Prayer: a holy name

‘Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon.’

Luke 11:2

It would be good if every prayer we prayed started with these words, or words to that effect. For followers of Jesus, these two things should be the central focus of our lives. But why? And what does Jesus mean by these things?

A lot is written about the “name of God” in the Bible. It is a huge subject that could occupy a whole book, and indeed many books have been written about the “name of God.” We live in a world where the name of God is treated lightly. It is spoken like an exclamation mark, it has become little more than punctuation in much modern speech. Yet one of the Ten Commandments (which are rather unpopular these days) says clearly, “do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Whatever does that mean? I believe it means simply that we should treat the name of God with reverence, rather than using it simply as a figure of speech.

But what is God’s name? Reading the Old Testament it becomes clear that the answer to this is mysterious. God calls himself “I AM”. The Israelites gave God an un-pronounceable vowel-less name – YHWH – which in modern language we often change to the pronounceable “Yahweh.” Or Jehovah. But the idea that the Old Testament seems to be trying to get across is that God’s name is a mystery, impossible to understand in its fullness, a name that is so sacred, so holy, that it should barely be spoken, except with the most profound awe and respect.

Such concepts are hard for modern people. Even we who call ourselves Christians like to think of God as our father and as our friend, and there is good biblical precedent for that. But we lose something when we forget the mystery, the ineffability, the bigness, the awesomeness, of God. We lose so much when we allow God’s name to become little more than a punctuation mark or an exclamation mark. Even worse if we use “God” as a swear word.

There are many other names for God in the Old Testament: Elohim (God most powerful), Abba (father), El Elyon (most high), El Roi (all seeing), El Shaddai (almighty), Jehovah Jireh (my provider), Jehovah Nissi (my banner), Jehovah Rapha (my healer), Jehovah Shalom (my peace) are some that can be found. All of them are expressions of the nature and character of God. Christians believe that Jesus was the ultimate expression of God’s nature and character, that he embodied all of these names and so much more, and that by looking at Jesus we see the most comprehensible picture of who God is. So in some ways the name of God is Jesus.

However we think of the name of God, this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples indicates that this name is to be the absolute centre of our lives. Number one, he said, pray this: “Father, may your name be kept holy!” When I was a child I learnt it like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name!” Do we treat the name of God with such respect? Is his name the thing that occupies the highest place in our thoughts? Do we long to see the name of God recognised, honoured, respected, for everything that it represents about our Creator and Father? Are we more concerned in this life with “making a name” for God, or making a name for ourselves? Are we willing to say, like John the Baptist, “he must increase, but I must decrease”?

Let’s start praying that way. Let’s start living that way. That is what Jesus told us we should do.

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