Recently, I read about a little boy kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, "Dear God, please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night's sleep." Suddenly he looked up and shouted, "And don't forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!" His mother said, "There is no need to shout like that. God isn't deaf." The little boy replied, "No, but Grandma is."[i]
A lot of people grow up learning to pray this way—enumerating a wish list as if God were a grandparent in the sky, waiting to grant their requests. The disciples likely heard their religious teachers doing the same thing, but noticed that Jesus never prayed this way. So they asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples (Luke 11:1).” [ii] In response, Jesus gave what we call the Lord’s Prayer—and there are two versions found in Luke 11:2-4 and Matthew 6:9-13. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn to pray, Jesus’ way.
Matthew 6:9 begins the prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” From the very beginning, Jesus wants us to understand that the name of God is sacred and holy—that’s what the word “hallowed” means. “Hallowed be thy name” means that God’s name is so much higher than any human name. In fact, God’s name is so holy that God didn’t want us human beings to name God—because God knew that we’re bad at coming up with names. For example, have you noticed how bad some of the names of Bible characters are? Some of them are hard to pronounce, but I’m talking about some Bible names that are just bad. Like…
There are three separate guys in the Bible named Dodo. Seriously, can you imagine being David and going into battle and saying, “Yeah, I’d like to take Samuel and Daniel and Dodo over there.” Yeah, Dodo—I’m sure he’ll have your back. Then there’s a guy named On. I don’t know what to say about that, so I’ll just move On, and talk about someone else. Abraham’s nephew was probably the youngest of a big family. They had such huge families in those days—Finally, after maybe fifty kids or so, when Daddy named this little baby, he wiped his forehead and said, “Now that’s a Lot!”
See, I’m pretty sure that people giving their babies names like this proved to God we weren’t good at naming things. God wanted to name Himself instead. If we got to name God, we’d probably call Him something like Sky Daddy, or Super Judge, or Thunder Chief! And, unfortunately, that’s how many of us see God. But instead of letting people name God, God defined Himself. Exodus 3:13-15 says:
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.
In Hebrew, I AM is YHWH, because Hebrew has no printed vowels. If it were pronounced, it would be Yahweh, but this is a name so hallowed that many devout Jewish people refuse to pronounce it. To avoid pronouncing Yahweh, some have altered and Latinized the name as Jehovah. Even in English, some who refuse to pronounce the name of God render it as G-d instead. The translators of the King James Version of the Bible chose to honor God’s name by substituting the phrase LORD (all caps) whenever YHWH is found. All of these are ways of honoring the name of God by avoiding pronunciation or printing—which is silly, considering God told Moses and the people to actually use the Divine Name.
So, perhaps instead of avoiding God’s name, we ought to call God by the many names we find in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, which all point to aspects of God’s character. The Bible uses male imagery for God such as lord, king, father, and defender. Yet it also compares God to a mother bear, mother eagle, mother hen, a woman in childbirth, and a nursing mother. Still other names for God are genderless—images such as a rock, or light, strength, song, beginning and end, or living water. Jesus started The Lord’s Prayer by honoring the name of God. Perhaps one way to do this is to recognize the attributes of God when you pray. Make your understanding of who God is more complete by calling God by different names, perhaps according to the way you’re feeling that day, or depending on your situation.
Another way to honor the name of God is by not taking it in vain. This is perhaps the most misunderstood of the commandments God gave Moses. Many people think it means that we shouldn’t use God’s holy name as a curse word (which we shouldn’t). But I think it goes deeper than that. When one person takes another person’s name in marriage, they fully identify with that person, and become part of their family. To then be unfaithful, or to act as if they weren’t married, would be taking that person’s name in vain. In a country where claiming to be Christian can be advantageous, many politicians and people of business join religious organizations or call themselves Evangelicals, all the while behaving as if they’d never heard of Jesus. If you pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” you’ve got to be kind of person who strives to live the principles of God. When you pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” perhaps in addition to recognizing God for who God is, you’re saying, “May I honor Your name, not just with the words I say but the with the things I do.” To call yourself a Christian means to try to live the character (or the names of God) in your own life. Only when you do this, does the rest of the Lord’s Prayer make any sense.
[i] http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Prayer/Speak_Up.shtml. December 15, 2017.
[ii] Scripture quotations taken from the NIV.