Hallowed Be Thy Name

nypl.digitalcollections.893c6368-dd7a-f51a-e040-e00a18064448.001.rAn athlete focused on things other than training isn’t going to be a very good athlete (at least not for too long).  A musician who doesn’t devote her primary energies to practicing will never be a great musician.  Devote the scraps and leftovers of your energies to your relationship with your spouse and you will get a crummy marriage.  It is impossible to overstate the importance of rightly ordered priorities.

The Lord’s Prayer is often broken down this way: An introduction (Our Father, Who Art in Heaven), a conclusion (For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory…), and, in between, seven petitions (petition is just another name for a request, something we ask for).  The first petition is “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”

Two observations about the language here.  First: this doesn’t sound like a petition at all.  It sounds more like a declarative statement.  It sounds like we are saying, “Lord, your name is hallowed.” But we’re not.  We are actually asking God for something.  We are asking God, “Lord, let your name be hallowed!”  The form of the verb is what is called a third person imperative.  An imperative gives a command.  When concerning someone of greater authority, however, it doesn’t carry the sense of a command, but of a petition.  A request is being made.

The second language issue here is the term “hallowed” itself.  This is not a commonplace word for us.  In fact, I’d wager that most folks never use this term outside of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer!  So what does it mean?

We can zero in on the meaning by considering a more commonly used English cognate: Halloween.  What is “Halloween” (besides being an occasion to dress up and ask our neighbors for candy)?  “Halloween” is short for “All Hallows Eve,” or “The Night before All Hallows Day.”  Which raises the question, what is All Hallows Day?  Well, it is All Saints Day – a day set apart in the liturgical calendar to remember and celebrate all of the saints.  “Saints” is just a term for all those who’ve been set apart as holy unto the Lord: that is to say, believers in Jesus Christ.

So the archaic English term “hallow” has to do with “holiness.”  And the petition to ask God to let his name be hallowed would best be understood as something like this: Please, Lord, let your name be made holy!

Now that is an interesting place to begin a prayer!  Think of all the things you ask God for, have asked God for, will ask God for.  We make requests for healing, for financial blessing and provision, for food, for our children, and for a great many other things.  But Jesus says, “When you pray, here is a model for you.  Start out by asking God for his name to be set apart as holy!  That’s where you should begin!”

First things are first.  According to Jesus, the first thing that should be in our hearts and minds when we turn to our God, the first petition in terms of priority and importance shouldn’t concern us and our temporal worldly needs at all; rather our first desire should be for God to be honored and glorified through the setting apart of his name as holy.

When this is our first desire, all else pales in comparison.  When this is our first desire, so much that seems absolutely vital and essential from our limited earthly perspective becomes secondary, tertiary, or just downright irrelevant.  What matters, what really matters, is that God’s name be recognized, adored, worshiped, glorified: that he be hallowed.

Praying this way, putting this first, has the practical effect of reorienting our priorities, of turning upside down our understanding of what is really important.  What is first in the desire of your heart?  Is it the hallowing of the name of God?  If not, then your petitions are disordered.  Let’s reorient our priorities around the model Jesus provides.