Matthew 6:9 (NIV) “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,”
The first phrase is this verse, “This then is how you should pray…” connects the Lord’s prayer to the preceding section. Jesus was not giving His followers a rote prayer to be mindlessly repeated. He was showing them what prayer looks like in the kingdom of God. This prayer is a direct contrast to the wordy prayers of the idolaters that He just finished condemning. It contains no pleading, no begging, no babbling or “vain repetitions.” Instead, its main focus is on God, and on the things each member of God’s kingdom legitimately needs each day.
The prayer begins with a recognition of the pray-er’s relationship to God. “Our Father in heaven.” Today very few people really appreciate the ground-breaking, earth-shattering, tradition-rocking impact of teaching believers to address God, the creator and ruler of the universe, as Father. Prior to Jesus, some rabbis had written about God as the father of Israel in a philosophical sense. But Jesus made it personal. He instructed His followers to address God in the same way that He Himself did, to see themselves as God’s rightful children right at the outset of their prayers.
This invitation to address God as Father came with two qualifiers:
- The word “our” is vital, not incidental. When any one of God’s children approach Him in prayer, they always come as a member of God’s people, a part of the people of the kingdom of God. There is comfort in this, knowing that no matter what is going on around me, I am not alone, but am part of a great multitude beyond numbering (cf. Revelation 7:9), past, present and future, all working toward the same goal. There is also responsibility and accountability. As a part of the body of Christ, every Christian who addresses God as Father is inextricably linked to all others in the kingdom. There are no “lone rangers.” Every prayer request must be brought with the understanding that I do not stand alone, but that my actions, my attitudes, and even the things I pray for, affect the whole Church.
- The words “in heaven” qualify our relationship as well. Even though God has opened up a relationship with His people as our Father, He is still the Almighty God. No one should ever enter into His presence casually, or flippantly, or with a chip on their shoulder. Even people that were very close to God, people like Moses, David, Daniel, and Paul, approached Him with honor, respect, and holy fear, aware of the power and majesty that they were allowed to approach. Even though Jesus opened the way for all into God’s presence, it is still God’s presence that the way is opened into. We will never find the slightest hint of overfamiliarity in any of the first apostles, those who knew Jesus first-hand. And even Jesus approached the Father with honor and reverence.
The first real petition in this prayer is “hallowed be Your name.” This is both a request and a commitment on the part of the pray-er, all in one phrase. The prayer is that God’s name, His reputation in the eyes of the world, would remain holy and awesome. The commitment is that I will ensure that He is honored in my life as holy through my every thought, word, and deed. As one who is called by His name, the world will see God through the lens of my life, and if my life is not holy and genuinely righteous, then God’s reputation will suffer on account of me; His name won’t be hallowed.
Of course, no one can live a genuinely holy and righteous life apart from God’s power and strength working through us, which is why the prayer aspect of this phrase is so important. For all of us who earnestly desire to hallow God’s name with our lives, He Himself will help us to be genuinely holy. All of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)
Father, there is so much wrapped up in these two short phrases! We so often rattle off the words of this prayer, and never really stop to ponder what we are really praying for. Help me when I pray this in the future, to genuinely pray it from my heart. Amen.