After the initial address of “Our Father“, the Lord’s prayer then follows with 6 successive requests to God. For Jesus, prayer is foremost supplication. It is a cry to God for help. Or, we relate to God not on the basis of our strength, but out of our desperate need.
So what is meant when Jesus says that we should pray “Hallowed be your name”? Without boring you with the details, perhaps a better translation might be “may your name be sanctified”. It is a petition to God for him to sanctify his name.
God’s “name” in the Gospel of Matthew is a significant motif in need of brief explanation. God’s name is both his reputation in the world (24:9), and the basis upon which God’s servants act (7:22, 18:5, 18:20). So to ask for God’s name to be sanctified is to suggest that his reputation has been threatened by its misrepresentation in the world. People claiming to speak as representatives of God (“in his name”) instead defame and blaspheme His name. As Luther suggests, the name of God “is profaned when men preach, teach, and speak in the name of God what is false and misleading, so that His name must serve to adorn and to find a market for falsehood”. In this way, the prayer for the hallowing of God’s name is related to the 2nd commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”. The importance of this cannot be understated. I find that many objections to God and Christianity are very often based upon a false and defamed very of Christianity. See, for example the RHCP song “Shallow be Thy Game“, which, for all its sharp protests, desires to know a God of love.
The name of God today seems to be co-opted to bless everything from Congressional legislation to breaking up with that college boyfriend/girlfriend (or for that matter, winning a football game…). This God (or Jesus!) is merely a projection of our desires and a cipher to bless what we have already decided. God is not the God who suffered, died, and was raised, but the one who fulfills our dreams.
When “God” is exploited so readily, the true God is nearly impossible to find. The petition that God hallow his name is then a prayer for the truth of God amid uncertainty. It is a prayer that somehow in the midst of a broken world God might reveal himself as the one who died for the godless and the unworthy.
This is why, for Luther, the prayer that God’s name be sanctified is fulfilled only in the preaching of the Word: “If now you pray for this with your heart, you can be sure that it pleases God; for He will not hear anything more dear to Him than that His honor and praise is exalted above everything else, and His Word is taught in its purity and is esteemed precious and dear.”
Consequently, the prayer that God’s name be sanctified is also a prayer for oneself, that we might hear his gospel afresh, abandoning our false gods and rediscovering the God of grace.