What does it mean that the very first thing that Jesus teaches us to ask for in the Lord’s Prayer is that God’s name be hallowed? “Hallow” isn’t a word we use anymore, but as I say in this sermon, we all do it—whether we hallow God or something other than God. Jesus is telling us, among other things, that our priority in life is to praise, worship, and adore our heavenly Father. If this message is as challenging to you as it is to me, you’ll want to watch or read this sermon!
Sermon Text: Matthew 6:5-15
The following is my original sermon manuscript.
A few years after Lisa and I got married, we saved money and bought a house in Tucker, Georgia. We were about a quarter-mile from the railroad tracks that ran through town. On our first night in our new house—in the middle of the night, around 2:00 in the morning—we were awakened abruptly by the sound of the train blaring its horn as it crossed a major road near our house. We could feel and hear the windows shake as it went through town. The next night it woke us up again, and the night after that, and the night after that.
A couple of years later, a new neighbor moved in next door. I greeted him the morning after he moved in as he was on his way to work. “Oh, my gosh,” he said. “How do you sleep at night?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” He said, “That train! It came through at two in the morning. It felt like an earthquake! And that whistle blaring!” And I remembered, “Oh, yeah! The train! I forgot all about that train! I haven’t noticed it in years. Somewhere along the way I stopped hearing it, stopped feeling it. I got used to it.” By the time my next-door neighbor moved in, I’d probably only wake up if it didn’t go through town in the middle of the night, blaring its horn!
I’d gotten used to it. It became ordinary and commonplace. I stopped hearing it and feeling it.
What a fitting metaphor for the Lord’s Prayer! We live in a world in which people are desperately interested in spirituality and here, in this prayer, our Lord Jesus tells us how we can have the most profound spiritual experience of all. Yet I’m afraid that Jesus’ earth-shaking words have become so ordinary and commonplace. We’ve grown so used to these words, it’s as if we’ve stopped hearing them—and feeling them!
And that’s probably especially true for the part of the prayer that we’re focusing on today: “Hallowed be thy name.”
If you’re like me, you probably weren’t quite sure what those words meant back when you still were paying attention, much less now. “Hallowed be thy name.”
“Hallow” isn’t a word that we use very much. It’s a root of the word “Halloween” or “All Hallow’s Eve.” So it sort of has a ghostly connotation today. But it has nothing to do with ghosts. To hallow means to praise, to honor, to adore something above all else—to make something our ultimate concern. So when we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are praising and worshiping and adoring God with all our hearts; we are asking God to be above all other people or things in our world, to be in first place, to be our top priority. We’re asking God to sit on the throne of our hearts and rule over our lives, just as he sits on his throne above the universe and rules over the universe. And we’re praying that everyone in the world would join us in worshiping, praising, and adoring God.
Among many other things, Jesus is telling us, then, that the most important part of prayer—indeed, the most important part of life—is what? To praise, worship, and adore God!
Are these words as challenging to you as they are to me? Do you consider praise, worship, and adoration of God the most important thing you can do in life?
During my stewardship sermon several weeks ago, I preached on 2 Corinthians 9. In that scripture, the apostle Paul was asking the Corinthian church to give a generous offering to help their fellow Christians in Jerusalem, who were suffering under a terrible famine. In my sermon I talked about a couple of reasons that Paul wanted the church to be generous with this financial gift: One reason, Paul says, is that God wants to bless them through their giving.
But in my sermon, I never got to the main reason: Paul said that when the people in Jerusalem see the Corinthians’ generosity, the people in Jerusalem will “overflow” in “many thanksgivings to God” and they will “glorify God.”
In other words, what does Paul say will be the most important result of the Corinthians’ generosity? Worship! The gift will inspire people in Jerusalem to worship, and Paul—who obviously understood the Lord’s Prayer—thinks that’s most important of all!
This convicts me as a pastor for a few reasons. Since I spend so much time pouring my heart into my sermon each week, I think of “worship” mostly in terms of the sermon I preach. Paul doesn’t mention preaching a sermon in 2 Corinthians! Also, it doesn’t help that as a pastor I feel like an emcee sometimes, and it’s my job to keep things moving along. I remember being a kid in church, checking off each item in the order of worship as we completed it. Call to worship, check. Offertory, check. Anthem, check. We could be moving along at a really fast pace, and then the service would grind to a halt when we got to the message! So I sympathize with many of you, I promise! There’s still a part of me that’s this eight year old kid, checking off the items in the order of worship.
I also tend to think of worship more as a noun than a verb. What I mean is, “worship” is that place we gather every Sunday morning, at either 9:00 or 11:00. We go to worship the way we go to a movie, a sporting event, or a restaurant. It’s an event that we sit through more than an activity that we engage in.
I’m not alone in thinking this way, am I? After all, what do we often say when we go to church on Sunday morning? If someone asks us, “Did you go to worship this morning?” we may answer, “No, but I did go to Sunday school. Or, no, but I helped Paulla in children’s church. Or, no, but I was getting ready for the luncheon after the service.”
Do you see what I mean? Worship has become a noun, not a verb.
Perhaps a more truthful answer to the question, “Did you go to worship this morning?” might be, “No, but I did sit in a pew in the sanctuary between 11:00 and 12:00.” See, we can show up for a worship service on Sunday morning, but whether we’re praising, worshiping, and adoring God is another thing altogether!
In this very first petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is telling us that worship, or praise, or adoration is the best medicine for our souls. We need it like we need oxygen. Hampton, Georgia, needs it. The world needs it! We are made to do it, and we cannot live the abundant life that Christ wants us to live without it. It’s so important that Jesus tells us it’s the first thing we should ask God for in prayer—the first thing we should focus on, the first thing we should spend time doing. Adoring, worshiping, praising God.
And brothers and sisters, we have far too many church members, who are otherwise involved in church and committed to church, except they only rarely come to worship! What is that about?This is a symptom of a serious spiritual problem!
This Wednesday night we’re going to hear from the Griffiths family about their mission work in Kenya. As many of you know, I’ve been on a couple of mission trips there—teaching Wesleyan theology, doctrine, and church history classes to a group of indigenous United Methodist pastors in a part of the world—a part of the world where we can’t start churches fast enough, where we can’t train and equip pastors fast enough. I was there as part of the effort to train and equip them.
And I know that God blessed these pastors through my work—through the work that he did through me—I know that. My two trips to Kenya were among the most rewarding experiences of my life. Nothing is better—nothing is better—than that feeling that comes from knowing, oh yeah, this is why God put me here. This is why God gave me these gifts, and I’m so happy to use them for the sake of his kingdom. Anyway, I know that God blessed these pastors through me. But oh my goodness, did God ever bless me through the lives of my fellow pastors there!
Keep in mind, these are men and women who have nothing by our standards. None of them earns a salary for their church work. They support themselves by working other jobs. Insurance, benefits, forget about it! High school education? Seminary education? Few of them could afford it. Few of them even held church services in a proper church building.
So I’m about a thousand times wealthier than my fellow pastors in Kenya, but, brothers and sisters, I realized that I was poor in comparison to them! And I felt my spiritual poverty most acutely when I worshiped and prayed alongside them! Honestly, I felt like a fraud! My praise was play-acting in comparison to theirs.
And I think I know why, and I want to share it with you.
I believe God sent me to Kenya, in part, for this reason: to teach me that far too often I’m hallowing something other than God’s name. That far too often there’s something I adore more than God. That far too often there’s something other than God that’s sitting on the throne of my life. And that “something” is, in my case… worldly success.
See, when I left a happy and reasonably prosperous engineering career to go into pastoral ministry, I realize now I thought I had an unspoken agreement with God. And if I had verbalized it, it would have sounded something like this: “Congratulations, God! Do you know how lucky you are to have me on your team? So here’s the deal: I’ll make these sacrifices and go into ministry for you. And you, in return, will give me these things that I desperately crave: I’m not asking for much. First, I need the praise and recognition of others—a lot of it; I need honors and awards and degrees and credentials. And don’t worry about giving me a big salary—just so long as it’s bigger than Rev. So-and-So’s down the road. I don’t need to have the church with the biggest steeple—but it better be bigger than the steeple of that bonehead I graduated seminary with! And I don’t need to be bishop or anything—at least before I’m 45.”
I’m not proud of this. I have repented. I’m just being honest!
So I realized after Kenya I had set my heart on things that none of my fellow pastors in Kenya either had, or wanted, or cared about. Because the only thing they had, or wanted, or or cared about was God, and God’s kingdom, and God’s Son Jesus—and that was enough for them!
See, hallowing God’s name means saying, “God, you’re all I want. You’re all I need. And you’re enough for me.” Unless or until we can say that, we haven’t learned what this most important part of the Lord’s Prayer means!
And this is why Jesus wants us to begin our prayers with praise and worship and adoration—because if we remember who God is—how loving God is—how merciful, how just, and how generous, it helps us put everything else in life into perspective. Suppose, for example, we’re already tempted to look to financial prosperity, and not God, to give us happiness, peace, and security. And suppose we lose our job, or lose an important client, or have an investment go south. And we feel desperate, and we’re worried, and we want to pray. Nothing wrong with that at all! We should pray! But if we haven’t reminded ourselves first that God is the one who truly provides for us, that God is the only one who takes care of us, that God is our only source of happiness, peace, and security, then our prayer requests will be nothing more than “worrying in God’s direction,” as one pastor said. By the time we finish praying, we’ll be more upset and anxious than we were before we started.
It’s as if we’re asking God to help us in our idolatry: “God, you know I have this rival god that I like to worship sometimes. And, well, it’s really letting me down. It’s not meeting my deepest needs right now. Would would you enable this idol to do the job I’ve entrusted it to do?” Obviously, God isn’t interested in doing that! God wants to be the only one we worship and adore. When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name” before everything else, we’re keeping first things first!
Well, it’s a very exciting week for me this week: My favorite rock band of the ’90s, a female punk-rock trio called Sleater-Kinney, has reunited and is releasing their first new album in ten years this Tuesday. I used to be so into Sleater-Kinney, you have no idea. So let me preface what I’m about to say by referring to a classic episode of the Brady Bunch… When I was 27 I was in love with this band! I saw them one time at a small club in East Atlanta. The show was sold-out, standing room only. My friend Keith and I were standing near the stage door before the show, when who should walk out but the three members of the band! And it was like no one in the crowd recognized them, but I did. And they were walking toward me! They said, “Excuse me,” and brushed up against me as they passed by. And you should also know that the air-conditioning wasn’t working. So we were all hot and sweaty. And I turned to Keith and said, “Sleater-Kinney perspired on my T-shirt! I’ll never wash this shirt again!”
But that’s how much I adored this band!
The point is, that Thanksgiving, in 1997, we were celebrating with my sisters and their families at my mom’s house. And Mom asked each one of us to go around and say one thing that we were thankful for. And everyone took turns: “I’m thankful for family.” “I’m thankful for my health.” “I’m thankful for my children.” That sort of thing. And when it was my turn, I said, “I’m thankful for Sleater-Kinney.” And my sisters and mother scolded me. One of them said, “Be serious, Brent!” But I was being serious! And although this was years before I studied theology in seminary, I still think it was a theologically sound answer! For me, music is one of the best things in life, and it’s a gift from God, and a gift that he gave us the talent and resources to make instruments and play them and record them, that he gave us the ears to hear music and enjoy it. Music is a gift from God, and God blessed me even with the music of this punk-rock band, and we ought to thank God even for them!
When we enjoy things like delicious food, or a great book, or a great movie, or a great piece of music, or a great football game, or a great hike through a scenic mountain valley, we should consider each of these experiences what C.S. Lewis calls a “channel of adoration.” But it’s more than just giving thanks. Lewis writes: “Gratitude exclaims… ‘How good of God to give me this.’” But with great wonder, adoration asks, “What kind of God would create this, give me this?”
So if you’re like me, and you struggle with adoration—you struggle to praise God, you struggle to worship, you struggle to hallow God’s name, to do this thing that Jesus says we should do before everything else—start with the things in life that you’re grateful for. Write them down in a “gratitude journal” if you need to. Read them over before you pray. And as you consider each of them, tell yourself this: “This thing that I enjoy comes to me as a gift from God. Think how much God loves me to give me this. Think of how loving and merciful and gracious he must be! I don’t deserve any of these gifts, but he gives them anyway. I can’t get over how much he loves me! Hallowed be thy name!”
It’s funny: I’ve preached a whole sermon about “hallowing God’s name,” and I haven’t said a word about what God’s name is? He has a proper name. Do you want to know what it is? It’s Jesus. That’s the only name you need to know. You want to know who God is or what God’s like? Look to Jesus. As Peter says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” And Jesus, who is God in the flesh, wanted you so badly to spend eternity with him and the Father and the Holy Spirit that he willingly suffered and died and experienced hell for you… on the cross.
“I can’t get over how much you love me, Jesus! Hallowed be thy name.”
 See Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 85.
 Ibid., 197-8.