Hallowed be your name - Matthew 6:9-13
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The story is told of a family that were preparing to go on their summer holiday. The morning of the departure came and the father of the family packed the car and got the three children in the back. Then he turned to the children and gave them a solemn warning. "Listen, kids. This time there is to be no mucking around. You have three chances to be good. If I have to turn around more than three times and tell you off, then I will stop the car turn round and go home. There will be no holiday for any of us." Well the children were suitably warned and quiet in the back of the car, at least for the first ten minutes. But then the trouble started. An argument broke out and Dad had to turn round. Thatís the first time, he warned. The minutes later, the same thing happened again. Thatís the second time he said. Once again a row broke out and Dad turned round for the final time and said, "Once more, and weíre all going home." Ten minutes later, the inevitable happened. Someone pinched someone else and a fight broke out, and Dad brought the car to a shuddering halt. "Thatís it, weíre going home." And with that he turned the car round, drove all the way back home, unpacked the car and put the kids straight to bed. Well the children were absolutely distraught. But the following morning, the father called a family meeting. "Your mother and I have been thinking, he said. We think itís only fair you get a second chance. So next Saturday, weíll try again. But weíre warning you, if any of you causes us grief, that really will be the end of the holiday." And with that the children vowed to be as silent as the grave in the car the following Saturday. But what the kids didnít know was that it was all a cunning plan. You see theyíd be planning to on holiday next Saturday all along. They just wanted the kids to behave.
Well having the right motivation is crucial for many things in life. Whether you want your children to behave or whether you get up to go to work in the morning or whether you challenge yourself to get fit. The right motivation is crucial. And as weíve studied the Lordís prayer over the least few morning services, weíve seen both good and bad motivations to pray. We saw in week one that weíre not to pray like the hypocrites who love to impress people with their prayers. Their motivation is pride and their own glory. And nor are we to pray like the pagans who try and badger God into giving them an answer by the very length of their prayers. Their motivation is to squeeze a blessing out of God rather like an angry student hitting a chocolate machine that has eaten his money. Instead we are to pray to God first and foremost privately, asking him for things. For that is simply what prayer is. Speaking to God, as a son speaks to his Father, and asking him for things. And then last week we explored the truth that God is our Father in heaven. He is the one who is our Father who cares for us and is willing to give us everything we need to live the Christian life, and he is the Father in heaven, who is Lord of all, the king of the universe who is able to give us everything we need.
But today we come to the first petition in the Lordís prayer. This is the first actual request that Jesus tells us to pray. "Hallowed be your name," or literally may your name be hallowed. Youíll remember that the structure of the prayer is of three requests first which centre on Godís glory and then three requests which focus on our needs. First and foremost in our prayers we are to be concerned with Godís glory and honour. And really that is the very heart of this first request we are considering this morning. For when we are praying "may your name be hallowed," we are praying that Godís name would be honoured, that he would be glorified, that his character and deeds would be made known and that people would praise and glorify God. And weíll see that this first petition is actually the driving force behind the whole prayer of Jesus. Because if we understand this first request properly then it helps us to understand all the others. If we pray for Godís name to be honoured then we will be concerned for his kingdom, his will, and weíll be longing to be people who have God centred desires and attitudes, which is precisely what the rest of the prayer is all about. And to be concerned for the honour and glory of Godís name is actually the best motivation to pray because it removes the focus from us and our problems onto God and his glory. So letís turn to this first request and weíll see that to pray that Godís name would be honoured means two things. It means first having a right understanding of God, and second it means having a right understanding of ourselves. And just so you donít get worried, weíll spend more time on the first point than the second.
1) A Right Understanding of God
So first it means having a right understanding of God. Now when Jesus says we are to pray, "hallowed be your name", or "may your name be hallowed", then what exactly does he mean? Well there has been a lot of misunderstanding about this word hallow. In fact the story is told of one little boy who misread a stained glass window in a church. The Lordís Prayer was written on the window but there wasnít enough room on the window to have each line fully. So the first line read, "Our Father which art in heaven hallo!" And then the next line read "Ed, be thy name!" But to hallow someone or something means to consider them holy or special or set apart. In fact we do use such language today in the sporting world. So we might talk about the hallowed turf of a particular sports ground, like Lordís cricket pitch or the hallowed turf of the KC stadium. And if you try and go onto the pitch you will be stopped. In fact it is against the law to invade the pitch at football stadia nowadays. The pitch is if you like holy ground. Itís set apart for a purpose and needs to be honoured. It mustnít be trampled on by commoners like you and me. So to hallow someone or something means to honour or revere something, to treat with respect. But Jesus says here that we are to hallow, or honour Godís name. So what does he mean by that? Well in Bible times, a personís name showed what he or she was truly like. It wasnít just a name tag. It was a description of you and your character. So Jacob means the deceiver, and that was what Jacob in the OT was like. Jesus means God saves and so that was what Jesus did. But when we choose names for our children, we donít give the meaning much thought. I like to think that my Mum and Dad knew that Nathan means gift, but I doubt they did. But if we are to honour or hallow Godís name, then really we are honouring or hallowing God himself, because his name is very closely tied to who he is. And to dishonour the name of God means to besmirch his character, to bring his reputation into disrepute. So when we are praying to God that his name might be hallowed, we are asking him to honour himself, to bring glory to himself, to defend the honour of his name and his character, or perhaps we might even say to enhance his own glorious reputation.
But how is it that God would do such a thing? Well to help us see how God honours his name, and so what it means exactly to pray this prayer, weíre going to spend a few moments in Ezekiel 36 which was our second reading. Now the prophet Ezekiel was writing to the people of Israel at a time when the people were in exile in Babylon. Israel as a land was destroyed and Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the people had been dragged across the desert to what is now Iraq. So letís read from verse 16 as we find out why they were in exile: "Again the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight. So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land.' I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone."
Now what we discover first of all is that God acts in judgement to defend the honour of his name. God says that he poured out his wrath on the people because they profaned his name by acting badly. They were supposed to be a light to the nations around them, but by their behaviour, they brought Godís name into disrepute. They as Godís people dishonoured Godís name. And so, verse 21, God has concern for his holy name which the house of the Lord profaned among the nations. Now weíll see later on that there is an application to us as Godís people who carry his name to act in a way which is consistent with his name. But for now we need to see that part of what it means to pray "may your name be hallowed or honoured" is to pray that God would defend his honour by judging. Whether itís in this life or the next. God will always defend the glory and honour his name. He will not let his character, his glory be maligned. He will act in judgement. And we see that time and again in the Bible.
But notice too another aspect of Godís honouring his name. Not just in judgement, but also in salvation. Verse 22-23: "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 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 show myself holy through you before their eyes." You see here God promises to bring his people out of the land of exile and to bring them back to their land. But why does he do it? Is it for their glory? No. It is for the sake of my holy name, says the Lord. God will defend his reputation and glory by rescuing his people and showing that he is the powerful one, he is the one who rules. And the result? Verse 23: "Then the nations will know that I am the Lord." People will end up glorifying God and honouring him as he acts in salvation to save his people. And that is ultimately why God will act. You see we tend to think that God acts to save his people for our own good, so that we might be forgiven. Well of course that is true. But there is actually a far deeper reason. And that is because God wants to defend his name, his glory, his reputation. His is honoured and glorified when he acts in judgement and salvation. He shuts the mouths of his enemies by bringing salvation to his people. So when we pray "may your name be hallowed," we are praying that God would rise up to defend his honour by acting in judgement and salvation. It begins in this world as God acts to save and to judge. But it will be fully and finally seen only at the end of time when God judges the whole world and brings his people into his kingdom. Ultimately weíre praying for the end of the world. Thatís what it means to pray "may your name be hallowed."
Now there are two particular applications of this truth which we need to take very seriously before we move on, which I have put in the form of two questions for us. The first is "how do you view God?" Because the God of the Bible is an awesome holy God glorious God who first and foremost is concerned with his glory and honour. Our problem is that essentially we are horribly self centred, and even as Christians we tend to think that God has saved us for our own good. But although that is true, there is this far deeper reason which the Bible highlights again and again. That God acts to glorify his name and his honour. That is the sort of God we are dealing with. A God who will judge the world and shut every mouth. A God who will graciously save his people because he longs to show to the universe through the weakness of the people of God that he is Lord and King. Is that the God you worship and adore? Is this your God? Or is your God the one who saves you and helps you yes, but really is just your personal God. No, this God is the God of the universe. A God of burning holiness and glory who will show the holiness of his great name. Do you believe that? Because if heís not your God, then your god is an idol. A false god, and not the God of the Bible.
But a second application of this truth is to ask the question "how do you treat God?" Because if this holy majestic God who defends his honour and glory is the true and living God, then how do you treat him? In todayís world, familiarity is the name of the game. Many of us will probably address our boss at work by their first name, whereas years ago we would probably have said Mr Smith or Mr Tinker. Often the older generation feel aggrieved that respect seems to have been lost. I remember hearing the Christian leader John Stott say that he wanted to be known as Dr. Stott, not because he was pompous and old fashioned, but because he felt that the title carried with it a certain amount of respect for oneís elder. Heís been an international Christian leader now for over 60 years, and he rightly has earned a certain level of respect. And he said he was fed up with 20 year olds bounding up to him and saying something like, "Yo John, man. Howís it hanging?" Perhaps emails and texting have added to our over familiarity with each other. Email etiquette is a source of great debate among some circles, but at the very least ways of addressing people have largely gone out of the window and have been replaced with "hi" or even nothing at all. And certainly with texting, then text language is something of a phenomenon in itself. We barely address each other when texting. Instead weíll say things like, "R U OK? C u this avo, 2pm. L8ters. N" Now I donít want to be heard to be fuddy duddy or old fashioned, but I wonder whether this relational familiarity has crept into Christian circles too when relating to God. Yes, we know God is our loving Father and rightly there is a deep intimacy that we are to enjoy. But we must never allow that intimacy to be replaced by treating God as if he were just a mate we hang out with, someone into whose presence we breeze without a care in the world, someone whose burning holiness we treat lightly. Do you spend time adoring God for his majesty, his greatness, his judgements, his acts of salvation. Or do you just launch in and say "Yo Dad. Iíve had a shocker today. Just sort out that guy at work will you. Ta. Laters!"
Let me tell you about someone who took God very seriously indeed, but also who loved him very deeply. In the eighteenth century there lived in Cambridge a man called Charles Simeon. He was a vicar and he sought to lead young students to become Christians. And one of those students was a man called Henry Martyn. Henry Martyn believed that if God was the true God and had done so much for him, then there was nothing that he should not do for God. So Henry Martyn gave up his glittering academic career and went to India as a missionary. It took him a year to get there, and almost immediately his health declined. He lasted only seven years before he died at the age of 31. And yet in his short life, Martyn translated the NT into Urdu, Arabic and Persian, through which many came to Christ. Before Henry Martyn left for India, Charles Simeon received a portrait of Martyn which he put in his study. Simeon used to say that Martynís eyes would stare at him and say "Donít trifle, donít trifle." Years later I would pray with friends at the same university every week in the room where that portrait hung, and it would say to us students hundreds of years later: "Donít trifle, donít trifle." I have no doubt that one of the reasons Martyn was willing to give his all for God was because he understood the God he prayed to. He realised that whilst God was his loving heavenly Father he was also a God who should not be trifled with, a God who must not be treated lightly. For he is a God who acts to defend his honour in judgement and salvation. And the first step to understanding what we are praying for when we pray "may your name be honoured" is to have a right understanding of God.
2) A Right Understanding of Ourselves
But the prayer "hallowed be your name" is not just about understanding who God is. It also has an effect on those who pray it too. For like all the requests in the Lordís Prayer it has a boomerang effect. Praying "may your name be honoured" asks us the question "how will you honour God?" You see we cannot simply pray "your name be honoured or hallowed and then leave it at that. Our lives will be affected too because we will want to honour God in our lives, just as he honours himself in the way he acts in judgement and salvation. And actually the rest of the prayer shows us three areas where will need to examine ourselves if we are to be people who honour Godís name. In other words the request "may your name be honoured" is the guiding principle for the rest of the prayer. So letís go back to Matthew 6 as we see briefly how honouring Godís name affects these three areas.
So first to honour Godís name will mean we adopt the right priorities. Because the next request after "may your name be hallowed" is "may your kingdom come, may your will be done". Weíll see next week that to pray "may your kingdom come" means to ask God to bring people into his kingdom, under his saving kingly rule. It means to pray that people would become Christians. May God act to bring people into his kingdom. And of course, that kingdom will be seen fully and finally when Jesus returns. So again we are praying for the end of the world, in one sense. And the way Godís name will be honoured will be as men, women, boys and girls, come into the kingdom of God, as they come to know the king personally. And that is Godís will for men and women. That they know him and honour him in their lives. So we need to examine ourselves as to whether we are living our lives with this priority. The kingdom of God should be our focus, because Jesus prayed that Godís kingdom would come. And that is one of the ways in which Godís name is honoured. So is the priority of the kingdom and obedience to him part and parcel of our thinking? Are we honouring God by working hard for his kingdom? Does that passion for the lost and obedience to his name drive us on in our lives? Because thatís a key part of what it means to honour the Lord.
Or what about the next request? "Give us today our daily bread". Here the focus is on the right dependence. That is we honour God by being totally dependant on him. He is the one who provides for us in every way, whether it be the food on our tables to the very breath in our lungs. But heíll also provide for us in the future, and as weíll see in a few weeks time, Jesusí words point forward to the end of time when God will provide fully for us in his fulfilled kingdom. So again, do we honour the name of the Lord by total dependence on him? Or are our lives marked by worry and fear that God will not provide as a heavenly Father for his children. One man whose life has challenged me on this aspect of honouring God is George Mueller. George Mueller ran an orphanage in Bristol for many years, and he became famous for his total trust and reliance on God to provide for him and the work. He was a great man of prayer, and he trusted God to provide. Now many times God provided through normal means, but sometimes he would provide in a way that was extraordinary. One morning, the family came down to breakfast, but there was no food to eat and no money to buy food. So Mueller gathered them all together at the breakfast table and prayed: "Father, thank you for what you are about to provide for this meal." At that moment there was a knock at the door and the local baker stood there. "Mr, Mueller, he said. Last night I couldnít sleep. Somehow I felt that you wouldnít have bread for breakfast and the Lord wanted me to send you some. So I got up at 2 in the morning and baked some fresh bread and have brought it." Mueller thanked the man, but no sooner had the man gone than the milkman knocked at the door. He said that his milk cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage and he would like to give the orphanage his cans of fresh milk so he could repair his cart. And so the children had a good breakfast that the Lord had miraculously provided. Now what that story illustrates is not that God will provide miraculously every time. Most of the time he provide us with the means to go to the shops and get what we need. But the point is all good things come from Godís hand and we must be dependent on him. And that was Muellerís secret. Absolute dependence on God to give him everything he needed, not necessarily what he wanted. But everything he needed. And that is God honouring behaviour. And the question for us is do we trust God to provide for us in each area of our lives. Perhaps not what we want, but what we need.
But finally, the last way to honour God which Jesus highlights in his prayer is the right desire. And that is seen in the final two requests. Verse 12: "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Here Jesus is talking about the right desire for holiness. That is we honour God by forgiving others and battling with sin. For if we say we honour God, and if we pray "your name be honoured" then we cannot foster bitterness in our hearts. We must forgive our debtors. If we say we honour God and pray "your name be honoured" then we cannot continue in sin. We need to seek Godís power to battle with sin and not be led into temptation. Once again, itís a boomerang prayer. To pray "your name be honoured" means to honour God in the way we live. To hate sin and love others. And such behaviour in those who follow Jesus is honouring to the God whose name we bear. And if you and I are to pray your name be honoured properly, then we must have a right understanding of ourselves. We need to adopt the right priorities, the right dependence and the right desire.
Well there are many reasons to pray, but I cannot think of a greater motivation than the one we have seen today. The glory and honour of Godís name. And if we are to pray such a requests properly, if we genuinely long for Godís name to be honoured and glorified, then we must take on board these two lessons. To have a right understanding of God and a right understanding of ourselves.
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