The disciples had some problems with praying. Though they’d been taught by their parents over the years, and by the priests and teachers of their day no doubt too, they somehow did not feel at ease to speak with God. Was the problem that they didn’t know what to say? Was the problem that they felt their prayers were bouncing off the ceiling? Whatever it was, they sought help: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).
In His reply to the disciples’ request, the Lord Jesus said this: "When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your Name" – and the rest of the Lord’s Prayer. The first item of Jesus’ instruction about prayer was that the disciples should know to whom they were speaking. The fact that God is not a heavy fisted tyrant, the fact that He is instead a ‘Father’ as the word is defined by passages at Deut 32, makes speaking to Him far more attractive, easy.
Jesus’ answer to His disciples did not stop with His instruction about to whom they were praying. Jesus continued His instruction by telling His disciples what they were to pray about. That is: Jesus gave instruction about what attitude they were to have in prayer, what the focus of their prayers was to be. It is the first petition that draws out Who is to be central to prayer: "Hallowed be Your Name." Not the self but God is to stand central in our speaking with Him. In what follows, I wish to draw out the Scriptural material behind this petition. A following instalment should draw out, in practical manner, the consequences of this instruction for our prayers.
God, three in One, had existed from all eternity. He alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was there, never lonely, never lacking anything, always sufficient in Himself, great beyond measure. It pleased this God to create a world. He did not do so because He was lonely. Nor did He do so because He was bored. He rather did so for the sake of His own good pleasure. I read in Isaiah 43 the following words:
In all places of His dominion" (Psalm 103:22).
Yes, there came the fall into sin. With the fall into sin God was no longer glorified by His handiwork, least of all by the human race. We may say it this way: with the fall into sin the first petition was frustrated; creation was no longer able to give to God the praise that was His due. Satan with his demons could gloat over the success of their vandalism.
But precisely because the Lord God was worthy to receive all glory, precisely because He had made the world for His own name’s sake, the Lord could not leave His creation so defaced by sin. For the sake of His own Name and the glory of His holy reputation, the Lord sought out our fallen parents from behind the shrubs of Paradise and proclaimed to them the redemption He promised to give in Jesus Christ. He wished to redeem the elect from the power of the devil –why?– "to the praise of the glory of His grace" – says Paul in Ephesians 1:5f.
This, then, is the reason why the world exists, is the reason why you, dear reader, exist, and why I exist too: we are here, the world is here, for the glory of God! I do not exist for me, you do not exist for your own pleasure; you and I and all creatures are here for the glory of God. I exist for God, and therefore everything I do –from things big to things small, be it writing out a cheque for the church or paying for a hamburger at Hungry Jacks– everything I do is to be directed to the glory of God. I exist for God, and so my life is to be God-centred. I Cor 10:
Hallowed be Your name
Well now: if God is to be central to my life, if all I do is to be directed to the glory of God –including something so common and this-worldly as eating and drinking– if all I do is to be directed to the glory of God, surely my prayers need also to be directed to the glory of God. If the very purpose of my existence is the glory of God, it’s just not acceptable for me to pray with myself as the focus of my prayer.
This is the notion that Jesus placed before His disciples when He addressed them on the content of prayer. The disciples wanted to know how to pray. Said Jesus: "when you pray, say: ‘Hallowed be Your Name." Said Jesus: when you pray, make sure God is the focus of your speaking with Him, ask God to make His glorious reputation more glorious yet. Says Jesus to Peter and to Nathanael and to Andrew and to the rest: God’s glory is the thought that’s to dominate your prayers, that’s the thought that determines the focus of your praying. Says Jesus to the twelve: praying is not that you come to God with a list of your personal requirements (as you see them); praying is that you come to God with God’s glory in mind: ‘Hallowed be Your name.’
The application of this instruction to our own prayers will be dealt
with in the next article.