This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(122) Q. What does the first petition mean?
A. “Hallowed be your name” means: Help us to truly know you, to honor, glorify, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth. And it means, Help us to direct all our living—what we think, say, and do—so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.
To pray rightly we must know why we exist. We should pray for “everything we need” (Q&A 118). But “need” is defined by purpose. So we always pray according to our goals. If we think we exist to live long, healthy, and safe lives, it will show in our prayers. In that case, we will pray to God but not about God.
But if we know we were made “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever,”[i] our prayers will be quite different. “Hallowed be your name” teaches us not only to pray to God but also about God and his glory.
Understanding the Petition
The four words of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer raise several important questions.
What is God’s name?
God’s name stands for God himself and all his attributes and works.[ii] To hallow the name means to “truly know” God. Scripture often links God and his name. “Praise the Lord! … praise the name of the Lord!” (Ps. 113:1). The psalm’s parallelism shows that the name of the Lord is not just his title; it represents all that he is. In the first petition, we seek help not only to honor a name but to honor God himself.
What does it mean to hallow?
“To hallow” can mean “to set apart.” When “the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exod. 20:11) he distinguished it from the six ordinary workdays. The seventh day is special, distinct from the others because God declared it so. But this is not exactly how “to hallow” works in the Lord’s Prayer. The verb can also mean to recognize as holy. Moses hallowed the ground around the burning bush by taking off his sandals; he didn’t make that ground holy. He accepted the truth that the place on which he was standing was holy ground and responded accordingly (Exod. 3:5). This idea of recognizing and honoring holiness helps us appreciate what Jesus is teaching us to pray for in the first petition.
How is God’s name hallowed?
God is totally unique from creatures, unable to sin or to become better or worse than he is. “The Lord our God is holy!” (Ps. 99:9). We don’t make him holy. But we acknowledge his perfect purity and glorify him precisely because he is so different than us in all the right ways. This is how the holy angels hallowed God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts” (Isa. 6:3). They heralded his set-apart-ness. To hallow God’s name “means nothing else, than to give unto the Lord the glory due to his name.”[iii]
Ultimately God hallows himself. “I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 38:23 NKJ). God does not need us to hallow him. And he will show himself holy in spite of us. When the Israelites grumbled against God at Meribah and Moses disobeyed him by striking the rock, God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Num. 20:12 NKJ). Strikingly, Moses summed up the episode with these words: “the children of Israel contended with the Lord and he was hallowed among them” (Num. 20:13). Israel did not hallow God. But God still hallowed God. What God commands he will surely do. “And you shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel” (Lev. 22:32).
The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a request for God to show his unique beauty in the world and to help us partner with him in that glorious calling.
Praying the Petition
In praying “hallowed be thy name” we’re not merely expressing our hearts’ desire for the Lord to be sanctified. We’re making a request. We “acknowledge the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honor God aright” and ask him to make it so.[iv] We need God’s help setting the Lord apart in our minds, hearts, and lives.
Pray for help to know God.
When a light shines in a dark room, the light is sanctified—set apart from darkness. So, when God reveals himself in his “almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth,” he sets himself apart from his creation. Pray for God to flood your mind with the light of his truth, so that you would “truly know” him—that he would be set apart in your mind.
With this request comes a responsibility. Scripture commands us to grow in the “knowledgeof our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Over sixty years ago an American pastor believed it evident “that our people manifest less interest in doctrine than they did three or four decades ago.”[v] What would he say today? For the church to grow in experiential knowledge of God we must have a revived interest in his word and in sound literature that can help us better know God. Pray and work for that revival.
Pray for help to worship God.
We need God’s help “to honor, glorify, and praise [him] for all [his] works and for all that shines forth from them.” We need God to captivate us by his complete transcendence so that we will overflow in praise and worship. We heartily honor Christ the Lord as holy (1 Pet. 3:15) when we “with sincerity and fervency adore him, when our thoughts of him are [filled with awe and reverence] … and when we give him the glory due to his most illustrious perfections.”[vi]
Pray for help to live for God.
We need God’s help “to direct all our living—what we think, say, and do—so that [his] name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.” Martin Luther was right: “he that teaches and lives otherwise than God’s Word teaches, profanes the name of God among us.”[vii] Because baptism links us to Jesus, our lives reflect on him, for better or worse. Too often we hallow our own names like the hypocrites Jesus criticized (Matt. 6:5). Paul was blunt: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24). Instead, let’s ask the Lord to make our “light shine before others” so that they might glorify him on account of our good works (Matt. 5:16). “What the Ten Commandments ask us to do is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.”[viii]
Everything we do can influence how people view God and therefore whether they honor or blaspheme him. And so we pray in the first petition for divine mindfulness that will translate into actions that honor God—this is why we exist! But we are comforted to know that we’re not the ultimate guardians of God’s honor. We ask God for help in hallowing him, trusting that he will hallow his name in us.
[i] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 1.
[ii] Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 630.
[iii] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 318.
[iv] Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 190.
[v] R.B. Kuiper, To Be or Not to Be Reformed: Whither the Christian Reformed Church? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 44.
[vi] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 6.1024–1025.
[vii] Martin Luther, Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965), 13.
[viii] Fred Klooster, Our Only Comfort, 2.1085.