Part 2 / Matt. 6:9-13
What do you want most? What do you desire above all else? When we are asked those questions, we almost instinctively know that there are right and wrong answers. We know that there are things that we are supposed to want, but if we are honest, we would rather have something else. Like a beauty pageant princess, we say that we want world peace, but we would rather have the crown.
Our prayers reveal a lot about our priorities. Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34). Our hearts are idol factories, the chief idol being “self”. Our prayers often reflect a concern for our own interests more than it does a reverence for God. We ask God to serve our idols and then we are surprised when God says, “No!” No, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he showed them where every true prayer starts.
Where true prayer starts
After addressing his heavenly Father, assuming the proper posture of respect and trust, Jesus prays: “hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10). This is not how we usually start our shopping list of prayer requests!
What do these requests have in common? Their primary concern is God’s glory, kingdom, and purposes. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples first focusses on what God wants, before it turns to our needs and wants. This is foreign to our modern minds. We live in a world that constantly tells us that we deserve to have our every need met and our every desire fulfilled. We approach our spiritual lives in much the same way. We look for churches where our felt needs are met. We volunteer only the surplus of our time, talent, or resources. Our prayers sound more like a reading from our Christmas Wishlist than fellowship with our heavenly Father.
Something has to change. We need to reprioritize. The apostle John helpfully points out what our priority should be: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15). One of the reasons why our prayers seem so powerless, is because we do not “ask according to his will”. Maybe we need an armband that says “WWJP”: What Would Jesus Pray.
Praying according to the will of God
What is God’s will? I have often heard believers say that it is impossible to know the will of God without a voice from heaven or a vision. It is true that God has not revealed everything to his children. Deut. 29:29 does say: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God”). But he has revealed enough; the rest of Deut. 29:29 reads: “but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” If this were not true, then Paul’s admonition would make no sense: “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17).
God’s will is revealed in the commands, promises, and prayers of God’s Word. For example, 1 Thess. 4:3 tells us “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality”. That is pretty clear. How often do we pray for our sanctification and purity? Our problem is not that God has hidden his will, but rather that we have not paid attention to what he has revealed. So let me ask again: What Would Jesus Pray?
Hallowed be your name
The first request or petition is found in Matt. 6:9: “hallowed be your name”. We do not put much stock in names nowadays. We rarely think about what they mean or represent. Maybe you’ve read about actors naming their children strange things like “Pilot Inspector” or “Moon Unit”. I shudder to think of the playground insults that their kids will have to endure.
Biblical names meant something. This does not mean that some of them weren’t strange. Isaiah called one of his sons Maher-shalal-hash-baz after all, but even this strange name meant something: “hasting to the spoil, hurrying to the prey” (Isa. 8:3). This name was chosen to symbolize Assyria’s mad lust for conquest. Even here the name had meaning.
Think of how many times the Lord changed someone’s name to signal a significant change in their lives: Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Jacob became Israel; Simon was called Cephas or Peter. These new names came to represent a new identity, or if you want to use gospel language, a new person: “he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Similarly, God’s name is significant. For example, in Acts 4:12 we are told that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Later we are told that the disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name (Acts 5:41). God’s name represents God as he has made himself known. Herman Bavink wrote: “There is an intimate link between God and his name... We do not name God; he names himself… The name is God himself as he reveals himself”.
This means that when Jesus instructs his disciples to pray, “hallowed be your name,” he has God’s person, being, character, and work in mind. God’s name, as a revelation of God, is great (Ezek. 36:23), holy (Ezek. 36:20), and awesome (Ps. 111:9). That is why it must be “hallowed”.
But what does “hallowed” mean? The word means to regard as holy or set apart. In asking for God’s name to be hallowed, we are asking that God’s name would be set apart from every other name. Wayne Mack explains: “we pray for God to be regarded in a different way from everyone else”. When Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them. Moses then said to Aaron, "This is what the LORD has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” (Lev. 10:1-3).
God should not be approached or regarded like pagan idols, nor should he be treated as though he were just one of us. That is why God’s name should be hallowed – it is to give God as he has revealed himself respect, honour, and glory. Praying for his name to be hallowed means that we implore God to help us honour him and that other’s would do the same.
Commenting on the Lord’s prayer, Martin Llyoyd-Jones wrote: “The word hallowed means to sanctify or revere, to make and keep holy. Why does He say, ‘Hallowed be Thy name’? What does this term ‘Thy name’ stand for?... ‘Thy name’, in other words, means all that is true of God, all that has been revealed concerning God. That means that God in all his attributes, God in all that He is, in and of Himself, and God in all that He has done and all that He is doing.”
What would Jesus pray? He would pray that his Father would receive the glory that is his due. It is this desire that moved Jesus to pray: “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39), in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is this same desire for God’s glory that moved the disciples to pray for boldness even under threat of persecution (Acts 4:29). That is the first thing that Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “hallowed be your name”.