Those are the words Jesus uses to begin what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Of course, the version you might know sounds more like:
Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name. (Matthew 6.8)
“Hallowed” means a few things. In the NLT, it’s translated as “may your name be kept holy.” Basically, it means something that is set apart. If something is hallowed, we acknowledge it as greater than anything else and different from anything else. Saying God’s name is hallowed is saying that we understand nothing compares to the Almighty God. We set God apart as completely other. Yet, in the same teaching in Matthew, Jesus also says we approach him as we would a good dad. It’s an interesting paradox and also a beautiful one.
“Father” in the prayer adds a connotation of authority—a parent who deserves our obedience and trust. It’s more formal than the “Abba” Jesus and Paul use elsewhere. In the following chapter, Jesus’ use of the word parent is more intimate. He speaks of an involved dad who wants to hear the words of his children and supply their needs.
“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (7:9-11).
In neither case does he mean an austere distant capital “F” father who doesn’t have time for his offspring. His words clearly imply that we are to approach God aware of how deeply he loves us and how much he wants us to come to him.
If we didn’t or don’t have a good earthly father, this may be difficult. We might have to imagine another caring, listening ear. If a good dad wasn’t your experience, then imagine the ultimate parent who did want to listen to your every question, hear your every thought, and view every picture you ever drew. Imagine what that would have been like, and come near to God knowing that’s what he’s offering.
So one purpose of prayer is to be with our loved one and share our hearts. That’s it. It’s not a big complex thing. It’s something we can do all the time every day on the regular. We share our hearts, our thoughts, our emotions, our hurts, everything. Just as the psalmists did, we let them out to our perfect parent. Some prayers in the Psalms are pretty rough! Yet God as parent heard them and recognized the pain out of which they came.
Of course, children usually also listen to a parent for advice and comfort. We wait to hear, not just speak, because our relationship is a two-way thing. Prayer is not a time for us to do all the talking and God to do all the listening.
In fact, that leads right into the second line from the Message translation. “God, reveal who you are.” How can God do that if I’m not listening? Prayer is a time for us to come to God and ask that we understand more about our relationship.
Again, it helps me to think about it as I would an earthly relationship with a parent. When we’re children, we really don’t know much about our dads. We might know what they do all day, and we have an idea of their character by how they treat us and others. But we actually know very little about them as people. We are content to think of them only in relationship to us. It’s not until later as we grow up that we realize they are their own separate entity, and they have their own complex humanity. The older we get, if we’re fortunate, we know more and more about our dads. We come to know their hearts. We understand what gets them up in the morning and makes them passionate. We learn not just that they love us but why. We see more of how they treat others and more of who they are as a result.
I never got that chance with my own dad. But when I think about it, I can see the parallels with my heavenly father and how that relationship should go. As a young Christian, I only knew God in terms of what he’d done for me. I didn’t understand God at all except as it related to me. As I matured, I saw more of who God is. I saw how Jesus behaved and what he said. I saw how he treated other people. The longer I am in relationship with God, the more I hear his heartbeat and know what he is passionate about. The more I come to him in prayer, the more I understand about who he is and who I am as a result.
One first purpose of prayer is to create that maturity in my heart so that I come to a full understanding of who God really is and who I really am.
God, reveal who you are. May your name be kept holy.
That’s the first and most important reason we pray. We have to establish that relationship before anything else can fall into place. Next time, we’ll talk about the next line.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.