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What the Lord’s Prayer really means


This is an edited version of a sermon preached in Emmanuel Church, Morecambe:

WHEN as a schoolboy I first came across the Lord’s Prayer, I remember being a bit mystified by the first petition in it – ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name’. I had no idea what ‘hallowed’ meant. It sounded a bit spooky.

What are we praying for when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s name would be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven?

Essentially, we are praying that the one true God, the loving creator and ruler of heaven and earth, the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, would be honoured and worshipped and obeyed on earth as he is in heaven.

In the Old Testament the personal name of God, Yahweh, the name by which he was known by his chosen people, the Israelites, was bound up with his sovereignty, his righteous rule over the world. The Old Testament book of Exodus records God speaking to his servant Moses from the burning bush and revealing his name to Moses, a man on the run from the authorities in the then world superpower, Egypt. God commanded Moses: ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD (Yahweh) God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations’ (Exodus3v15 – AV).

This God, the almighty sovereign Lord, Yahweh, was sending Moses to be the deliverer of his chosen people, the Israelites, who were then in slavery in Egypt, slaves to a pagan people who worshipped a whole load of false gods. Through Moses the Lord God was going to deliver his people through an astonishing display of his supernatural power and defeat the idolatrous Egyptians and their arrogant king. The personal name of God, Yahweh, spoke of his rightful sovereignty over everyone and everything.

This is the sovereign Lord who has now made himself known finally and definitively in his eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the God we as Christians want to see honoured on earth as he is in heaven when we pray ‘Hallowed be thy name’.

And we must realise that we pray this prayer in the teeth of the fact that the true God is not honoured on earth as he should be. This prayer is necessary because we are living in a fallen world. It is a prayer post-Genesis 3, after the fall of mankind, after we chose to rebel against the loving God who made us.

It is prayed in the teeth of universal human sinfulness, the fact that men and women all over the world are worshipping and honouring a whole load of other gods apart from the true one, gods that they have made.

Where I grew up in south London in the 1970s, there were very few public buildings devoted to religious faith. There was a Church of England parish church around the corner. Not many people went to it – it was there at least, but it rather gave off the message that what it stood for was a thing of the past. There was scant evidence of a lively, committed Christian community meeting in that building. You might say that this was a suburb in which most people did not have a religious faith, and on one level that was unquestionably true. Hardly anyone went to church and the other world religions were not on the agenda for the vast majority of the residents at that time.

But this community certainly had a god, not the true God but a man-made one: the god of secular materialism. There is no question that secular materialism is a faith. The materialists I grew up amongst believed that if you got a bigger house or a bigger car or were able to afford better holidays, you became a better person. Your identity in this religious faith was bound up with your material achievements in this world, which materialists believe is the only world there is.

But secular materialism is based on a lie. Having more does not make us better people and it does not satisfy our eternal souls. Only the Lord God Almighty can do that, the God who said in Jesus: ‘I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst’ (John 6v35).

When we pray ‘Hallowed be thy name on earth as it is in heaven’ in the Lord’s Prayer, we are acknowledging that our true identity is to be found in the true God, the God who is to be worshipped in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are renouncing any rivals to the true God for our love and commitment and we are praying that across God’s world he would be worshipped and obeyed and loved as he deserves to be.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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