If there is one word in Scripture that I wish English translations could do a better job for it would be in the very first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
“Hallowed be your name.”
Nobody says “hallowed” in ordinary conversation — so day after day, week after week, a whole lot of Christians pray for something they have no intuitive grasp of. I once heard about a kid who thought this line meant God’s real name was “Harold.”
The word refers to holding something as holy. In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, then, we ask that God’s Name may be held as holy.
Question 122 of the Heidelberg Catechism takes this line of the prayer in two directions. The phrase means, first of all,
“Help us to truly know you”
If we know God on a first name basis then we really know God — as opposed to just knowing some things about God. In the biblical world of both the Old and New Testaments names go to a person’s essence. Encounter God and you may find your own name changed, from Sarai to Sarah or from Simon to Peter. Knowing God’s Name is shorthand for having an intimate interpersonal knowledge of God — and that will change your life. And according to Heidelberg it implies that
- we will look for what God is doing around us
- we will look to see who God really is — God’s qualities and character.
And even in this text’s brief treatment we are supposed to be looking for a pretty significant list of qualities:
“almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth.”
Praying that we will hold God’s name as holy means looking for all these things; and finding them turns our lives around so that we “honor, glorify, and praise” God
In a way, that is the easy obvious bit. Heidelberg has a second, more challenging meaning to draw out. We should aim to live so that God’s name is actually honored by other people
“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.”
Personally I find that really convicting. I am acutely aware of times I’ve just been a jerk. And being a Christian jerk can cause people to dislike, distrust, and dismiss a Christian’s God — in short, to blaspheme God’s Name because of me.
On the other hand, I have friends and mentors whose ordinary living moves me to praise God.
- I think of Elaine Seppa a member of the congregation I joined in college who quietly came alongside university students, caring and praying and modeling adult faithfulness.
- I think of Samuel Hugh Moffet, my mission professor at Princeton Theological Seminary whose life and teaching and hospitality all embodied the Gospel with humble gentle love.
I could name others. Being around them makes me love God more. What they have in common is lives that reflect Christ’s endorsement of a very particular way of showing off:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
They hallowed God’s name.
What do you think of when you pray this line of the Lord’s Prayer?
Who have you known whose way of living makes God’s holy Name shine?
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