Heaven.”
The result of putting God first
As we direct our prayers to God in the model of the Lord’s Prayer, focusing on His holiness and sovereignty, we are reminded of how great, how mighty, and how loving He is. Praise comes naturally from our hearts, and that praise brings Him glory. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He was speaking specifically of the Cross, but also as we lift Him up in our praises, He draws everyone to Himself.
Psalm 22:3 says God inhabits the praises of His people, so as we praise Him, He comes closer to us and we get a glimpse of His holiness. We gain a greater sense of who He is and where we are in relation to Him. In Scripture we read of a time when that happened to the prophet Isaiah. Chapter 6 of the Book of Isaiah records how he got a glimpse of God and cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah realized his unclean condition; he saw his need for cleansing, and as a result, his iniquity was taken away. This happens to us, too. When we get a glimpse of God’s holiness, it causes us to cry out, “God, make me holy! Change me that I might bring You glory.” That is a prayer God will certainly answer.
More than words
Prayer is not just words that we say; our prayers represent our sincere desires and beliefs, and they are embodied in the way we live. When we say, “Thy will be done,” our entire beings are wrapped up in that prayer—we want God’s will in every aspect of our lives and we are committed to doing His will with His help. In the same way, when we pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” our whole being is concerned with honoring God and His name.
Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Through our conduct, we want to shine the light of the Gospel and glorify our Father which is in Heaven. We could ask ourselves, Am I making the Father look good? Am I hallowing His name and bringing glory to Him? We hallow God’s name with our edifying words and pure conversation. We hallow His name in our thoughts throughout the day as we keep our minds stayed on Him. We hallow His name through our conduct in our families, in our marriages, and in our relationships; at our jobs and at school; with our money and time—we honor Him with everything we have. When we pray “Hallowed be thy name” we are saying, “Father, may Your name be made holy through my life. May my life be a light that gives glory to You, and may those who look at me see that You are holy, and that it is possible to live holy and righteously in this present world.”
The right approach
The Bible is practical, and through Jesus’ prayer, we have a practical model of how to approach God. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to come to God with our attention fully on Him and who He is, so that He can change us into His own image, bringing glory to Him. We may have many topics we want to talk to the Lord about, and many burdens on our hearts that need God’s intervention. Yet, before we bring up those things, we want God to know that our first priority is Him: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
When we approach God that way, we will find we won’t need as much time to tell God about our troubles. Once we have put God in His rightful place in our hearts, all we have to say about the rest is, “Lord, You know all about it.” May we approach God as Jesus instructed, that God would be glorified in all of our lives.