July 2, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be your name.’”
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play a dynamic duo of married lawyers in the 1949 film Adam’s Rib. Their quick-witted banter illumines the screen and provides the perfect context for the unfolding of the film’s plot.
All gussied up and ready for a night on the town early in the film, Amanda Bonner, played by Hepburn, tries to get her aloof husband to take stock of her dazzling outfit. After a few unsuccessful attempts, she finally comes right out and says with a matter-of-factness belying an ulterior motive, “This is the dress I’m wearing.” For an instant, the otherwise tough-minded, strong-willed, and outspoken attorney displays a touch of puerile insecurity, saying in effect, “Notice me.”
Jesus taught His disciples to include in their prayers a voiced recognition of the hallowedness of God—to notice His holiness. Hearing that one might hastily conclude this God is a bit vain, or at least a touch insecure. Why must He continually be addressed as one who is holy?
In truth, it’s not for His sake that we rehearse His hallowedness; He is not served by human hands, and He needs nothing (Acts 17:25). Rather it is for our sake that we establish every prayer with a recognition of His majesty. It is to our advantage that we look up often from whatever commands our attention to notice again, “This is the God we’re living before.”
Why is it to our advantage?
For one, there is nothing more worthy of focused, fervent attention than the God responsible for all things (Gen. 1:1, John 1:1–3). Yet, the mundaneness of daily routines can seduce us into thinking there is nothing particularly astonishing about what is and what’s been made available to us. (A comedian points out how amazing things are, yet how few of us are really happy about that.) We can become so accustomed to all we have that we unconsciously adopt an attitude like that of Bart Simpson in his famous prayer before dinner one night, “Hey, God, we did all this ourselves, so thanks for nothing.”
We slide into this complacency with God as easily as we do with the people we love. Who hasn’t had the experience of treating someone you love dreadfully, and then, with quiet reflection upon all they are to you, finding yourself scandalized by your own action? The reflection restores your sight, freeing you to relate to them again in their fullness which your heart’s attitude previously obscured.
So it’s to our advantage, first of all, to restore our sense of His hallowedness whenever we pray because it keeps life’s tedium from pulling us into a quagmire of indifference. There’s another reason, too.
The rest of our prayers will find their meaning and motive in seeing Him as hallowed. In fact the remainder of Jesus’ instruction on prayer requires a sense of His hallowedness. We’ll long for earth to reflect how it works in heaven when we’re awakened to His honor. We’ll recognize both our need of His sustenance—physical and spiritual—and His willingness to provide it. We’ll also see sin as sin—harmful in numerous dimensions, but moreover a raw affront to God. Seeing that, we’ll be compelled to confess our own sin, to extend forgiveness to others in light of His forgiveness of us, and to ask for vigilance to resist temptation.
In this prayer, Jesus wasn’t supplying us a script to follow, or a mantra to somehow goad God into action. He gave us this prayer to make us new, and He makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). Before his affliction had resolved, and the bounty he’d lost was restored, Job underwent a change through his suffering. He’d hallowed God before, but in hearing afresh of God’s majesty from God himself—and in response to his agonizing inquiries over his suffering—Job’s sense of God’s hallowedness was intensified:
I know that You can do all things,
and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to Me.”
I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees You;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.
Answers to his questions had not come; reasons for his suffering were not disclosed. Yet neither those answers nor reasons would’ve been as precious to Job as the deepened sense of God’s hallowed glory. It was for Job’s sake, not God’s, that the former grasped the latter’s glory.
This is the God you are living before. Do you take time in prayer to remember your reasons for hallowing Him?