Pray, then, in this way:
"Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name."
(Matthew 6: 9 – NAS)
Jesus had just told His followers not to bombard the Lord with meaningless repetitions, not to make a big display of their acts of prayer. He realized that they needed a model for intimate simplicity, and so He gave us this prayer that we call “the Lord’s Prayer.”
Jesus wants us to remember just who we are having the prayerful communication with.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 – NAS) This was something the ancient Hebrews were supposed to remind themselves of every day. But human nature being what it is, it’s probable that people fell into not paying attention to what they were saying (if they did recite it) or not saying it at all.
And then there is, of course, the other biggie: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20: 2-3 – NAS)
When He had spoken about the making of oaths and vows, Jesus had addressed the matter of the holiness of the name of God. This was a matter that many Jews took very seriously in that day (as many people do today), to the degree that they would not say aloud “I am that I am” in Hebrew at all. There developed a cloud of alternate names and titles that stood between the believer and the Divine, to such a degree that all sense of true intimacy had been removed.
Jesus changed that. Not only did He remind those who listened to Him that God behaved towards His creatures as a father does to his children, the Lord desired that level of familiarity and intimacy. Jesus did this by telling His followers to address the Sovereign of the Universe by calling Him “Father.” Our Father. Not some remote personage. Not some entity who belonged to someone else. Our Father.
“Who is in heaven.” Because we need to be reminded that this world is not the only thing. God is beyond all this, even though He is simultaneously right in the midst of it.
“Hallowed be Your name.”
We don’t really hallow much these days. Not in the sense of making things truly holy. We have this impulse for reverence, this desire to give that devotion to something. But we tend not to pour it upon God, the one object that ought to receive it. Instead, we “hallow” sports stars (as long as they stay winning) and entertainers (as long as their works stay “good”). We “make holy” victims of accidents and senseless crime. I don’t mean to say that these people are not worthy of our respect. They often are. But we confer upon these fellow humans more devotional energy than we ever direct at the Lord God.
Do we pray as if God were the Divine Answering Machine, taking our messages and delivering the goods to our doorstep like pizza?
I think we do, far too often. And I’m as guilty of that as the next person.
Jesus wants us to remember firstly that God is God. God is Holy. We come before the Lord, the most awesome presence existing. His name is hallowed, and we need to remember that.
We may also call Him “Father.”
Not just any father. Our Father. My Father.
For those who come from damaged homes, where their relationship with their father is riddled with abuse, neglect, folly, it may be hard for them to connect with this. Such people know intuitively what their relationship with their parents should have been. But because they suffered so badly, the very word “father” may have terrible resonances. They cannot get beyond the contamination their worldly father brought to the title. Perhaps that is why Jesus included the qualifier “who is in heaven.”
The Lord is what any father ought to be: loving, protective, the provider of shelter and food, supportive of his children.
And He is ours.
Jesus tells us to look beyond whatever we have known or experienced in life, to look to the Ultimate and know that the Lord is here for us, always. Both unbearably holy and pure while also being envelopingly intimate.
I was recently thinking about the Lord’s Prayer, partly thinking ahead toward writing this and the following posts and partly because my circumstances have made me focus on my complete dependence upon the Lord. I mulled over how Jesus moved toward teaching this prayer to His followers. I thought about how I’d learned the prayer at a very early age in Sunday School. I remembered how as a child dusting the knick-knacks in the house each Saturday morning, one of the items was a lovely smallish shell with the Lord’s Prayer carved on it: I would pause and read it every time I dusted it. I know the Prayer well.
But, because of my circumstances, it occurred to me to look at the Prayer a new way – or at least, new to me. I was so used to the plurals in the Prayer, our Father, our daily bread, our trespasses (or debts). But what if...? What if, instead, I made it personal?
“My Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
I was shocked at the change within me when I made it personal. The “community-think” of using the plural terms has the power to still keep the Lord at a distance.
Jesus wants us to pray with deep intimacy. God is holy and God is intimate. In your “prayers in secret” let God come close.