Return to Bible Studies
Hallowing the Name
"Hallowed Be Thy Name"
A Bible Study by
When it comes to the Lord's prayer, we are like tone deaf people at a concert. Tone-deaf people may study the concert program carefully, believe every statement made in it, speak respectfully of the quality of the music, but only really hear a few notes every now and then. That is the way most of us treat the Lords Prayer. We acknowledge its greatness, we say it every Sunday, but we never seem to hear what it has to say. We call it a sample prayer to teach us how to pray, but then we do not use it for that at all.
For example, the first petition of the Lord's prayer is the kind of thing that we never pray in our prayers. We never pray, "Hallowed be thy name." What does that mean anyway? The word hallowed is not in common use today. It is associated with the world holy, but that is another word that is greatly misunderstood today. We associate words like hallowed and holy with cloistered halls, long robes, and slow chants, but that is not what phrase "hallowed be thy name" is about. To pray that God's name should be hallowed is to pray that his name will be honored and reverenced.
And notice that this is the first petition of the Lords Prayer. This is the first thing Jesus taught us to pray for. Usually we put the most important thing first. Thus, the hallowing of the name of God is the most important part of our prayer life. That being true then, we should examine this phrase more carefully. What does it mean to honor, or reverence or hallow the name of God? It means that we worship God. Or, to put it another way, our worship is what we do when we hallow the name of God.
A MISTAKE? An unbeliever might describe worship as anti-survival behavior. That is, worship is behavior that does not seem to contribute directly to physical survival, which is the only kind of survival that an unbeliever recognizes. The worshipper is not producing food, clothing, shelter, she is not making money, she does not appear to be doing anything that is contributing to her physical survival; therefore, what she is doing must be unnecessary and unimportant. And so it might seem if we look at worship only outwardly. It might seem that worship is one of the least important things that we are doing with our lives.
That is what most people believe. You can tell that is what they believe because of the low priority that worship has in their lives. Worship is what we do last because we do not really believe that worship makes much difference. We say, "Earn you living first, and do all your shopping, and relax as much as you like, and then if we have some time left over, we might squeeze in a little bit of worship." But Jesus said worship is what you do first. Hallowing the name is the first petition of the Lords Prayer, and hence it should be the first thing in our lives. Do worship first. If you do not get to your job, if you do not get to your shopping or cleaning or whatever, worship, because that is the most important thing that we can do. Worship is the most profound response we can make to reality. Sometimes unbelievers say to us that we believers are not living in the real world. Jesus said that the truth is just the opposite. Only believers live in the real world. Only those who worship live in the real world.
THE WHOLE FABRIC OF LIFE may be seen as an act of worship. All living things are a proclamation of the splendor, the wonder, and the beauty of God. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship." If we look around with spiritual eyes, we see God everywhere and we see that only God matters. That is what all creation says to us. The whole of life is an act of worship; the whole of life is an act of glorifying its originator and sustainer. God is the goal of life. The visible world is a sacramental revelation of an invisible God.
All of life shows us that, and we know it to be true in our hearts. William Jennings Bryan said, "Man is a religious being; the heart instinctively seeks for a God. Whether he worships on the banks of the Ganges, prays with his face upturned to the sun, kneels towards Mecca or, regarding all space as a temple, communes with the heavenly Father according to the Christian creed, man is essentially devout."
Why is this so? Why do we worship? It can only be because some part of us recognizes a spiritual reality. We cannot in any rational or reasonable way prove that this spiritual reality exists, but some part of us knows that it is there. Our worship is a response to this knowledge that is deeper than all other knowledge. Worship is an acknowledgment of a deeper and different reality. It is an adoration of an eternal reality.
ADORATION. The first or central act of all worship is adoration. I once saw a painting that depicted the arrival of the shepherds at the stable on the night of Jesus birth. One shepherd had dropped to his knees and lowered his eyes in adoration. A second shepherd was standing on tiptoe trying to see the baby Jesus better. The third shepherd had lifted his hand as if taking a vow to serve and obey this newborn king. The painting depicted three elements of worship: Adoration, Learning, and Allegiance. We should pledge allegiance to our king, and we should seek to learn more about him, but above all we should adore him. Of all the elements of worship, Adoration is the most important. We adore because we have a sense of who God is. We sense Gods love and Gods power and Gods eternity.
The best illustration of adoration is found in Revelation ch4. John, the author of Revelation, described how he was caught up in a vision and looked into heaven and saw, in a burst of light and glory, the very throne of God. He heard thunder and saw lightning, and before the throne he saw a shining crystal sea, and around the throne he saw four living beings, which even in the symbolic language of Revelation defy imagination. They were four spiritual powers and the song that they sang was "Holy, holy, holy, Lord god almighty, which was and is, and is to come." That is adoration. That is worship.
SELFISH MOTIVES. We should adore and worship God like those four living beings, and the first step in doing that is to get out of ourselves as much as possible. David Brainerd was a missionary to the American Indians in the 1700s. He was one of the greatest mystics that our nation has every produced. In describing his prayers before his conversion, Brainerd said, "I saw that self-interest had led me to pray, and that I had never once prayed from any respect to the glory of God."(P380). He went on to say, "I saw...that there was no more virtue or goodness in them (my prayers) than there would be in my paddling with my hand in the water...and this because they were not performed from any love or regard to God." What Brainerd was saying was that selfish prayers do not work. The same is true of selfish worship. If we worship God, if we hallow his name, with the hope that God will notice our worship, that God will notice us, then the focus of our worship is not on God at all but on us. If we seek God for our own good and profit, we are not seeking God, we are seeking our own good and profit.
We need to get beyond that kind of thinking. We need to think less of me and mine and more of God. Again to quote Brainerd, speaking of the vision of God he had after he was converted, said, "My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought( as I remember) at first, about my own salvation, and scarce reflected that there was such a creature as myself."(381). He said that he was so caught up in God that he did not think about himself at all. That is the attitude of worship. We do not worship to get something from God, we worship simply because we sense the presence of God.
IMPERFECTION IN WORSHIP. Our worship is necessarily limited here and now because we are still imperfect human beings. Even the best of us now are still beset by sin and selfishness, we are not pure souls to worship the pure spirit, but we should remember that we are not worshipping what we are. We are worshipping God. We are worshipping something utterly beyond us and above us. It is only by keeping in mind who God is, that God is not like us, that God is distinct from us, that God is other than we are, that we can truly worship him. God is the absolute and the eternal who stands beyond time and space. It is only when we understand that that we can begin to worship.
WORSHIP NOT PRAYER. Worship in no way looks to see what God will give to us. In worship we look only to give ourselves to God. Here we need to differentiate between worship and prayer. Worship and prayer are closely related but they are not identical. Worship focuses only upon God and never on me. In prayer however, even though we are communicating with God, it is all right to bring in me and my needs. In worship we offer, in prayer we ask. When we say, Hallowed be thy name, that is worship. When we say, Lord, deliver me from my troubles, that is prayer.
Now, in real life, we never separate prayer from worship. We have personal fears and anxieties and personal troubles as well as a sense of almighty God, so our worship tends to be a combination of selfish need and unselfish adoration. Nevertheless, the more spiritual we are, the more we adore God, and the less we adore ourselves and dwell upon ourselves. When we first begin to worship, we say, I seek God because I need him. That is the attitude of prayer. But when we simply adore God, that is worship
TWO CURRENTS. In worship, two currents meet. One flows down from God. The other flows up from us. One descends, the other ascends. These two currents are to be found in all effective worship. The descending current is God revealing himself to us. The ascending current is our adoration of God. The descending current is always first. God reveals, then we respond to what we know of God. Our response is the hallowing of the name. It is worship.
SURRENDERED DEPENDENCE. To say that God must first reveal himself to us is to acknowledge that we are dependent on God. This acknowledgment of our dependence is always a part of worship. It is a part of the hallowing of the name. Wherever our purpose is not our comfort, our security, or our personal success, but the glory of God, then we are hallowing God's name.
Now we have differentiated between prayer and worship. Prayers can be about me; worship is about God, yet as we become spiritually mature, our prayers become more like our worship. When Jesus said, Ask and you shall receive, knock and the door will be opened, he did not mean that the door would be opened for us to make God into a servant. Prayer does not allow us to command God. But when the devoted believer comes to God and prays out of an intent to glorify God, then that believers prayer is answered. That believer finds the door to the presence of God standing wide open.
Take an example, in PS104:27 "These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season." The Psalmist is praying for food. You might say, "That is a selfish prayer Surely that is not adoration." But it is. The Psalmist is so surrendered to God that he can ask anything of God and it is part of his adoration. That is the level of spiritual development that we should be striving for.
MORE THAN CHURCH. Now we should not suppose that worship is just something that we do in church. Whatever we do that is oriented toward God is a hallowing of his name. Worship is not only what we do in church because God is not only in church. If we will but see him, God is everywhere, and when we see him, we see his beauty and his love, and we rejoice, and our rejoicing is part of our worship. Worship is all the responses of the soul to the great soul. Worship is all our godward activities.
AN ACT. Worship arises out of our spirit, but worship must take some concrete form. We are not just spirits, we are body and soul. We live in this physical world under conditions of time and place. Nothing is ever fully realized by us, or fully understood by us, until we make it real in time and space. Our desires and convictions do not become actual until expressed in words or deeds, and the more important our desires and convictions, the stronger the need to express them in words and deeds.
That is why in every human society, worship is expressed in institutions like churches and temples and in ritual acts and ceremonies. Whether it is the ghost dance of the plains Indians, or the high mass of the Roman Catholic church, or a morning sermon in the ARP church, the intent is the same. These rituals are powerful instruments to educate, stimulate, and maintain our sense of God.
The rituals of worship link us with our most remote ancestors. Thirty thousand years ago, prehistoric man was painting on the walls of his caves some of the most beautiful works of art that have ever been done. What were our ancestors doing, painting in the darkness thirty thousand years ago? These paintings were part of religious ceremonies. Those people were expressing in a concrete way their sense of a higher power. They were making their worship visible. Thirty thousand years later, we still have that same need. We need to make our worship visible.
This shows us then the real significance of those rituals and ceremonies that are common to all denominations and churches. Those rituals and ceremonies express the deep human conviction that none of the experiences of our lives mean anything except insofar as they hallow God's name. All the things that we do in church: your presence here, singing, and praying, and hearing the Word, things like baptism, confirmation, the Lord's Supper--all these external actions of our worship are ways of expressing our sense of God.
Of course, there is a danger here that we should not ignore. We should never allow the external action to smother the spirit that it represents. The great danger in the whole history of our worship of God is that form will smother spirit, ritual action will take the place of spiritual reality. We are not to think that the building is the church, that the Lords Supper is the Lord, that the act of baptism in itself cleanses us of our sins, rather all these things represent spiritual truth. We should not mistake the outward sign for the inward reality. We sd not confuse the externals of worship with worship.
An arp minister was telling me the other day that he omitted the Lords Prayer from the worship service one Sunday. The next session meeting, an elder challenged him on this and said, "If you do not do the Lord's Prayer, you don't worship." The minister snapped right back and said, "Look, nowhere in the Bible does it say that you must do the Lord's Prayer in order to worship"--Which is a good point.
The Bible does not spell out any worship service. There is no sacred order of worship. God's people have some freedom there. There is no sacred church organization. God's people have some freedom there. Why? Because those are forms, those are symbols, those are externals. Do not confuse the symbol with the reality. It is true that we must use symbols, but use them the way they are intended--not as objects of worship, but to help us worship. Use all the symbols of the faith to help you to respond to that sense you have of almighty God. Your response is important. Your "Hallow of the name is the most important thing you can do with your life. Amen.