What's in a name? Not much, it seems, for most of us. It is just a pleasant-sounding, useful, identifying tag - personal, of course!
Years ago, so the story goes, a census-collector was going from house to house. At one house he asked the lady, "How many people are living here?" She started saying, "Well, there's Jimmy and Betty and Mary and Tommy..." But the census-collector interrupted, "Look, lady, I'm not interested in names, I just want the numbers." To which she replied, "I'm sorry, sir, but they don't have numbers, just names!"
These days we can feel ourselves defined by a whole series of numbers - tax file number, social security number, bank account numbers, passwords Sometimes we are worried about all that "the system" knows about us. But it doesn't know "us". Those who know us, know us by name.
A name is much better than a number! Sometimes it is chosen because of some ancestor or relative - or a film star or famous person. Sometimes parents go through one of these books with lists of names and their meanings. At other times a name is chosen simply because it sounds nice. These days some parents are creating new names. But whatever the reason, any "meaning" a name might have doesn't have much significance in today's society.
This wasn't so in Bible times. Then a name was always more than just a convenient label. The name might be given because of the circumstances surrounding a child's birth, because of a promise relating to a child's future. It was often seen to reveal the character of the person who bore it.
This is one of the reasons why the Names of God are so important in the Old Testament. As one writer put it, "Each has a fresh and a fuller revelation of the nature of God. One has a revelation of his might, another was the unveiling of his wisdom, another of his holiness, another of his glory. In the New Testament God's name means his nature as revealed in Jesus Christ - what God is in himself, his being and attributes, as disclosed in Jesus Christ, and now known and confessed by the Church."
In this petition, then, the Name refers to far more than the use of a Name-word. Rather, it speaks of God as he has made himself known to us - especially here as "Father".
What does it mean to "hallow" God's name? To "hallow" something is to honour it as holy. So what does this petition really mean? The Jews believed that the Name-word of God - Jehovah, probably originally pronounced "Yahweh" - was too sacred to say. They were afraid of "taking the Name in vain", as the third commandment put it (Exodus 20.7). So whenever they came to it in the Old Testament Bible, they said "Adonai" instead (translated as "LORD" in four capitals in most English versions).
Our tour group to Israel in February read from the Scriptures, sang and prayed at each site we visited. We were concerned not to offend our Jewish guide. But, aside from the fact that it was never pronounced "Jehovah" anyway, she told us that modern Jewry, whenever they come to the divine Name, say, HaShem, "The Name".
But is this what Jesus means? Is he suggesting that God has a Name so holy that we had better not use it at all? Of course not! Remember that the Name is not just a label. It's the revelation of the Person. God has revealed himself to us. We can and must approach him in the light of his revelation of himself.
It is said that a young preacher, just fresh from college, was waxing eloquent in prayer. "O you who inhabits eternity, who lives in light eternal, supreme Ruler of the universe, before whom all flesh must stand, by what name shall we approach you..." Just then the voice of a little old lady was heard from the front seat, "We call 'im 'eavenly Father 'ere, sir!"
Perhaps you have had door-knockers who have chided the church for not addressing God as "Jehovah". The reason is that Jehovah God has gone on to reveal himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And by faith we have been born into his family. My children don't call me "Mr Blackburn" but "Dad". This is why Jesus taught us to call God "Father".
Some people see a reference here - and in the third commandment - to the common practice of swearing. Of course, speaking like that shows no appreciation of who God is, and that's a serious matter. Some folk say, "I don't mean anything by it!" But that's the point of the commandment. We shouldn't ever use God's name without meaning to refer to God.
Yet hallowing God's Name is not just refraining from using the Name-word for God in a casual or profane way.
The first and foremost reference is not to our use (or abuse) of words, but to our relationship to the Person. God has brought us into his family, and we call him Father.
Wow! What a privilege! He is the Creator and Ruler of the whole universe and we can call him Father!
Of course, we still need to come with humility, reverence and awe - not with the slap-happy attitude of some modern children to their parents!
Hallowing God's name is more than what we do in prayer and worship. Essentially, we are to hallow God's name in our daily living, as our Father's character and purpose are expressed in our lives.
Spend some time thinking about God's Name. Who is he? How has he revealed himself to us? What is our relationship to him? Do we have confidence to call him "heavenly Father"?
In Hebrews 10.19 we read, "Therefore, my brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus." For the Jews there was a great big heavy curtain separating the people from the holiest place in the Temple. It was split from top to bottom when Jesus died (see Matthew 27.51). Our whole relationship with God the Father is changed because of the work of God the Son.
But what about daily life? That is where we must hallow his Name. We cannot do that without the enabling of God the Holy Spirit. By faith in Christ we bear the family name. What does our life say about the Father? To what extent is his character - his Name - revealed in us?
May the Spirit enable us, not just in our praying and praising and worship, but in all of our lives to express that petition, "Hallowed be Your Name".