Last week we looked at a number of reasons to pray, mainly because God has invited us to and through Jesus given us an example of how to do it. Jesus prayed a lot and I’m sure His disciples wondered what the secret was. In fact I know they wondered because they asked him outright in the parallel passage to the Lord’s prayer in Luke 1. They asked “Teach us to pray.” I don’t know about you, but prayer doesn’t come naturally to me and I find it to be the hardest discipline to do in the Christian life. That is why, when Jesus responds to our request to teach us, we had better sit up and take notice.
At the outset I want to make clear that Jesus is not just giving an example prayer to repeat. Just say these words and that will do. When it says “pray then like this” it means ‘pray in this manner’ or ‘this is the sort of thing you should pray’. It is not saying ‘repeat these exact words’. I believe Jesus is giving us a template, a group of headings if you like, to help us pray effectively.
The first heading “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name” is packed with amazing truth and the best way we should start all our prayers. Let me just unpack a few thoughts to help us.
There is no other religion past and present that would presume to call their god “Father”. It is an absolutely extraordinary statement and we have sadly lost the wonder of it through over-familiarity. It is true that the scribes and Pharisee’s would have been aware that God had revealed himself as a father in a couple of places in the Old Testament. Amongst others:-
for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. (Jeremiah 31:9)
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)
But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
But there is a big difference between having the concept of God being a father figure over a nation and coming to God individually and calling Him ‘Father’.
This concept can be quite difficult for some people. The word ‘father’ can have very negative connotations. Some earthly fathers can be distant, cruel and even violent and can cloud our understanding of what a true father should be. We need to read and meditate on the bible and see how God reveals himself as a loving, kind and forgiving father. A good example of the sort of father that God has revealed himself to be is found in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The more we meditate on that sort of father, the more we can appreciate what God is truly like. What a comforting thought to start our prayers with, we come to a God who is for us and passionate about us, who loves us and wants the absolute best for us.
It mentions that our father is in heaven, this is not referring to its physical position but focuses on the fact that He is ‘other’ and different from His creation. Heaven is the place of His majesty and glory. He is above us, lofty and transcendent. It’s the place of His rule and control. It distinguishes the one true God from pale imitations. He is in heaven, they are not.
So what does “hallowed be your name mean?”
The word ‘hallow’ means to sanctify or make holy or treat as holy. It is an intense desire that God’s name would be recognised and made known, that it would be set apart and adored, I believe this is a request or a petition and not a declaration. It comes from a heart of worship. The best thing to do when praying is to start with worship. Honouring and revering God starts us off on the right foot. We are not principally coming with a list of wants or concerns and demands. It is not a list of things that are troubling us at the moment that we rattle off. The reason we are worshipping is to give reverence and respect to the one we are approaching.
God’s name is multi-faceted. It means many things in the bible and has many aspects and characteristics. Some examples are:
· The Lord our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
· The Lord who heals (Exodus 15:25-26)
· The Lord who provides (Genesis 22:1-14)
· The Lord our shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
· And many, many more.
As you encounter these names in your bible reading, use them in your prayers back to God. If, for instance, you know someone who needs healing, pray that His name would be honoured through their healing.
What a wonderful platform to start a prayer. A declaration that the loving father, who is close and approachable, is also seated above all things in heaven and is in control. That same God has revealed many aspects of His character and can meet all of our needs as we pray to Him.
Next week we will look at what it means when it says “Your kingdom come.”