Jesus says, “When you pray, say ‘…Hallowed be thy name….’”
Luther explains, “What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”
Salvageable adds: God’s name includes everything that tells us about God. His name starts with the labels we use for him: God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, Savior, Redeemer, and so on. But God’s name can also refer to the Bible, the Church, the cross, and anything else that calls God to mind. God’s name is represented by anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian.
God’s name is so important that God protects it in the Ten Commandments, telling his people not to misuse his name. His name is misused when it is spoken carelessly, as punctuation, rather than as a prayer addressed to him or as a statement about him. It is misused whenever people try to use it magically, treating the cross as a good-luck charm or treating prayer as an incantation that gives the one praying control over God. God’s name is misused whenever it is invoked in an effort to deceive other people, whether perjury (promising by God’s name to speak the truth, and then lying) or false promises (God wants you to send me one hundred dollars, and he promises you greater prosperity in return when you do so).
Of course God’s name is always holy. Anything that belongs to God is holy. God does not require our prayers to preserve the holiness of his name. But our prayers remind us that God’s name is holy. As Luther indicates, when we pray to God about the holiness of his name, we pray that his name would be holy among us. Instead of bringing shame to the name of God by our deceit, by our selfishness, and by our cold lack of love for our neighbors, we want the name of God to be honored by our neighbors when they see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Children sometimes misunderstand the words of the prayer and tell God that his name is hollow. When people pray this prayer and then go and do what they want rather than doing what God wants, they make his name hollow. As Luther prays, “Protect us from this, heavenly Father!” As Christians, may we bring glory rather than shame to the name of Christ our Lord. J.